There’s been quite a lot of talk in rural media over recent months about foreign ownership of Australian farms. But with many locals all this talk has hit much closer to home as a large foreign acquisition has happened only about 30-40km from where we live and farm. I was contemplating writing a blog post on this purchase myself, as I’ve been surprised that until a day or 2 ago this deal had received no media coverage at all. Belatedly it seems, the Weekly Times finally published this article about the deal:
It’s as interesting issue. Locally, nobody blames the farmers that sold to the Qatari owned ‘Hassad Group’. This is where one quote from the article warrants a a second look:
He would not disclose the Telopea Downs land purchase price, but said Hassad did not pay above valuation.
If we take this comment at face value, why would all those farmers sell at or below market value? I know a couple of the farmers who have sold and they are very good business people. They wouldn’t have sold unless they were getting a good deal.
Whether these kinds of acquisitions are a good thing or not remains to be seen. I was chatting to one of the sellers the other day and he was convinced that the deal would be good for the area. He thought the investment in land improvement that the deeper pockets bring would result in more productivity and employment locally. What we know is that the Hassad Group are going to work with Telstra to improve phone coverage in that area. That’s a good thing. Then of course there are the potential negatives. Profits going offshore, instead of being spent locally, reduced food security for Australia, selling off more productive assets etc.
I personally don’t blame the Qataris for buying up farm land either. Their country is energy rich, but water and resource poor. So as a matter of national security and long term preservation, they’re trying to secure food supplies. They even say as much on their Hassad Food website:
These focus areas guide Hassad Food’s approach at every level. They also form the basis of our five year strategic plan.
- Achieving food security for Qatar.
- Investing in worldwide long-term key projects/companies/operators.
- Developing strategic alliances/partnerships.
- Ensuring geographic diversification and flexibility.
- Being in compliance with International standards.
- Producing branded products of international standard.
It’s like a re-worked ‘food for oil’ program. I find the different perspective on agriculture fascinating from a country that has little arable land. Despite being the richest country in the world, Qatar has no ability to feed itself. Oil isn’t food. It’s amazing to me that people in this situation seem to recognize the importance of secure, quality food supplies more than we do here in Australia.
Maybe that’s the takeaway from all this. Australia is blessed with ridiculous over-abundance in almost every natural resource. The only thing that the Qataris have more of than us is energy. Perhaps because we don’t know just how amazing our natural wealth is we aren’t appreciative of it and are happy for it to be sold off. We don’t value it and look after it like we should. If that is the case, if we don’t value what we have and aren’t willing to develop it, then maybe it’s good that others who do value and need quality food production are getting a chance here in Australia.
Personally, I’m undecided as to whether the principle of foreign ownership is a good one or not. We don’t yet know what the knock-on effects of these changes will be. I guess we shall see in the coming years what it means for us here in rural Australia.
What do you think? Are we selling off our national wealth? Or should we be encouraging responsible investment and development of the resources we have that others need.