Farm sector key to growth: Minister

Nick ButterleyThe West Australian
WA Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis.
Camera IconWA Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis. Credit: Sharon Smith

As the Barnett Government unveiled a plan to find another $10 billion to grow jobs and businesses, Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis says WA should look to farming to future-proof the economy.

Mr Lewis also suggested the Foreign Investment Review Board should be obliged to take greater consideration of whether an investor was willing to spend money to improve land and infrastructure to improve productivity when screening a deal.

The minister has released a blueprint for attracting investment to the WA agriculture sector and said growing the farming sector would broaden the economy to protect jobs in the face of the mining downturn.

“If you are treasurer, where do you turn when you want jobs — it’s agriculture,” Mr Lewis said.

Investment Ready, the Government’s WA agribusiness report, said the State had a lot of of mid-sized farming and pastoral businesses not meeting their full potential and showed how much more could be contributed to the State economy if those businesses were supported with foreign investment.

The study found there was a shortfall of $10 billion to allow WA to tap properly into its future growth potential and to double in size by 2025.

“WA needs a wide range of new farms and new factories to spring up; farms and factories targeting the emerging middle classes of Asia,” the report said.

The report targets specific multinational agricultural businesses such as American company Cargill and China’s WH Group as potential investors.

It points to dozens of mid-sized private and family-owned farming and agricultural businesses in WA ripe for foreign funding.

Mr Lewis said while the State Government was doing what it could to bring in foreign investment, changes could be made to the FIRB to ease the flow of overseas capital.

“I think the limits to FIRB are too low,” he said.

Mr Lewis said WA had broadly been immune to the push-back against foreign investment in farming land seen on the east coast.

Foreign investors owned 10.9 per cent of WA agricultural land on June 30, while 13.6 per cent was held nationally by foreign interests.

Last month, Queensland MP and leader of Katter’s Australia Party Bob Katter led the attack on the proposed purchase of the Kidman cattle estate because it involved Chinese money.

Gina Rinehart was eventually forced to offer reassurance she would buy the property outright if FIRB blocked the Chinese component to the bid.

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