Labor vows stocktake of foreign-owned land

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Labor has promised to tackle one of the most divisive issues surrounding the future of farming by conducting a comprehensive stocktake of foreign ownership of agricultural land if re-elected.

The pledge will be a key plank of Labor's agricultural policy as it seeks to exploit mixed messages from the coalition on foreign investment in agriculture.

Labor signalled it would take on Coles and Woolworths by appointing an independent mediator to negotiate a food and grocery code of conduct if farmers and the big supermarkets fail to agree on a code by the end of this year.

Its policy includes forming a partnership with the National Farmers Federation to develop a set of standardised contracts for primary producers supplying wholesalers and retailers.

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"This plan will help ensure farmers and consumers get a fair go and aren't being ripped off," Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said.

He said Labor would have the register of foreign ownership of agricultural land operating by July, starting with a stocktake of existing ownership.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard flagged a register last year but did not put a timeframe on its establishment and stopped short of listing land already in foreign hands.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the register would help separate fact from fiction in what was a highly emotive and political debate.

"A factual register will end the politicking and give the community clarity around the level and nature of foreign ownership of Australian agriculture," he said.

The coalition is yet to release its agriculture policy but Nationals MPs, in particular, have warned that increased ownership could be a threat to food security and the national interest.

Last year, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott revealed a plan to slash the $244 million trigger for Foreign Investment Review Board approval to $15 million for foreign land purchases and $53 million for foreign takeovers of agribusinesses.

The Barnett Government supports foreign investment to provide the capital needed to grow the agricultural sector in WA.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 11 per cent of agricultural land, or 45 million hectares, has some foreign ownership and Labor believes the figure has changed little in 30 years.

Indonesia's Ministry of State Owned Enterprises has confirmed it is close to making investments in Australian cattle stations.

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