We Have to Sell the Farm
By Andrew Leigh
23 December 2010 (Australian Financial Review… HT NZBR)
An iron law of populism is that while Australian businesspeople investing abroad are portrayed as job-creating entrepreneurs, foreign investors are depicted as rapacious robber-barons.
And so it is with the latest tabloid campaign against foreign investment. Under headlines such as 'Chinese buying up our farms', 'It's time to stop selling off the farm', and 'It’s time to save our farms from foreign investors', News Ltd tabloids have recently embarked upon a fear campaign against foreign investment in Australian agriculture. With anecdotes taking the place of statistics, foreign investment has been labelled 'a dramatic global land grab', fed by 'a looming global food shortage'.
For a country whose agricultural sector has benefited substantially from foreign investment, this is odd stuff indeed. In 1855, British investors helped kick start our local sugar production industry when they established CSR (originally Colonial Sugar Refinery). In 1877, American firm Schweppes opened its first Australian factory - as did Kraft and Kellogg in the 1920s. Japanese investment in Australia's beef cattle sector has been important since the 1970s. Today, the largest foreign investors in Australia are still Britain and the United States.