Calingiri wheat farmer and long-time grains industry lobbyist Gary McGill.VETERAN Western Australian farm lobbyist Gary McGill has slammed new foreign investment laws announced last week.

In an interview broadcast on ABC TV’s 7.30 program last night, Mr McGill criticised the new regime that will see the threshold for Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval of foreign farm land sales lowered significantly.

From March 1, FIRB approval will drop from $252 million to $15m and will also apply to the cumulative value of purposed foreign land purchases.

But Mr McGill said he was concerned an element of racism was attached to the issue’s recent rise to prominence, given WA had historically seen foreign direct investment (FDI) from “all sorts” of countries, including American, German, Malaysian, English and Arab.

“But, in recent times we’ve seen the advent of Chinese investment and suddenly the temperature on this rose, suddenly this became the big issue,” he said.

“I see it as a bit coincidental and I worry that there’s an element of racism attached to that.”

Mr McGill said if his farm was up for sale, applying the rule of thumb would see it sold to, “the highest bidder”.

“I don’t care whether that’s an Australian, a family farmer next door, or a corporate farm or an internationally-based corporate farm,” he said.

“It’s always the highest bidder and I think most other people think the same.”

Mr McGill also criticised the FIRB changes.

“This is a pure political initiative and it’s disgraceful,” he said.

“I think it’s intimidatory. I think it will have the possibilities of deferring investment in it.”

Mr McGill runs a third generation grain farming property at Calingiri about two hours north-east of Perth, in the WA Wheatbelt.

He is also a long-serving member of the WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association and has been a vehement support of wheat export deregulation and increased market competition.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce – who Mr McGill has sparred with in the past over wheat export regulations – also appeared in last night’s broadcast.

Mr Joyce defended the new regulations, saying an authentic investor would still need to go through the process of getting an application approved to go forward with their investment.

“If we say to Australia and to the world, ‘Well we’re not even going to bother checking’, that is neither prudent on our behalf, nor do I think it is a clear sign to the rest of the world how much we value our own asset,” he said.

Mr Joyce also dismissed suggestions there was any racism attached to the issue.

“I don’t believe it’s xenophobia,” he said.

“If it was xenophobia, we’d be banning foreign investment. No-one’s suggested that. We’re suggesting a reduction in the review limit.

“We’re lowering it because overwhelmingly that is the view of the Australian people, that is what they want.

“They want greater protections on who owns what and a greater understanding of who owns what and the most sensitive area that they look at is the actual land we stand on, the ground we stand on.”

National Farmers’ Federation CEO Simon Talbot also appeared on the broadcast backing foreign investment in Australian agriculture.

“For us to reach our potential, we should be feeding 150 million people, and that is the true productive capability of Australian agriculture,” he said.

“But to get there, it’s around $1.2 to $1.5 trillion investment required, and that’s why we desperately need foreign investment.

“As Australians, we are not actively investing the amount we should in Australian agriculture.

“We are having a two or three-year time horizon on our investments rather than the seven-year horizon that agriculture needs.”

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