Food security for Australia

FOOD security has become a major global issue and governments across the world are scrambling to tie up reliable long-term supplies for their populations.

Some Australians see this scramble as an opportunity. Others see it as a threat.

The former, including trade minister Craig Emerson, argue that foreign investors can inject capital to boost food productivity without in any way compromising Australia’s ability to feed itself.

Others worry that this might change, if creeping foreign acquisition is permitted over a sustained period.

The unspoken fear – based on the reality in some Third World countries – is that foreign interests may eventually end up using Australian land and resources to grow and process food exclusively for foreign markets, regardless of the needs of the host country’s population.

The issue’s resonance in some quarters has no doubt influenced opposition leader Tony Abbott in his announcement that foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land would, under a Coalition government, be subject to much tighter control than at present.

Mr Abbott has proposed a national register for foreign-owned property and wants overseas buyers to seek approval when buying agricultural land worth more than $15million – down from the current $244million threshold. The Coalition also wants the Foreign Investment Review Board to vet foreign purchases of agribusinesses worth more than $53million.

Conceding the value of foreign investment to economic growth, Mr Abbott said he believed the Australian community wanted to be assured ‘‘that the investment taking place in agriculture and agribusiness is in our national interest’’.

In an unusual coincidence of political interests, both the National Farmers’ Federation and the Greens have backed – as a minimum – the idea of a register of foreign-owned land to enable the public to keep an eye on trends in ownership.

While it may not want to give ground to the opposition, especially on a matter it regards as ‘‘populist’’, the government should consider an ownership register as a means of defusing the issue and providing reassurance through transparency.

Butterfly buffer

A BUFFER of only 20 metres between proposed new houses and the so-called ‘‘Butterfly Caves’’ of West Wallsend certainly doesn’t sound like much of a safety margin for a site alleged to be of some Aboriginal significance.

The developer originally wanted to build as close as 8 metres to the caves. The community requested a 100-metre buffer. The resulting compromise is clearly much closer to the developer’s preference and opponents say the development virtually guarantees the caves’ destruction.

Like many similar arguments, this one appears to offer little scope for agreement between parties with opposing wishes.

From a broad community perspective, however, the question of the possible archaeological significance of the caves ought to have been properly determined before approval was granted for development at such close proximity.

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