ALAN JONES: The Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb is asking Australians to trust him not to sell Australia short in any Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Now let me firstly say, Andrew Robb is a very good human being. But – now there was a gig here on the weekend in Sydney – representatives here from 12 countries. I have very deep suspicions about what we are giving away. Some trade experts describe this Trans-Pacific Partnership as the biggest corporate grab in a generation. The consumer magazine Choice has launched a national advertising campaign arguing a TPP – that’s what it’s called – Trans-Pacific Partnership – would make imported movies and software and medicines more expensive. Then there are these so-called investor-state dispute settlement clauses in the agreement; which would allow foreign companies to sue governments if they are discriminated against. Andrew Robb says laconically there’s no way the government would take a decision which would adversely affect the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Well I think that’s the thin edge of the wedge. I’m just worried what is happening on the wider front. However he is on the line. Minister good morning
ANDREW ROBB: Good morning Alan.
ALAN JONES: Why would we trust you to get this right when you and the government were played for mugs by China only last week over the proposed Australia-China free trade agreement. China introduces a coal tariff and then last week said we’ll drop them in return for no change to the rules governing Chinese investment in Australian agriculture – so the tariffs were just a ploy to get a better deal on agriculture. We bent at the knees, folded, fell over; and so now the 248 million limit stands.
ANDREW ROBB: Well I’m sorry Alan but that’s just not correct. China did introduce tariffs on coking coal and thermal coal; but before that even happened, I had an offer on the table to bind – what the means it to lock in – the zero tariffs that were already in place previously, and that means as part of our negotiation, that zero tariff was already on the table now….
ALAN JONES: What was on the table on agriculture?
ANDREW ROBB: Well what was on the table on agriculture?
ALAN JONES: On the limit
ANDREW ROBB: On the limit of what, Alan?
ALAN JONES: On the limit of what they can buy before they get Foreign Investment Review Board approval. You were going – your election commitment was that you were going to cut that limit from $248 million to $15 million. What is it?
ANDREW ROBB: Well that’s what’s on the table Alan.
ALAN JONES: What’s the limit?
ANDREW ROBB: $15 million
ALAN JONES: Yeah but they want $248. They want a billion.
ANDREW ROBB: Well they want a billion. In the Japanese agreement, and in the Korean agreement, I sought and got $15 million limit on investment in agricultural farms and properties, and a $53 million limit on investment in agribusinesses before they have to go the Foreign Investment Review Board. Now that applied in Korea; it applied in Japan; and it’s what’s on the table in the negotiations with China.
ALAN JONES: Why are we so definitionally – I’m not saying you’re a dishonest man – but why we are definitionally dishonest. Andrew there’s….
ANDREW ROBB: No hang on, whoa, what’s that mean Alan?
ALAN JONES: It means there’s a massive difference between investment and ownership. You people keep talking about investment. Three multi-million-dollar mega deals currently in progress involved Chinese Government-owned companies. They are purchasing – purchasing, Andrew, in Western Victoria 50 dairy farms have signed individual deals to sell their farms. $400 million, 90,000 cows producing 500 million litres of milk a year. A twelfth of Victoria’s total milk supply. And this is being sold, sold. Not investment, sold. Ownership.
ANDREW ROBB: Well, as I understand it, it is in partnership with a Tasmanian group.
ALAN JONES: Well the developers put the deal together.
ANDREW ROBB: The other thing is that there are 4,500 dairy farms in Victoria, and we’re talking about 50 of them, right.
ALAN JONES: No we’re not.
ANDREW ROBB: And the other thing – the most important thing, Alan, is, it’s not that long ago – because we’re only a young country – but Vesteys owned half of Australia. Vesteys built the infrastructure in terms of abattoirs, saleyards; the transport arrangements. Now how much does Vesteys own today? This is the history of Australia. We’ve we relied on foreign investment.
ALAN JONES: Who feeds you this stuff – you’re talking the same lingo as the Labor Party.
ANDREW ROBB: No, no I’m not. I’m not Alan.
I’ve had 30 years in and around the rural sector; and I can say to you; the history is we’ve developed agriculture, and we’ve developed the rest of the country on the back of waves of foreign investment. Now it was originally the British; then it was the Japanese; then we’ve had a lot of Indo-Asian money coming in. But the bulk of the money has come from the United States; and it is still by far the biggest investor. The second-biggest investor [interrupted]
ALAN JONES: Now are we talking about investment or ownership?
ANDREW ROBB: Ownership. Both.
ALAN JONES: God help us.
ANDREW ROBB: Vesteys owned half of Australia, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Where do you put the full-stop in; now the Chinese Government have got a company called Beijing Agricultural Investment Fund. It’s Chinese Government-owned. They say – they openly say we’re going to buy another $3 billion of Australian farms. It was made in front of you in Melbourne. And you said oh, the fund’s particularly interested. And then you say in investing! In front of you said – in front of you they said we’re going to buy $3 billion. Not invest. We’re gonna buy $3 billion. Where do you put the full stop in, Andrew?
ANDREW ROBB: It is investing, Alan. Buying – in some cases it’s partnership; in some cases it’s full ownership. In some cases – in every case, it’s invariably buying into investments in Australia. Whether it’s farms; whether it’s manufacturing or whether it’s tourism or whatever. And it adds value. We haven’t got – we’ve got thin capital markets. We always have had. We haven’t got the money [interrupted]
ALAN JONES: We don’t mind them investing. We’re not talking investment, Andrew. I’m talking ownership. Ningbo Dairy Group – one of China’s biggest milk companies – has spent $15 million buying dairy farms
ANDREW ROBB: Alan, Alan, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Buying.
ANDREW ROBB: All my life I’ve never seen a farm leave Australia. No, this is a serious point.
ALAN JONES: No it’s not.
ANDREW ROBB: It is a serious point.
ALAN JONES: No.
ANDREW ROBB: I can tell you, when I was running the Cattle Council of Australia, in the 80s, there was a property, Camballin, in the middle of the Kimberley; and over 15 years; three owners – two Americans and one Korean had all gone bust – they put $30 million in.
ALAN JONES: These haven’t gone bust.
ANDREW ROBB: They laser-levelled 17,000 hectares, they re-diverted the Fitzroy River; and when I went onto that property in the mid ’80s, it had just been sold after spending $30 million and 15 years, which back then was a lot of money. When I went onto the Camballin station, it had just been bought by Australians for $6 million. This is the history of foreign ownership of properties in Australia.
ALAN JONES: Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. You’re talking no different from the Labor Party.
ANDREW ROBB: No, no, that’s a cheap way, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Andrew let me turn the coin over.
ANDREW ROBB: That’s a cheap way of putting me down.
ALAN JONES: No, I’m not putting you down.
ANDREW ROBB: That’s a cheap way of putting me down.
ALAN JONES: I’ll turn the coin over, Andrew. Let’s turn the coin over, ok? You say this is terrific, just let them go. Chinese can come in and own – own the dairy farm. Own them in Tasmania – and I’ve got lists as long as your arm. Own them in Western Australia. Own them in the Gippsland. Qatar – own the farms in north-west Victoria. Well let’s turn the coin over then because then we find out that an outfit called A2, which is backed by this wealthy and successful Sydney Perich family. They own it – they’re Australians. And they’re going to supply fresh Australian milk to the homes of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou $8.60 a litre. Norco says we’re going to double our sales of fresh milk to China by 80,000 bottles a week.
Why aren’t we investing with our superannuation funds in our own farms to take advantage of that instead of selling the stuff off to foreigners where the Chinese Government says we are going to buy up Australian farms and we are going to, if possible, get our Chinese people working on those farms; and we’ll send all that stuff to China. Why don’t we own the farms?
ANDREW ROBB: It’s a good question why $1.3 trillion of Australian superannuation money is not being invested, and I tell you hardly a dollar of it is Alan. You go to Macquarie Bank for instance they’ve had a fund where they have been buying good properties because they could see what was happening in the region around us and the massive increase in demand for our products in the years ahead. They’ve got a $700 million fund, I ask them how much Australian money is in the $700 million fund, they said try as they might they have been trying to get Australian investors, $17.5 million out of the $750 million is from Australia.
Australians will not invest in agriculture and you know it, there is a big divide between the city and the bush in Australia and people tend to think that there are no prospects in agriculture, and it’s true of the superannuation funds. Half a million of them are self-funded superannuation funds which have $600 billion dollars to invest and hardly a cracker goes into agriculture.
ALAN JONES: Do you understand as a party heading up to another election with a Green vote of about 14 per cent and so the very real prospect of electoral defeat, which would disturb a lot of people listening to this program I can tell you and they are very, very, very concerned about this. For example the Ningbo Dairy Group which is one of China’s biggest milk companies has already spent $15 million buying three dairy farms, buying, owning in the Gippsland, but it said it is going to buy more farms in Victoria and New South Wales and says it will build its own $6 million milk processing plant at Curnow in Victoria and says its wants to bring its own Chinese employees to run its farm and plant and its Vice President Harry Wang said the company’s aim was to aim and control all parts of its milk supply chain in Australia. Andrew, how does that benefit us?
ANDREW ROBB: Well firstly, you can’t bring your own workforce with you from other countries. I mean people can bring in a few senior people to help them set up a business as our people do when we invest in other countries, Westfields and all of these, take their senior management in the US, we dominate, Westfield is one of the biggest operators, and they own those operations in the United States, just like we are arguing about people owning stuff here. The thing is they can’t take it out of the country. The way we benefit is, you look at Cubbie Station.
ALAN JONES: Don’t start me on Cubbie Station
ANDREW ROBB: You look at the local town around Cubbie Station was dying, because there was no investment. Cubbie Station owed $450 million, in came a consortium of Japanese and Chinese, bought that place, spent a lot of money and the local town is thriving and there are jobs for Australians.
ALAN JONES: And we had an Australian bit of the Cubby Station and now they own Chinese Cubbie Station, and what happens? We are paying them, we are buying back our water the first bid was 47 million. We are buying back our water from the Chinese and Japanese.
ANDREW ROBB: In the same way that we are buying back our water from ourselves. Tell me Alan if you owned a property and someone came in from the United States or the UK, why should the rest of Australia say to you we are a free country, you are allowed to sell to an American but you can’t to sell to a Chinese.
ALAN JONES: I’m not talking about Chinese or Americans all of them. I’m just saying where do you put the full-stop in? A private Chinese company has purchased this magnificent, I’ve been there Elizabeth Downs Station in the Northern Territory, $12 million, 205 thousand hectares, 9000 head of cattle and they are saying its paddock to plate, so we are buying that, and we will produce the beef on your land, I know they’re not taking the land away. We will produce the beef on your Australian land, but we will feed the Chinese people, not the Australian people, the Chinese people. What happens one day when four per cent of our prime agricultural land, it’s all we’ve got Andrew, and a great percentage is owned by…
ANDREW ROBB: No, according the Australian Bureau Statistics in 2013 last year, 99 per cent of Australian farm businesses are fully Australian owned and just under 90 per cent of farm land is fully Australian owned. Let’s get the facts on the table before we frighten everybody
ALAN JONES: You promised at the last election that you would deliver to us, we are nearly halfway through the cycle, a register of who owns what, so don’t blame me.
ANDREW ROBB: It is very complicated to get it, buts is coming.
ALAN JONES: Andrew, I gave you a rap to start with, I said you were a good man, but you are asking too much of me to trust the government. We are doing this for you, we are looking after you, I don’t think so.
ANDREW ROBB: Alan, what do you think we’re doing, am I going to sell Australia short?
ALAN JONES: Well, I don’t know, you promised a register.
ANDREW ROBB:It is as I understand it, as it’s not my area but it is 80 per cent finished, and the intention is to have it done by Christmas.
Well China’s Bright Food Group said it will spend $2 billion purchasing dairy farms and wineries
ANDREW ROBB: Yeah but what happens, it is no different to ALCOA. ALCOA, it’s been here for so long, people think it is an Australian company. It’s been an overseas and for 40 years now it has been making aluminium and taking it to the United States and other places to add value. It is a vertically integrated company like the ones you’ve just talked about.
ALAN JONES: Look we have to go the news but you go and get that register and when you’ve got it we can have another yarn.
ANDREW ROBB: Ok righto Alan
ALAN JONES: See you Andrew. Andrew Robb, Trade Minister.
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