Short Speech – Foreign Ownership Register Amendment

November 24, 2015

Senator Bob Day attempted to move an amendment today, ensuring that a new foreign water ownership register would be modified to include domestic ownership.

This was proposed after the Greens agreed to support the Government’s┬ámodel for a foreign ownership register of land, in return for a commitment in 2 years for a similar register of foreign owned water.

Amendment:

(1) and (2) on sheet 7810, amending Senator Whish-Wilson’s amendment (2) on sheet 7809, together:

(1) Amendment (2), item 2, subsection 34A(1) omit “register of foreign ownership of water entitlements”, substitute “register of water entitlements”.

(2) Amendment (2), item 2, subsection 34A(2) omit “register of foreign ownership of water entitlements”, substitute “register of water entitlements”.

I suspect that I am in the same boat as many in this place in that I only learned this morning about the agreement between the Greens and the coalition to implement a register of foreign ownership of water in Australia within two years. Already colleagues in this debate have indicated that there are questions about how that is to be implemented.

I do not profess to be an expert on these matters, but I have heard exhaustive evidence on this in the Senate select committee inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin. Many witnesses have spoken about the detachment of water from land entitlements in the basin, and the most active and significant trade in water is in the Murray-Darling Basin. Let me be clear about this point, and I have told the Greens this: Family First supports their register of foreign ownership; however, I flag that I have now moved to remove the word ‘foreign’. Family First is not a xenophobic party. We welcome foreign investment. The very strong point being made in the Murray-Darling Basin inquiry is that there is more concern about domestic firms speculating on water than about foreign ownership of water.

I support the public finding out these facts. As I said in my second reading contribution, the same applies to water. A little light dispels a great darkness, it has been said. We have speculation and front bar talk at the moment but very little by way of fact to put on the record on land or water. A step in that direction would of course be a register of all ownership, and it may turn out that it is not so much foreign raiders who are speculating but domestic water barons.

There is still time for the government and the Greens to support this amendment. We are not legislating the minute detail of what this register books like. We are legislating a commitment to establish a register within two years. The question is: will it be a register of all ownership or just foreign ownership? I urge the Senate and parties to support this amendment.