A new poll by the Lowy Institute found 87 per cent of respondents opposed allowing foreign companies to buy Australian agricultural land — six percentage points higher than a similar survey four years ago.
The Lowy Institute also said the proportion of people in favour of overseas ownership has fallen from 18 per cent to 11 per cent.
“Our 2016 results show that foreign investment in agricultural land has become increasingly unpopular, suggesting it will remain a politically fraught issue,” said Dr Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute.
The national telephone poll of 1,200 Australians was conducted between February 26 and March 15, about two months after the Federal Treasurer’s initial rejection of a Chinese bid for the Kidman cattle empire which includes Australia’s largest private landholding.
Treasurer Scott Morrison formally rejected a reworked Chinese-Australian bid for S. Kidman and Co in April this year.
The ABC today revealed that Mr Morrison has granted the foreign owners of Cubbie Station an extra three years to comply with an original condition of the sale, that it sell down its stake from 80 per cent to 51 per cent.
Mr Morrison’s office has confirmed that Chinese textile giant Shandong Ruyi requested more time to find an additional investor, indicating it was unable to meet the original October 2015 deadline.
Melbourne-based family company Lempriere took the remaining 20 per cent stake in Cubbie when it was sold in 2012.
The sale sparked a fierce national debate over foreign investment and the National Party and several independents fought to stop it.
“Consistent with Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) advice, the Treasurer granted a three-year extension which was reflective of the genuine undertakings [Shandong] Ruyi has made to sell-down its interest,” Mr Morrison’s office said in a statement to the ABC.
“It also recognises the fact [Shandong] Ruyi has met the other undertakings placed on it through the FIRB approval process.”
But Tim Burrows from lobby group Agribusiness Australia said he was concerned the Government approach to foreign investment deals was inconsistent.
“The industry’s quite happy to have a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but they need to know before they go into the due diligence or analysis or the proposal of a purchase as to what the rules are,” he said.
“We can’t have a situation where the rules change many months after the investor’s started looking at the project or the proposal.”