Water rights must be directly subject to foreign investment approval

Water rights must be directly subject to foreign investment approval

The Federal Government needs to ensure that water rights are directly subject to Foreign Investment Review Board approval, Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie will argue today.

ABOVE: Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie's motion to be tabled in Parliament today.

In a motion before Parliament, Rebekha will call on the Government to make water rights a stand-alone asset that must be examined independently as part of any proposed reforms to the Foreign Investment Review Board.

The Centre Alliance MP is also calling on the Government to permanently lower the financial threshold for board approval of agricultural land and water rights to $5 million. There are special provisions in place during the declared COVID-19 pandemic but usually, the threshold for agricultural land is $49 million.

"I welcome the Government's commitment to reforming the Foreign Investment Review Board and I am pleased that this Government is looking at Australian assets from a more rigorous national security point of view; but let's do these reforms properly," Rebekha said.

"Australia is slowly emerging from a devastating drought, a situation scientists warn us we can expect to experience more frequently, so it's essential that water rights are assessed for national interest along with land, energy and seaports.

"Given we live in the driest continent, any farmer would argue that water is just as sacred as land.

"My community and communities right across Australia are becoming very concerned about the limited amount of government oversight of water markets compared to financial or property markets."

Rebekha's motion is being seconded by Andrew Wilkie MP, the independent Member for Clark.

"We live in a drought-prone country where water is one of our most precious commodities. It is ludicrous that, on their own, water entitlements do not require Foreign Investment Review Board approval and I ask that this loophole be closed as a matter of urgency. I have previously raised this issue with the Government without success," Andrew said.

Rebekha says the Government should also show leadership and dramatically lower the permanent financial threshold for agricultural land and water rights to $5 million.

"New Zealand has a national interest threshold of five hectares and so I maintain that $5 million is a reasonable sum for national interest scrutiny to be applied," Rebekha said.

"Former colleague and former Senator Nick Xenophon was a long-time champion for having greater scrutiny of the sale of Australian assets to foreign entities and was instrumental in lowering the threshold from $350 million to $49 million.

"Now is the time to lower the threshold again because you can only sell the farm once.

"The COVID-19 crisis has made many Australians pause and consider our manufacturing capacity and our food production in this country.

"We cannot offer Australian made and Australian grown into the future if we continue to allow the sale of our best agricultural land and our precious water rights to foreign markets.

"These proposed reforms to the Foreign Investment Review Board are long overdue and present an opportunity to set the correct framework."