Australian-owned – or not?

Two things are happening at the moment, which cause us to reflect upon the notion of what this country owns – and what it does not.

Firstly the Dutch-owned super trawler FV Margiris, is now in Australian waters. This is the largest ever ship to fish our seas and the environmental organisation Greenpeace claims it will catch more than fish, with dolphins, seals, sharks and sea birds at severe risk. The vessel is being operated by Tasmanian company, Seafish Tasmania. Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities announced he is placing restrictions on the 142-metre, Dutch-owned trawler but does not have the power to stop it. However, he has noted, a proposed Private Members Bill, might be able to have it banned.  In Senegal, a protest by 52,000 fisherman led to the banning of super trawlers, thus protecting the fish stocks and fishermen’s income for the foreseeable future.

The second event is the proposed sale of Australia’s largest privately owned irrigation property, Cubbie Station, near Dirranbandi, just north of the NSW-Queensland border. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) has given approval for the sale to a Chinese consortium. The Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey is in agreement. But Senator Barnaby Joyce, Senate leader of the coalition partner, the Nationals, wants to stop the sale. That this massive cotton and wheat farm holds 51 water licences is a critical factor in the still-unresolved Murray-Darling Basin debate. The Senator claims that foreign ownership of Cubbie Station is not in the national interest and has called for a federal takeover of the farming property to prevent it falling into the hands of a state-owned Chinese textile company.

See the Greenpeace activists confront the Margiris supertrawler
Cubbie Station sale

Opinion – Protecting our assets

I’m a little confused by both these current events. Mainly because I think the solutions should be much more simple than they appear to be. In the first instance – the fishing of Australian waters by super trawler FV Margiris – I am unsure why this vessel can even enter our waters in the first place. Is it because the company which is leasing it is based in Tasmania? Why is there not a limit on the size of vessels allowed to fish, regardless of whether they are locally-owned or foreign? We hear so often that our fish stocks are severely depleted, so why can a super vessel simply rock up and start fishing, let alone endanger other protected sea creatures? And why, of why, does our Minister for Environment have to depend on a Private Members Bill to change things? This is crazy – just get on with it Mr. Burke. Make a decision and send the super trawler packing. If Senegalese fisherman can do this, why can’t we?

The second situation forces me to do something highly unusual – and that’s agree with Senator Barnaby Joyce. Usually Barnaby and I are on very different sides of the political fence. But in this case he seems to have jumped the fence – calling for a federal takeover of privately held land. It’s almost verging on socialism, but whatever it sounds like, it does seem that our Foreign Investment Review Board is too eager to rubber stamp nearly every acquisition of Australian pastoral assets. In a world heading toward even more severe food and primary resources shortages, why we would simply allow other countries’ state-owned enterprises to buy up our essential resources – in this case scarce water licences – is incomprehensible. Mr. Joyce is 100 per cent on the money – we need to halt this trend and put a cap on the size of farms that can be purchased by offshore companies.

What do you think?
Should the super trawler be sent back to Holland?
Should Cubbie Station be sold to the Chinese consortium? Or should the Federal Government intervene and prevent this sale?

Written by Kaye Fallick