Sunday, 2 September 2012

A solution to the foreign sale of Australian farms


The emotional and political debate about the sale of Australian agricultural assets, particularly to Chinese interests,   needs a more objective perspective. 

Two types of assets

Cubbie Station - a political football
What is an asset like Cubbie Station?  It's actually two assets. One is the land and resources under the land. The second is the right to produce food or crops from farming. 

This isn't just a technical point, it's critical to the security of Australia and to the debate. 

Separate the assets

A lot of the debate quite rightly surrounds the ownership of large tracts of Australia by foreign owners, especially foreign governments.

There is also acknowledgment that Australia lacks the capital and commitment to farm our arable resources to their full capacity. So, we need to work with foreigners to make productive use of the land.

So, we can lease the asset, rather than sell it. 

The UK model

For centuries, the UK property model has sold long term leaseholds over residential property.  If you "buy" a flat you are most likely buying a 90 year lease, not the freehold. 

We should adopt this model for significant Australian agricultural landholdings. Sell a 100 year lease. It provides food security for the Chinese buyer, but does not relinquish the ultimate ownership of the Australian land. 

Selling long term leases of Australian agricultural properties is a win-win for all. 

Let me know what you think. 

Mark S 

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