VICTORIAN Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh has repeated criticism that the Federal Government’s rejection of a foreign takeover of GrainCorp was a decision made ‘on the hop’.
Mr Walsh said he welcomed foreign investment, but his GrainCorp stance put him at odds with federal National Party colleague Barnaby Joyce.
Mr Joyce was one of the most vocal opponents of US agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland’s $3-billion bid for GrainCorp.
“He hasn’t been quite so positive around foreign investment at times,” Mr Walsh said of Mr Joyce.
“From a Victorian point of view, we have no objections to foreign investment in the food supply chain.”
The government’s rejection of the takeover was heavily discussed at a Global Food Foundation event that Mr Walsh attended on Monday night.
At a breakfast in Melbourne on Wednesday, Mr Walsh said that around his table at the Global Food Foundation event, the consensus among business leaders was that the GrainCorp decision was ‘hopefully, an aberration on a longer journey, a new government caught on the hop’.
He said the Coalition had ‘probably made some decisions, that, with the benefit of hindsight, they might regret.
“One of the things I have wanted to drive is that Victoria is seen as a long-term supplier of safe, clean food to the world,” he said.
“Part of that will be investment from other countries into our system, and I don’t think we should be frightened of that.”
“If there is actually investment from key overseas countries, that will actually increase market opportunities in those countries.
"They’re not going to invest here if they can’t see a market internationally and back in their own countries.”
Despite the Abbott government’s rejection of the foreign GrainCorp bid, Mr Walsh said he was confident the decision would not damage its ‘mantra’ that it supported foreign investment.
“There will be other decisions that I think will send the signals that Australia is open for business,” he said.
Mr Walsh said Australia’s grain industry had missed opportunities in the past five years after various merger talks between AWB, ABB and GrainCorp failed.
“With the benefit of hindsight there was a missed opportunity of putting some of those businesses together to get a world-scale, Australian-owned company that could take our grain to the world and compete on an international market,” he said.
Instead, AWB and ABB were snapped up by Canada’s Agrium and Viterra respectively.
Mr Walsh said foreign investment in agriculture should not be seen as a threat to food security, saying overseas companies ‘can’t take the land away, they can’t take the produce away’.
“If we had this mega-shortage of food in the world governments can stop exports,” he said. “The Russians did it with grain, the Thai have done it with rice.”