Water should belong only to the Australian people. No-one has a right over it; it should not be bought and sold on the open market. We must protect our water rights. It is the lifeblood of this nation.
Senator Hanson (Queensland) (12:53): I rise today in support of the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Amendment (Water) Bill 2016. I believe it is very important. Under this bill, from 1 July 2017, foreign investors will be required to register, with the Australian Taxation Office, details of both their existing ownership of water rights and any subsequent rights that they purchase. This is a long overdue measure, as currently there is no comprehensive source of information on this. Currently, the only official source of national data on foreign ownership of Australian water is ABS’s Agricultural land and water ownership survey, also known as the ALWOS, which was conducted in 2010 and 2013.
The ALWOS paints an alarming image of a 55 per cent increase in foreign ownership between 2010 and 2013 alone. The survey reveals that by 2013, 14 per cent of Australian water rights were subject to foreign ownership. Western Australia and the Northern Territory have no records of foreign ownership or a disclosure list. Even these Agricultural land and water ownership survey figures are an underestimate, as they do not consider foreign ownership of water rights used for mining, manufacturing and energy production. Most of the increases, and the highest increase, came in Queensland, where foreign ownership of water rights increased from six per cent to 26 per cent between 2010 and 2013.
I now draw attention to Agenda 21 of 1992, which was the Earth Summit. Under Agenda 21, it states in chapter 18 to go out around the world and look at the prospects of privatising water throughout the world in First World countries. This is exactly what is happening. There should be no foreign ownership of water in Australia. Water should belong only to the Australian people. No-one has a right over it; it should not be bought and sold on the open market. We must protect our water rights. It is the lifeblood of this nation. The farming sector depends on it, manufacturing depends on it and everyday families depend on it.
Under Agenda 21, it is stated that if you have a dam on your property, you can only capture 10 per cent of that water. The rest must flow to the rivers and creeks, otherwise you will be paying a tax on it. This is under surveyed, but it does happen. It is surveyed by the satellite system. We are having places now in Australia where the councils are now saying, ‘You will start paying a tax on the rainwater that you collect in your tanks.’ We cannot allow this to head down this path and allow governments and councils to have foreign ownership of our water in Australia. If we allow that happen, we are then opening up for them to control where industries, manufacturing, development and housing happen and for them to take over control of our country.
A major part of this wholesale foreign buyout of Queensland water rights came from the shameful sale of Cubbie Station in 2012 for $240 million to a consortium dominated by the Shandong RuYi Scientific and Technological Group. Clearly, that was not in the national interest. The Australian government allowed the Chinese buyout of the massive Cubbie Station cotton plantation contrasts sharply with the fact that the Chinese government does not allow foreigners to buy any Chinese property. If we are to prevent a continuing fire sale of our national resources, as a starting point we at least need to know what in already in foreign hands. Accordingly, this bill is an essential measure so that Australians can know whether there is an ongoing foreign takeover of our water entitlements.
However, one apparent omission from this bill is the absence of significant penalties for foreigners who fail to comply with this new law. In the event of a foreigner failing to disclose a purchase of water rights, the current wording of the bill only provides for a minor administrative penalty, pursuant to subsection 286C in the schedule of the Taxation Administration Act 1953. There is widespread flouting of Australia’s laws prohibiting foreign purchases of existing residential properties. There is a case in point as to this as well: we have a rising cost in housing in Australia, where ordinary Australians cannot buy housing due to foreign ownership. Under our laws, foreign owners can only buy new housing and not established housing. That needs to be policed a lot more.
What One Nation proposes is that identification must be presented at point of sale, whether it be by passport, birth certificate or some identification. That is so that—at the point of sale, when you sign-off on that contract—you present that documentation that states that you have the right to buy the property and are not some foreign investor who has not gone through the financial review board. Also, the real estate agents must be made accountable to ensure that the property has been sold to an Australian—so that right of a permanent resident or an Australian citizenship to buy that property—and that it is not foreign ownership.
We know that there are investors in this country who will disregard our laws if they see a profit in it and if they think that they can get away with it. I call on the government to impose significant fines that are at least equal to the value of the rights on foreign buyers of Australian water rights who fail to comply with this law and register their interest with the ATO. I would rather see no foreign ownership. At least there is a register now that has been set up by the government, but I do not believe that any foreign buyer should own our water, our land or anything in Australia. It should always remain in the hands of the people of Australia, and I do not believe in foreign ownership, as well, of our services, such as electricity, gas, telecommunications or any part of our defence forces. I do welcome this bill and that we are now going to have a register. I think that is important, but it needs to go a lot further. Thank you.