Federal Politics

Farm sale betrays poor judgment of lie of land

On Friday, the sale of our nation's largest farm to Chinese interests settles. It is an apt metaphor for the change in our status and who the new economic players in our region are. The question is, how did we lose the capacity to maintain control over our nation's largest farm?

It will be interesting to see whether the environmental concerns that were hurled at Cubbie when it was Australian owned continue with the same vigour.

An aerial view of Cubbie Station in Queensland.
An aerial view of Cubbie Station in Queensland. Photo: Supplied

It is exactly the same property, with exactly the same water rights but now held by the Chinese. It will be interesting to see if Labor premiers fly out to threaten compulsory acquisition, as Peter Beattie did, because of environmental concerns. Treasurer Wayne Swan will not even abide by a direction of the Senate to clearly explain why the sale is not contrary to the national interest, though nearly everyone I talk to on the street believe it is.

Australia has gone out of its way to stop Australians developing their own agricultural land. Specific lease conditions prohibit development away from set criteria.

Mineral rights over coal and gas, which were formerly part of the land title, were taken with no compensation (in New South Wales as recently as 1981). In the past decade, the rights to manage trees and vegetation have been stolen, again without compensation.

The capacity to market the produce from farms has been curtailed by an over-centralised retail market and, in some instances, stopped altogether, as happened with the live cattle trade.


Once, Australia was governed by leaders who showed vision to develop new frontiers by supporting those who used their own labour to turn scrub into productive, food-growing areas. Now, we seem intent on making regression a virtue.

Australia is a place where every tree is sacred, and every chemical to kill weeds and pests is evil. Management is clouded by a workplace hysteria that insists every risk is removed, every worker is given no credit for commonsense and every accident is a Pandora's box of litigation.

If the coconut falls on your head, you are a victim, someone must be blamed and the public should support your chosen law firm in pursuit of the culprit.

In Australia, 100,000 farmers have left the land in the past 30 years, but the legal profession has boomed.

The land's benefactor has moved from the owner to third parties and the market does not pay a premium for the added cost incurred.

The government stands by as 600 dairy farmers say enough is enough - they are being exploited and they want fairness delivered by those in government, whose job it is to deliver a fair marketplace.

The government stands by and does nothing. But it does insist the dairy farmer insures against a person breaking into the dairy farm and breaking a leg. The government covers the right of thieves against personal injury.

The government states Australian farmers are not capable of running our own country. Ex-politicians must be sent to the four corners of the globe to contrive ways to coerce fees and commissions for themselves in the hunt for foreign governments and organisations to purchase land Australians previously developed.

We are told overseas entities and governments cannot take the land they purchase back with them - well that is comforting. I remind my Aboriginal friends of the absurdity of this statement and wonder if it was uttered 230 years ago. Likewise, India's land never travelled to Britain but the profits did. Britain was exporting food from Ireland during the potato famine. Yes, that was all a long time ago and people are far more civilised, but to manage a multiplicity of foreign powers' plots of land in your own land you have to be very strong and the latest defence white paper says we are not as strong as we thought.

So Australia's biggest farm, Cubbie Station, is about to settle. It is gone and the commissions will now be paid to those entrepreneurial folk who have been fighting so hard to see it go.

If we are short a quid in the future, maybe we can sell a couple of national parks as well. Of course, we would set strict conditions about how they are to be managed and trust the nation's government that buys them to abide by them. In the short term, however, think of the bonanza in fees.

Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the federal opposition spokesman for regional development