Malcolm Turnbull

Agriculture to benefit from increased foreign investment ... Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

FRONTBENCHER Malcolm Turnbull has defended foreign investment as essential to Australian agriculture as the Coalition debates a Chinese buy-in to Tasmania's dairy industry.

The former Liberal leader has also urged China to be more patient about anxieties over investments by foreign state owned corporations - even offering advice for how Beijing can improve its image.

''I imagine there are many more excellent speakers of English in China than there are Australians,'' Mr Turnbull told the Sydney China Business Forum.

''But why is it that we so rarely see a Chinese official or business leader explaining their policies or strategies in our media?''

The China Investment Corporation is negotiating for a stake in Australia's largest dairy operation, the Van Diemen's Land Company.

The proposal follows hard on the heels of fierce complaints by the Nationals - Senator Barnaby Joyce in particular - over a Chinese bid for massive cotton farm Cubbie Station.

The Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, sought to capitalise on the Coalition debates, saying Australia was a nation built off the back of foreign investment.

''We have enjoyed the wealth and opportunity that comes from that foreign investment. We do not need any mixed messages internationally,'' Mr Ferguson said.''Comments from people like Barnaby Joyce do not help Australia internationally in very important markets such as China.''

Mr Turnbull said Australian agriculture would benefit from increased investment and had for decades suffered without it.

He also said there were concerns land prices could be driven up by Chinese, Japanese, American, Australian or British investors over-paying but over time, ''prices will revert to a more rational mean''.

Mr Turnbull said Chinese investment was overwhelmingly in Australia's interest.