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Australia's agricultural land sales to foreign interests - Qatar

HUGE chunk of Victorian farmland - about 11 times the size of Melbourne's CBD - has also controversially fallen into foreign hands. Qatar-based Hassad Foods, which is the agricultural arm of the Qatar government, recently agreed to pay about $35 million for more than 8000 hectares of sheep-grazing and cropping land in Victoria's Western District.
Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa and bread riots in other regions - caused by record high food prices - have reminded governments of the cost of failing to guarantee domestic food security.

Qatar-based Hassad Foods, which is the agricultural arm of the Qatar government, recently agreed to pay about $35 million for more than 8000 hectares of sheep-grazing and cropping land in Victoria's Western District. As well as prized Kaladbro Estate in western Victoria and Queensland’s Clover Downs, Hassad’s burgeoning portfolio also includes 6800 hectares of sheep grazing land in Canowindra in New South Wales.

Hassad Australia - a subsidiary of parent company Hassad Food Group - owns 250,000ha, stretching from Queensland to Western Australia, which has been bought in the past three years.
It's been confirmed that big parcels of Western Australian farming land have sold to Middle East interests.
An “Australian”company, Hassad Australia Pty Ltd., backed by the Qatari Government, has bought 27,000 hectares.

There are three major land aggregations , five at Jerramungup in the south-east, three at Bindi-Bindi, east of Moora, and one at Esperance.

An additional HUGE chunk of Victorian farmland - about 11 times the size of Melbourne's CBD - has also controversially fallen into foreign hands. Qatar-owned Hassad Australia finalised its recent purchase lof 10 properties at Telopea Downs , on the border of Victoria and South Australia.

Food security fears

Fears about the planet’s ability to feed a projected 9 billion people by 2050 have driven much of the recent demand for land. Since 2007-2008 food price crisis triggered a flurry of export bans and restrictions by major food producers like Brazil, China, India and Argentina, Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa and bread riots in other regions - caused by record high food prices - have reminded governments of the cost of failing to guarantee domestic food security.

Australia for sale

A report released by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences in January found 11 per cent of farmland, 9 per cent of water entitlements and 1 per cent of agricultural businesses were owned by foreign interests.

Australia is the driest continent with irregular weather and is subject to natural disasters such as droughts and fires. We also have little more than 6% arable land, threatened by urban sprawl. At same time, our mining wealth is largely be consumed by the "nation building" infrastructure for our swelling population instead of being invested into the future.

With shallow policies and grotesque short-termism from Canberra, the public should be very concerned about any more land being sold to foreign countries.

Qatar's unsustainable growth

Qatar, an arid country of some 1.8 million inhabitants jutting off Saudi Arabia into the Gulf, can only produce about 10% of its food needs and is desperately reliant on imports. Currently, only 1.6 % of Qatar is arable land and agriculture only contributes 0.1% to gross national product, according to the FAO.
The government expects Qatar’s population to rise by 2.1% a year over the next five years, reaching 1.9 million in 2016.

Qatar’s population has more than doubled from around 614,000 in 2000 to 1.699 million at the end of 2010. Qatar's oil and natural gas industries account for 50 percent of GDP, 85 percent of export earnings and 70 percent of the government's revenue.

As well as food security, air, water, and land pollution are also significant environmental issues in Qatar. In addition to smog and acid rain, the nation has been affected by the air pollution generated during the Persian Gulf War. Pollution from the oil industry poses a threat to the nation's water.

There's nothing sustainable about Qatar's environmental/population growth record, so why should they bother with any such issues in their Australian property buy-ups?

Water security

Qatar's water consumption has tripled in the last seven years, the energy and industry ministry and chairman of the Permanent Committee on Water Resources has said. Per capita consumption of water in Qatar is 460 liters per day, one of the highest in the world, and the production of desalinated water in Qatar doubled four times over the past two decades.

Most native species are small, but the larger, diurnal species, like the Arabian oryx, gazelle and ibex, have been hunted down to extinction. The Arabian oryx, al-maha in Arabic, is Qatar's national emblem. It was once believed to have been hunted down to extinction, but some herds have survived outside Qatar.

December 03, 2011 - At least 25 special permits have been issued to dignitaries belonging to the Arabian peninsula allowing them to hunt the internationally protected Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) during the hunting season 2011-2012. The permit holders include at least three rulers, many crown princes, and other members of royal families. The houbara bustard is a very shy bird species and inhabits arid areas away from human population, but at least one of the permit holders, belonging to Qatar, has been allocated the city of Dadu in Sindh for hunting. The Qatari Government is currently in the process of reintroducing the Arabian gazelle, which is near extinction, to its desert domain. Before 2001, when Qatar signed a key international treaty, known as Cites, restricting trade in endangered animals, it was not illegal to import rare animals.

Marine desert?

Experts have sounded the alarm over a massive decline in the number of sharks populating the waters around Bahrain - saying the Gulf was in danger of becoming a "marine desert". Many larger species of the sea's most famous predator were in danger of disappearing from the region altogether. Unchecked construction, sedimentation, a lack of fresh water, overfishing and pollution have been cited as the key threats to the Gulf's shark population.

Experts are now warning the Gulf could actually become a "dead" area of water unless urgent legislation is passed in all countries bordering it, with decades of rapid development taking a huge toll on the marine ecosystem.

Qatar Summit

Qatar, the first member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to host the discussions later this year aimed at limiting global warming, illustrates the scale of the challenge the world faces to cut greenhouse gases.

European Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, a representative responsible for climate change action, feels that Qatar being the host of this year’s summit has the potential to play a positive role in shaping the international climate change debate. If Qatar will show that [although] the rest of the world has seen it as a sort of traditional oil economy, that there they [are starting] to diversify, there you find smarter solutions, there you start to apply solar or other kinds of renewable energies and it will not harm your economy - as a long-term strategy it will benefit your economy.

The irony is great: Climate Change negotiation in Qatar will take place atop vast natural gas deposits and in a country with the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, almost three times those of the United States.

Australia's food security first

With Australia's food security not as secure as supposed, then this sale is a betrayal by our government. Our sovereignty should be promoted, not sold off to the highest bidder. Australia is now a net importer of horticultural products, whereas it was a net exporter only a few years ago.  Wheat, dairy, fishing and sugar production are all down from their previous peaks. 

Earlier detailed research by researcher Dr McGovern, lecturer in the Queensland University of Technology’s school of economics and finance, found that Australia exports only around 25 per cent of its agricultural produce at second-stage production, not 80 per cent as has often been supposed.

There's a great international market opportunity for an increase in food production in Australia, but there's no explanation on just this feat going to be achieved, especially if climate change scientists are correct and our food chain is increasing out of our hands.

The Government claims it applied a rigorous national interest to all foreign investment applications.
The spokesman Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, said foreign investment could help Australian companies and farmers gain access to new export markets, grow their businesses and create jobs. The exports will be to the Middle East and jobs will be lost as Australian farmers will struggle to compete with big monolithic agricultural foreign government-endorsed businesses. The food will not be for Australians but for their own people.

Population growth has exploded in the Middle East and there are cultural limits to facing the problem, so they are seeking out resources in countries like Australia with poor leadership and permeable borders.

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said "under the current tutelage of Wayne Swan we can totally rely on the fact that this purchase, (purchase of 10 properties at Telopea Downs) like every other purchase that has ever been made, will never be stopped".

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