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Does Australia need a national policy to preserve agricultural land?

An Australian Farm Institute study provides a comprehensive review of what is currently known about the amount and location of Australian agricultural land, the rate of land use change occurring, and how governments make decisions both in Australia and internationally. Whether or not there will be sufficient good quality land available for agriculture in the future has not been a high priority issue for most of the past two hundred years.

Does Australia need a national policy to preserve agricultural land?

Obviously we do! This is a question being asked by the Australian Farm Institute

The rate of land use is changing, and it's important how governments make decisions both in Australia and internationally. Australia has the sixth largest land area and the lowest population density of almost any nation on earth, so the question of whether or not there will be sufficient good quality land available for agriculture in the future has not been a high priority issue for most of the past two hundred years. It's assumed that land is an infinite resource.

Our large land mass gives false sense of security, but Australia has only a little more than 6% arable land, irregular water supplies, and Australia features 96 percent desert. It lacks regular water, fertile soils and resources to carry its current population load. Yet, politicians remain bent on adding millions more people to Australia.

Obviously property development is more lucrative than horticulture, and their lobbyists are far more cash-up and powerful. Food security is not high on politicians' priority list.

According to the research report, Australia is being too reckless with its best agricultural land, and future generations might regret decisions that are currently being made about the future use of that land. With urban sprawl, mining, CSG and environmental demands taking more and more land, and foreign investors also purchasing significant areas, it is legitimate to ask whether Australia can realistically plan to become the future "food bowl of Asia". It's also legitimate to ask if our government's drive for perpetual economic growth be justified if it means we pay higher prices for imported food, something that may diminish in future years with global population reaches 9 billion.

While Australia appears to have plenty of land, in reality only about 3% is actually suitable for cropping, and even less of this is considered to be prime agricultural land. Low or high Population density and population size can't be compared to the nations in Europe of Asia with fertile soils, high rainfall and high human "carrying capacity".

The report concludes that Australia currently lacks a consistent and comprehensive understanding of where this land is located, or how much of it is being diverted from agriculture each year.

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 product at second-stage production, not 80 per cent as has often been supposed.

There's a great international market opportunity for a four-fold increase in food production in Australia, but there's no explanation on just this magnificent feat is going to be achieved, especially if climate change scientists are correct. A free-market economy has no parameters for the limitations of Nature, and that the security of domestic food supplies must be a priority over exports.

Once high immigration - the driver of our population growth - created jobs and an economy of scale, now our population growth is threatening our local fresh food supplies, and it must be slashed. We can't rely on imported food as global overpopulation will mean countries will need the food for their own populations. Food is more important than a "healthy" GDP!

Property development and real estate is obviously more lucrative than growing vegetables. It's about short-term profits and cash flows than real planning. What's the use of economic growth - a pseudonym now for population growth - without food security?

We must stabilize our numbers or we will be no better off than bacteria in a petri dish, bemoaning the lack of room for growth, knowing our final demise but being trapped by a leadership vacuum on population and its implications for food security.

The remarks made by prominent Australian businessman and environmentalist, Dick Smith that in 100 years time people in Australia will be starving to death is not implausible.

Minister for Sustainable Population Tony Burke remains silent, while our growth-based economy continues unfettered. . It's a number-free ministerial policy.

See also: The Groundwater Footprint: The Privatisation of the World's Water Resources of 16 August 2012.


Growcom report on food security to download
(the italics are mine)
The report found that Australia is not as food secure as suggested by simplistic examinations of the relevant data. Australia already imports 34 per cent of fruit consumed and 19 per cent of vegetables. The report found that these imports could disappear as the world population heads for 9 billion people by 2050 and countries retain their production for their own people.

The world will need to double food production by 2050 just to ensure that the number of hungry does not increase from its current level of 1 billion people. This is unlikely to happen, with phosphorus fertilizers disappearing, peak oil, and declining quality and quantity of land and fresh water.

The current diminishing level of food security in the world is being driven by a number of factors. These include a burgeoning world population heading for 9 billion by 2050, loss of land and water due to degradation and urbanisation, speculative trading in commodities, and the increasing appetite for meat, milk and other sources of protein in countries which have become more affluent in recent years.

While more than half of Australia’s land surface is used for agricultural purposes, the area of productive land is decreasing as a result of increasing urbanisation, land use competition and degradation (e.g. salinity, nutrient depletion, erosion, weeds etc., ABARE-BRS 2010).

Based on current levels of immigration of above 260,000 per year, research undertaken for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship found that by 2050, 430,000 hectares of agricultural land surrounding Melbourne and Sydney will be taken up by housing (National Institute of Labour Studies 2010; Peckham 2011).

The best soils for horticulture occur predominantly in the peri-urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne, South-East Queensland, and a number of regional cities in Queensland (CDI Pinnacle, Street Ryan and Associates, and Growcom 2004; Buxton and Low Choy 2007). Horticulture cannot simply just move further west, as is sometimes suggested.

Obviously cash-up property developers have more lobbying power than fruit and vegetable growers. We are eating ourselves into a "corner" through population growth and a vacuum of leadership and vision

The weakening of cultural links between urban consumers and rural producers contributes to the current situation where consumers do not recognise the true value and worth of food.

While the media and politicians are debating issues such as racism, gay marriage, EMA, corruption and mis-use of funds, economic growth, etc, our food security is disappearing under the radar

Growcom recommend establishing an Australian Food Security Agency:
This agency would co-ordinate the development and implementation of policies and programs targeted to improving Australia’s food security.

This includes:
Determining how many people Australia can environmentally sustainably support, and where to house them while minimising the alienation of good quality cropping land and urban encroachment.

Meanwhile, Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, remains mute!

In another report, (1994) scientists have noticed similarities, for instance, between the changing shape of Los Angeles as seen by space satellite, and the changes visible in petri-dish cultures inoculated with E. coli bacteria, organisms that live in animal guts. Both the bacterial and human colonies expand in intricate fractal patterns, gradually filling the spaces surrounding them. Judging from satellite pictures, human beings in Los Angeles exhibit no more ability to control their own collective growth than do the E. coli germs.

Social problems - injustice, economic inequality, genocide, cultural extinction, etc. - exist and should be addressed. But they're insignificant compared to overpopulation. The overpopulation problem will eventually solve itself, as it did in the Petri dish - eventually the bacteria consume all the agar and die!

A free-market economy based on perpetual growth and greed will not consider non-monetary needs such as fresh food production, environmental conservation, human survival and living standards. It pushes only for economic growth, even to our detriment.

Who would have thought Bob Hawke could descend to the low level of betrayal? He is negotiating the sale of 30,000 ha of irrigation land and our biggest man-made water storage at Argyle river in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. A Chinese investment company is interested to secure their food security.

The land will be irrigated by Lake Argyle, which is three times the capacity of Lake Eildon and 18 times the size of Sydney Harbour. This is in Australia, the world's driest continent made up of over 90% desert!

The Shanghai Zhongfu group is one of few remaining bidders for the 15,000ha of West Australian land and wants Northern Territory's 15,000ha also in one parcel. Shanghai Zhongfu has offered to develop irrigation infrastructure, a sugar mill and an abattoir.

AUSTRALIA may not be able to re-acquire land to grow food in times of need if the land is owned by a foreign government.

A parliamentary estimates committee accuses Trade Minister Craig Emerson of supporting Chinese proposals to secure the prized land because former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke was lobbying for one of the Chinese companies, the Shanghai-based Zhongfu Group.

According to Senator Joyce, Emerson " .... is following on the heels of his former boss Bob Hawke, who does not hide that he is involved in selling large parts of regional Australia to the Chinese," and "I don't blame the Chinese for being prudent and planning ahead for their own food security, but if this is in their best interests to buy our farms, then it can't be in ours as well."

The FOR argument is that "Australia needed Chinese investment if agricultural production was to increase". We in Australia don't have the skills or economic power to develop and harness the irrigation potential of our own land - our natural heritage.

Zhongfu wants the right to develop all 14,000ha of land on offer to grow sugar cane for ethanol and sugar production. We can't buy land in China, or Korea or Japan. The land-grabs are one way - towards Australia- and the lack of leadership in Australia means that these wealthy predatory nations are able to buy their way into and eat away our future food security. We are only the consumers and service industries to support China's growth.

The punishment for treason in the past was to be hanged, drawn and quartered, or at least shot by a firing squad! Now, it's all part of business-as-usual, our economic "growth" and global "expansion"?

Candobetter Ed. Title changed slightly for defamation risk reasons. See also: Conflict of interest claims in China farmland deal of 1 June, WA Nationals tell Joyce to welcome China of 1 June, ABC News Radio transcripts of 7 June.

There is no excuse for this. The land could have been leased instead of sold. We need laws to protect our land from going beyond our democratic control.

A comment, linking back to this story and quoting the article and some of the comments attracted the following response on

... I saw Bob Hawke as guilty of treason and treachery long ago for opening up Australia to the free – read unfair – market without warning or compensation to most of those who would be adversely affected.

Howard just turbocharged the process.

Nick Xenophon said this week that the Eurozone regards Australia as the “Taliban” of free markets. In other words, the “fundamentalists” of free markets.

Thanks for the link. It’s very informative.

The following is adapted from a coment posted to in response to Salient Green's comment, reproduced above.

I remember how, in 1983, Paul Keating, like a bolt out of the blue, with no
electoral mandate whatsoever, announced that he would 'float' the Australian
Dollar. Although few ordinary Australians realised it, this was the first step
towards an extreme of neo-liberal fundamentalism formalised in Professor Fred
Hilmer's rigged National
Competition Policy inquiry
which commenced in 1993.

The description of Australia as the "Taliban" of free markets is most apt.

If the market was truly 'free' then sovereign communities (a.k.a. 'government'
at the local, state and federal levels) would also be free to own and operate
enterprises which produce wealth and provide services.

The fact they are forbidden from doing so shows the very term 'free
market', often used as synonym for economic neo-liberalism, to be lie.

Why shouldn't governments be allowed to operate banks, insurance companies,
manage our retirement income, mine our minerals, build houses, own land and
buildings, manufacture cars and other goods or operate funeral services?

Naomi Klein should could have included a chapter on Australia in The Shock
of 2007.

Western Australian Community Independent, Mark M Aldridge has recently posted a page on his web-site,, Australia -- Not For Sale on that page is a link to a petition opposed to the sellout of Australian rural land. Please sign.

The article begins:

The world’s population set to hit 7 billion later this year?and predicted to hit 10 billion by the end of the century, food production and?top quality agricultural land has never been a more valuable asset for any countries long term future.

From many different countries in particular those with limited ability to feed their population, government-backed companies have begun buying up farmland around the world, with Australia’s vast tracts of top quality primary production land a prime target. Qatar-based “Hassad Foods” has been a major player in the big local farmland buy-up, the company has invested more than $60 million in prime Australian sheep grazing land in the past year, with more properties in the company’s sights.

The Weekly Times reported Hassad were poised to snap up a further 8500 hectares of land in Victoria’s western district in a deal worth $35 million?—?about 20% above market price.

China state-owned conglomerate “Bright Foods” has also been desperately looking to acquire local agribusinesses because of the federal governments ideals making it easy for overseas investors. The Shanghai-controlled company have reported to be interested in Foster’s wine division, while last year they made a failed $1.7 billion tilt for sugar producer CSR. The company has also managed to get the backing of the NSW government to explore local wine, diary and sugar investment opportunities.

In the south-east of Australia, Brazilian beef giant JBS has been busy buying up abattoirs and meatworks, while Singapore-based “Olam International” now control almost 45% of Australian almonds,?thanks to its purchase of “Timbercorp” and its 8096-hectare plant. Ausbuy CEO Lynne Wilkinson made it clear the issue of food security is paramount to the rest of the world and should also be just as important to Australia.

Lynne also went on to say there have been many recent instances, including the sale of over 100,000 hectares of farmland in Western Australia to the Arab States, which show the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and the ACCC are not looking after Australia’s long term security interests....

Mark is also a wildlife carer. The facebook Page for his Willow Bank Wildlife sanctuary is here.