The price of milk and baby formula in Australia might be set to rise after Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison this week approved the sale of the country’s biggest dairy farm to a Chinese billionaire.
The Treasurer ruled that the 17,800 hectare Tasmanian Van Diemen’s Land Company can be sold for $280 million to Moon Lake Investments, owned by Chinese billionaire Lu Xianfeng.
News.com.au reports that some of the nation’s top business and political leaders have concerns that the sale could weaken the local market, and the milk products might be diverted to China to fuel its high demand for baby formula.
Australia has seen supermarket shelves depleted of baby formula in recent months, as people have snapped it up and sold it to China for a profit. Our formula is considered to be “white gold” on the Chinese market. This has meant that some parents have found it extremely difficult to purchase formula for their babies, with reports some have to visit multiple shops and drive for hours to locate the brand they use.
However, Mr Morrison is adamant this sale meets Australia’s “national interest test” in relation to jobs and investment and must comply with Australian taxation laws. Besides, this dairy has never even been Australian owned in its 190 years of operation. The company that currently owns it is from New Zealand.
But is that good enough? Protecting Australia’s food supply should be the job of politicians and should be our national interest. Times are different now than they were 190 years ago.
In this case, the new owners have agreed that they will keep the current contracts of the dairy in place and there will be no change to where the supply goes. But independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie is concerned that things could change in the future, and the supply from the dairy could be diverted elsewhere.
Another Chinese billionaire last year purchased two major Australian cattle stations in the far north, and now owns several major cattle stations across the Top End.
In 2013 Australia’s most valuable farm, Queensland’s Cubbie Station, a cotton producer, was sold to a Chinese textile manufacturer. It is the largest irrigation property in the southern hemisphere and its sale sparked a lot of heated discussion at the time about foreign ownership of agricultural land and water usage.
Foreign ownership alone isn’t the only threat to our food supply.
Last year we had a problem with frozen berries containing hepatitis being stocked in Australian supermarkets – the source of the berries was China. It was revealed at the time China fuels a high demand for our quality, locally grown berries and we ship a lot of the good stuff over there… only to have them ship the stuff they don’t want that they grow back to us.
This is an extremely important issue for Australia, and one our politicians can’t afford to stuff up. What they allow now could have serious consequences well into the future.