Treasurer Joe Hockey says any decisions on foreign investment will be made on a case-by-case basis, amid growing tension in the coalition over the issue, highlighted by Indonesia’s plan to buy up Australian cattle farms.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation finance ministers meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Mr Hockey insisted questions of foreign investment in Australia would be worked through in a methodical fashion.
The comments come after Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce last week slammed a proposal by Indonesia to buy a million hectares of Australian cattle land as part of its efforts to reduce its reliance on imported beef.
Mr Joyce has also voiced concerns about a $3 billon bid by US company Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) for Australia’s largest agribusiness, GrainCorp.
On Thursday, Mr Joyce told a gathering of farmers in Townsville that the Nationals still had major concerns about the proposed ADM takeover of GrainCorp.
The GrainCorp decision, expected within the next three months, looms as the first big test for the new government on foreign investment as well as its relationship with its junior coalition partner, the Nationals.
Mr Hockey gave a cautious response when asked about GrainCorp.
“We will have a methodical process for evaluating individual proposals and you can be rest assured that my decision will not be contrary to the national interest,” he said.
Mr Hockey, the first minister of the new government to hold bilateral talks on the international stage, said he had also discussed broader issues around the cattle trade with his Indonesian counterpart, Chatib Basri.
An Indonesian plan to buy large swathes Australian cattle country was not raised.
But Mr Hockey said both sides had spoken of a commitment to boosting the cattle trade, which has never recovered from a temporary ban on exports imposed by the Gillard government in reaction to evidence of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs.
“I was very encouraged in my discussions with the Indonesian finance minister, that it was recognised there is mutual benefit in expanding the cattle trade between Australia and Indonesia,” Mr Hockey said on Friday.
“We want to work closely together to expand and facilitate the export of food from Australia to Indonesia to meet Indonesia’s growing needs.”
Mr Hockey said the Indonesian finance minister had expressed a desire for his country to “forge deeper ties with Australia”.
“There is great warmth towards Australia and the new government from the Indonesian government. There is no doubt about that,” Mr Hockey said.
“The fact that the first bilateral meeting had by an Australian minister (in the new government) was with the finance minister of Indonesia is a good indication.”