THE first major decision of the new Turnbull Government has been the opposite of what was promised.
The government has banned S. Kidman and Co, the Australian owners of 10 cattle stations, from selling their properties to a foreign investor.
We were promised more than just a change of leader, but the Kidman decision is in lock step with the Abbott government’s decision to ban the sale of GrainCorp, the grain handler in the Eastern states, from acquisition by US company Archer Daniels Midland.
The Prime Minister and Treasurer might be different, but what remains is the fundamental bargain underpinning the Coalition — the Liberals pacify the Nationals through occasional bans on foreign investment.
We were promised a government that would seize the enormous opportunities the world offers.
But one of the greatest opportunities is the opportunity of foreign investment, which improves global access, introduces new ways of doing business, and boosts employment.
We were promised a rejection of defensive policy - but there is nothing more defensive than a policy driven by fear of the Yellow Peril.
Above all, we were promised a government that would respect the intelligence of the Australian people.
But there is nothing intelligent about the decision to ban the sale of cattle stations to foreign investors.
As the Aborigines would be entitled to ask, what is so special about this mob of foreign investors?
The cattle industry would not exist but for foreign investment.
The Prime Minister and Treasurer have justified their ban by saying that one of the cattle stations overlaps a weapons testing range that makes "a unique and sensitive contribution to Australia’s national defence".
But this begs a very important question.
If our national security is threatened because someone with a foreign passport owns this cattle station, wouldn’t national security also be threatened if a disloyal Australian owned it?
What do we know about the current Australian owners?
Are they pacifists?
Do they vote for the Greens?
Would they be willing to rat out their country to make some money, or to push their own agenda?
There’s no suggestion the potential foreign investors were in any way associated with a foreign government.
And in any case, whatever the owner of the cattle station could find out about the weapons testing range could be found out by other means, including visiting the cattle station and satellite imagery.
Actually owning the property is immaterial.
This is another instance where the government is seeking to close off queries and debate about an unjustified exercise of authority by citing national security.
Banning foreign investment warrants significant debate.
When all the evidence points to foreign investment as a key to a dynamic agricultural sector and national prosperity, we have a government willing to let foreign investment policy be set by the Nationals, at the expense of all Australians.