With all 12 Senate seats up for grabs in the forthcoming federal election, the issue of foreign ownership is a hot topic for candidates seeking electoral support.
Former Condamine farmer Rowell Walton is number one on the Katter’s Australian Party Senate ticket and he has challenged the LNP Coalition’s fifth-placed Barry O’Sullivan to “come clean” on his party’s policy in relation to foreign ownership in general and the sale of the Kidman properties to Chinese interests in particular.
"The government had intervened to stop the sale to China before the election and my bet is that they will simply wait till after the election to offer it to the Chinese," said Mr Walton.
"Katter's Australian Party says ‘Australia - Not for sale’. Voters should be under no illusion that under the current government it will only be a matter of time before more land is sold off to foreign interests" he said.
His dig comes in the wake of ABC polling this week showing a large majority of Australians support tighter restrictions on farm sales to foreigners. That opinion is held most strongly in rural communities.
"Unless they want more sell-offs, Australians should vote 1 for KAP in the Senate and House of Reps,” Mr Walton concluded.
It was a comment that Senator O’Sullivan took on with relish, saying the time for debate on “the most important issue to face the nation” was not in the middle of an election, when it would descend into playing on people’s fears.
“That’s what Bob and his ilk rely on. I want this done in a sensible, measured way, not through populist protagonists,” he said.
“People need to consider that foreign ownership has been going on for over 100 years. Over 99 per cent of titles in this nation are held by Australians. In agriculture, that’s 89pc. Of the 11pc in foreign hands, 7pc of that has been held since Federation.
“This Reds under the beds scare simply isn’t supported by the data.”
Mr O’Sullivan said that what he was not in favour of was vertical integration, and giving foreign owners so much say in a business that they affected its outcomes.
Mr Walton was a card-carrying member of the National Party in Queensland before serving as the founding president of KAP, due largely because he felt the major parties weren’t looking after the bush.
“I know we can deliver. If we have the balance of power, we can exercise it,” he said.
However, Mr O’Sullivan said the party’s only federal representative, Bob Katter had been able to deliver nothing for Kennedy.
“Electors need to be very careful of what they do. The budget repair job before us is very big,” he said.
He wasn’t sure of the genesis of comments that the bush was being taken for granted under the Coalition, reeling off a list of funding promises through the Developing North Australia white paper, including beef roads, water infrastructure and tax measures.
“It’s been a hard couple of years – I can’t find one happy voter in the whole country – but there is a danger in turning to KAP for answers.
“We’ve had five Prime Ministers in six years – that’s what independents and minor parties give you.
“They hold you to ransom and don’t act in the national interest.”
He said that after the election, providing the LNP was returned, the Coalition was planning a large symposium in Canberra on foreign ownership, involving 135 stakeholders.
Mr Walton said as well as fighting against foreign ownership, a push towards full employment through a strong manufacturing industry, and supportive marketing systems for groups such a dairy, were features that people were finding attractive about KAP policies.
“I think we have a good chance in this election – there are probably three or four Senate seats in play.
“It depends on how preferences roll out and that’s impossible to tell, but I think it’s important that people know my background.
“I would be someone in government who’s known good and bad times in the bush.”