The recent purchase by Chinese interests of four large macadamia farms in the Dunoon area with around 130,000 trees was approved by the federal government under its national interest test.
The four farms in the ‘macadamia capital of Australia’, totalling 380 hectares, were bought by Chinese investment group Discovery for around $18 million.
But Member for Page, Kevin Hogan, says no local jobs will be lost as a result of the sale.
Mr Hogan said the purchase had to be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board as it exceeded the foreign investment threshold of $15 million.
A spokesman for the new owner told the ABC that it would not make sense to bring in workers from overseas to manage the farms, as Australian farms were already highly-mechanised and efficient.
Company spokesman Alex Yum told the ABC that Australian macadamia farms were known for their efficiency.
’For the same size farms in Australia we use five people to manage them, but if you put this kind of size farm in China we would use 100, maybe 200 people to manage… so it’s highly efficient here in Australia,’ he said.
Mr Hogan told Echonetdaily that all purchases of agricultural land, including on the north coast, that were over the $15 million limit ‘have gone through the National Interest Test’.
He said the Nationals at the last election ‘took a commitment to lower the foreign investment threshold from $250m to $15m’.
‘This is the level that the Foreign Investment Review Board investigate foreign purchases of land. They determine whether it is in the national interest or not. I am very disappointed Labor wants to increase this threshold to $50 million,’ he said.
Local real-estate agents say Chinese investors are keen to invest inmulti-million-dollar macadamia orchards in both NSW and Queensland to protect their supply.
According to ABC Rural, Australia exports nearly a quarter of its national crop to China, and local growers are already struggling to keep up with the strong demand.
Last year, Australia produced 48,300 tonnes of nuts in-shell, up 10 per cent on last year, and those numbers are tipped to rise again this year.
And prices have improved too.
In the 2014 season ,growers were getting around $3.50 per kilogram of nut in shell, but last year the price skyrocketed to around $4.50/kg.
The Australian Macadamia Society says about 10 per cent of macadamia farms are foreign owned and it is not concerned about any increase in that trend .
Jolyn Burnett, the society’s chief executive officer, told the ABC that there had been overseas investment in the Australian macadamia industry for many years, with ‘no more than a dozen out of 80 or more farms sold’.
But observers say many of the sales go largely unnoticed, because the Foreign Investment Review Board only needs to scrutinise the sales if they are $15 million and above.
However, as of July last year all foreign sales need to be listed on a national register, regardless of price.
Mr Burnett told the ABC in January that Australian companies are investing in macadamia businesses in South African, China and Hawaaii at similar levels.
‘An Australian is the biggest grower of macadamias in South Africa, an Australian company owns about a third of the macadamias in Hawaii,’ he said.
‘There are Australian shareholders in at least two orchards in China, so this foreign cross ownership goes both ways.’
He said that in most of the sales he’s been involved with, the investors want to keep Australian managers and workers on site.