The Coronavirus pandemic has been a blessing-in-disguise for the down under country of Australia. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the Australian public would have never got to know about the tight hold the dragon had around the kangaroos. From the trade wars to the foreign investment to the increasing menace of the United Front, Australians are being subjected to hard reality checks, one after another. In a related development, it has come into light that the People Republic of China has become the biggest owner of Australian water and that has left the Aussie public in a tizzy.
According to a Daily Mail report, China has reportedly become the single biggest foreign owner of Australian water. The CCP led Chinese authoritarian regime now owns 756GL of water after a three percent boost of its share in 2018-19 to be well ahead of previous joint leader the US (713GL), followed by the UK (394GL).
The lion-share of water that China owns, is in Australia’s largest river system viz. Murray Darling Basin. Almost a third of surface water in the basin is foreign-owned and China owns a worryingly 10.8 percent of it.
Water first became a tradeable commodity in some parts of Australia in the 1980s, but over the years the market has grown into an industry worth A$3 billion (US$2.08 billion) a year – the largest of its kind in the world.
As a direct repercussion, the farmers of the region are struggling to afford the precious life resource for irrigation and other purposes as the prices have been jacked up to incredibly high levels. The reduction of water available in key river systems has seen the price of water steadily rise.
According to ABC report, Chinatex Australia, one of the two Chinese state-owned enterprises that own the water-rights in Australia had failed to pay a A$31.35 million court order to compensate a local beef provider over a failed export deal. The said company was lambasted in the parliament too.
Water ownership—a lucrative investment
Water ownership in Australia has become an increasingly lucrative investment off late, especially for overseas buyers.
Reported by TFI, Australia had recently changed its foreign investment rules which gave greater approval powers to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) to curtail opportunistic takeovers of struggling businesses amid increasing national security risk—mostly by the Chinese.
However, according to news reports, private foreign investors buying into Australia’s water markets are largely exempted from investment restrictions put in place by FIRB. The limited scrutiny by the FIRB has allowed the Chinese to flourish and invest heavily in water.
Last year, Conservative Party’s South Australian Senate candidate Rikki Lambert had sounded the bugle over the increasing Chinese dominance in Australian waters.
“The Chinese Government has effective control of any [Chinese] company that operates around the world. There is a clear connectivity between their governments and the ownership of that water and that’s very concerning.” the leader had remarked.
China is meticulously buying Australia’s water with a malicious intent to dry up the country as the routine droughts plague the region in the wake of global warming.
Last year was the country’s hottest and driest year on record. Consequently, it is imperative to note that Australia is one of the driest inhabited continent on the planet and with the water increasingly getting in the hands of few private overseas players, the farmers and the natives are starting to ask some tough questions to the legislators.
The USA and the UK are still Australia’s allies but ties between Canberra and Beijing have soured like anything over the last few months.
China has warned Australia for standing up to it and has been continuously threatening the Scott Morrison government with dire consequences.
Ben Fordham, host of a popular radio breakfast show in Australia stated that “While China threatens Australia on just about every other front at the moment, they’ve also got both hands on our water. Our farmers are being bashed and robbed.”
The Chinese are driving up the cost of water by market manipulation and therefore are being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for possible foul play.
The Australian public is also demanding more transparency from the government regarding the tenders and how it is awarding it. Helen Dalton from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party is among those calling for more transparency. Last year, she put forward a bill proposing that politicians and businesses – foreign or domestic – disclose their water interests.
Australia—slowly and steadily letting itself free from Chine influence
While the issue of Water-rights has become a bone of contention for the Scott Morison government, it has so far been quite pragmatic on the other fronts to counter the increasing Chinese hegemony.
Reported by TFI, a US government-backed media outlet is preparing to launch a Chinese-language (Mandarin) news service in Australia, hinting that the USA and Australia are both willing to take the fight to the Xi Jinping red authoritarian regime by playing his dirty game of propaganda.
Canberra is increasingly becoming wary of Beijing and last week even suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong after China passed the controversial National Security Bill which is aimed at culling the freedom and autonomy of Hong Kongers.
The Scott Morrison government also announced a pathway to permanent residency for Hong Kongers, muck alike the UK. The move was aimed at irking China and it apparently worked too as Beijing called the move as interfering in its ‘internal affairs’.
The FIRB has tightened the noose around certain investment avenues but it is yet to fix the loophole that is still allowing the Chinese to buy water unchecked in the country.
The bigger issue than giving out the rights of water heedlessly to foreign ventures is rather the paucity of it due to over exploitation. The costs as a result shoot up and it’s the common Australian that suffers the most amidst the whole situation.
The World Bank is saying that water security is the third biggest issue that is going to be facing our planet by 2050 and therefore it is high time that Australia revises its policy about giving away Water-rights.