GrainCorp decision made 'on hop'

Senior National Party figure Peter Walsh has repeated criticism that the government's rejection of the GrainCorp takeover was a decision made "on the hop", and one that it might regret.

Senior National Party figure Peter Walsh has repeated criticism that the government's rejection of the GrainCorp takeover was a decision made "on the hop", and one that it might regret.

Mr Walsh, Victoria's Agriculture Minister, said he welcomed foreign investment, but his GrainCorp stance put him at odds with federal National Party colleague Barnaby Joyce.

Mr Joyce was one of the most vocal opponents of US agriculture group Archer Daniels Midland's $3 billion bid for GrainCorp.

"He hasn't been quite so positive around foreign investment at times," Mr Walsh said of Mr Joyce. "From a Victorian point of view, we have no objections to foreign investment in the food supply chain."

The government's rejection of the takeover was discussed at a Global Food Foundation event that Mr Walsh attended on Monday night. Also there were members of Melbourne's Pratt family and departing GrainCorp chief Alison Watkins, who is moving to Coca-Cola Amatil.

At a breakfast in Melbourne on Wednesday, Mr Walsh said the consensus among business leaders was that the GrainCorp decision was, "hopefully, an aberration on a longer journey, a new government caught on the hop".

He said the Coalition had "probably made some decisions that, with the benefit of hindsight, they might regret. The general view by those who were there [at the Global Food Foundation function] was that's not the norm".

Mr Walsh later said that "we need to move on". He said he had no objection to foreign investment and it was vital in growing Australia's agriculture sector.

"One of the things I have wanted to drive is that Victoria is seen as a long-term supplier of safe, clean food to the world. Part of that will be [from] investment from other countries ... and I don't think we should be frightened of that.

"If there is actually investment from key overseas countries ... that will actually increase market opportunities in those countries. They're not going to invest here if they can't see a market internationally and back in their own countries."

Mr Walsh said Australia's grain industry had missed opportunities in the past five years after various merger talks between AWB Ltd, ABB Grain and GrainCorp failed.

"With the benefit of hindsight there was a missed opportunity of putting some of those businesses together to get a world-scale, Australian-owned company that could take our grain to the world and compete on an international market," he said.

Instead, AWB and ABB were snapped up by Canada's Agrium and Viterra respectively.

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