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SA's new political front as Brokenshire targets Qatari investment

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If there was any doubt Family First’s recent merger with the fledgling Australian Conservatives would herald a new style of politics for the Pentecostal-based party, it was dispelled today when parliamentary veteran Robert Brokenshire called on the Federal Government to demand the gulf state of Qatar “immediately divest itself of all Australian-held assets”.

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Neighbouring states have in recent days severed ties with Qatar amid allegations the gas-rich nation is sponsoring extremist terror groups, with US President Donald Trump echoing the claim.

But it’s not the sort of diplomatic tinderbox into which Brokenshire has traditionally asserted his well-honed political bluster, with the one-time Liberal minister-turned-Family First MP usually more at home doling out Freedom of Information revelations of government waste.

Instead, the tone he struck today was one that appeared to come directly from the playbook of his new national leader, Cory Bernardi.

“We cannot have foreign investors in this country whose activities are in direct opposition to the well-being of our people,” Brokenshire asserted.

“Qatar’s own Arab neighbours have cut ties with it in the past week because they believe Qatar is funding Islamist terrorists – we need to do the same.”

At issue is some 300,000ha of “prime Australian agricultural land” bought up by the Qatar Investment Authority-owned Hassad Food Company over the past seven years, 10,000ha of which Brokensire says is “here in South Australia”.

“As a principle, Australia can’t stand by and condemn terrorism when two beautiful young women are killed on the bridge in London… and yet allow Qatar [to be] funding Islamic terrorism and the Jihad,” Brokenshire said.

He has written to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asking for federal government pressure to be applied to Hassad.

He denied the move was an anti-Islam “dog-whistle”, saying “when you’ve been to a place like Loxton, as I was only a week ago, and the radio bulletins are telling us a young nurse from Loxton has been murdered…it’s sad and tragic, but also a wake-up call to every member of parliament to ensure we do everything we can to fight against terrorism”.

“Is Australia going to be principled and make a stand where there are serious allegations of direct funding of terrorism and evil or stand by and have a double standard? That’s the question here.”

But he conceded the political scope of the former Family First had changed.

“Australian Conservatives, through both our legislative councillors and senator Cory Bernardi, will look to our state and national interests at all times… and yes, we’re broadening out,” he said.

“I had a father fight in World War II, with many other men and women, to ensure we had freedom, safety and democracy… it’s in my blood.”

If the playbook is new for the former Family First party, it seems oddly in keeping with the broader tone of the week, a day after Jay Weatherill’s own announcement that the State Government would move to tighten bail and parole conditions for people with demonstrated links to terror groups.

But the Premier wouldn’t be drawn on the Australian Conservatives’ gambit today, telling reporters: “I’m going to have to concede to the expert foreign affairs experience of the Honourable Robert Brokenshire.”

“I’m going to leave matters of foreign affairs and international relations to my federal colleagues,” he added.

“It’s fraught when state politicians intrude on those matters.”

Brokenshire said Bernardi would take up his theme in Canberra today, but emphasised “it was my call to lead this… I did the homework on it”.

“When we’ve got the neighbouring countries cutting ties… Australia needs to show principle, backbone and strength to ensure that this country of Qatar divests its interests, as a priority, in Australian farmland.”

The move comes a year after the State Government celebrated – and encouraged – direct daily flights between Doha and Adelaide by Qatar Airways.

Brokenshire would not be drawn directly on whether he thought the airline should be similarly targeted, but noted: “I’ve asked the Federal Government to look at other sanctions as well.”

Asked upon what evidence he based his argument, he said: “I’ve read the reports from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries… it’s up to the Federal Government now to do the detailed investigative work.”

“As a member of parliament, I’m not going to stand by – Australian Conservatives are not going to stand by – and allow a situation where Australian farming soil may be funding terrorism.”

Asked whether Australian Conservatives would be positioning itself as an anti-Islamist party, he said: “Absolutely not, I make that clear.”

He said the party stood for “leaner, smaller and more effective government, growth and opportunity in free enterprise” as well as opportunities for families and communities.

“But we also stand for civil society,” he said.

“If the Federal Government is serious about combatting terrorism then they will stand up to those who are linked to it.

“If Qatar supports those who those who seek to kill our people and destroy our way of life then they cannot be allowed to do business here.”

A map from Brokenshire’s media release detailing the locations of Qatari agricultural holdings.

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