Govt to launch national foreign ownership register

Beef Central, 23/10/2012

The Gillard Government will implement a national foreign ownership register for agricultural land.

In an announcement to the National Farmers Federation Congress in Canberra today, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the register will provide the community with a more comprehensive picture of the specific size and location of foreign agricultural landholdings over and above what is currently available.

The prime minister said foreign investment had helped to build Australian agriculture over the last 200 years and it was important for the future growth and prosperity of our farming sector.

However the Government also understood the need for more and better information on foreign investment in agricultural land.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released last year showed that 89pc of Australian agricultural land is entirely Australian owned and a further 6pc of Australian agricultural land is majority owned by Australians. These figures were broadly in line with levels of foreign ownership from around thirty years ago.

However, Prime Minister Gillard acknowledged that comprehensive information about foreign investment in Australian agricultural land was limited.

The Government established a working group on a foreign ownership register for agricultural land in June and a consultation paper will soon be released by the working group, which is being chaired by the Treasury and comprises a range of Australian Government agencies.

As part of the consultation process, the group will also be working with State and Territory governments to discuss existing land registration systems and processes when considering elements of a national register.

The final design of the register will take into account the need to improve transparency of foreign ownership in agriculture without imposing unnecessary burdens on investors or duplicating work already undertaken by State and Territory governments.

NFF welcomes foreign ownership register

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) welcomed the news, describing it as a win for Australian farmers.

“In April, the NFF called for a national land register that makes it compulsory for all foreign persons or organisations that acquire or transfer an interest in agricultural land and water to report the sale – in order to gain clarity on the purchases of land and water and also have the ability to monitor trends,” NFF president Jock Laurie said.

“In June, the Government responded, stating that they would establish a working group to consult on the development of a foreign ownership register. This was a good first step, but today the Government has responded to the NFF’s calls, and announced that they will develop a foreign investment register that provides a more comprehensive picture of the specific size and locations of foreign agricultural landholdings.

“This is very welcome news for the Australian agricultural sector, as it means greater transparency around this much-debated issue,” Mr Laurie said.

“Of course, it is essential that we keep in mind that foreign investment has traditionally been very positive for Australian agriculture. It is very important that we do not deter foreign investment, but as we have been saying for months, we do want to see greater transparency around investment to ensure that the motivations behind this investment are clear.

“As we discussed at Congress just yesterday, we remain concerned about foreign-owned entities purchasing Australian agricultural land for the purposes of securing their own future food availability. But before any policy decisions are made on this important issue, we need to first have the national land register in place to understand the current levels of foreign investment in agriculture.

“Having a full understanding of foreign investment is crucial to getting the policy decision right. It’s essential that we’re very clear on the facts of foreign investment, and we will continue to focus our efforts on building transparency,” Mr Laurie said.



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