THE Federal Government will increase scrutiny and transparency around foreign investment in Australian agriculture, following the activation of the first stage of the foreign-owned agricultural land register on July 1.
From Wednesday this week all foreign investors who hold interests in agricultural land must register those interests with the Australian Taxation Office, regardless of the value of that land.
The ATO will collect information such as the location and size of property, size of interest acquired and country of origin of the purchaser on new foreign investment in agricultural land to develop a national register. This data will be made available to the public from 2016.
The new register will strengthen reporting requirements and provide a clear and accessible picture of foreign ownership of agricultural land, the government says.
All existing (pre-owned) holdings must be registered with the ATO by 31 December this year, and any new interests registered within 30 days.
The new register complements other measures the Government has put in place to deliver better scrutiny of foreign purchases of agricultural land.
Additionally, since March 1 this year, the screening threshold for foreign purchases of agricultural land by private sector investors has been lowered from $252 million to $15 million. As a result, the Foreign Investment Review Board is reviewing an additional 30 proposals that would otherwise have avoided scrutiny.
For foreign government-related entities and state-owned enterprises, the FIRB scrutiny threshold for all proposed investments, including in agricultural land, remains at zero.
“Foreign investment is integral to Australia’s economy. It contributes to growth, productivity and creates jobs, but the community must have confidence that this investment is for our nation’s benefit,” a Federal Government statement issued this afternoon says.
“These measures are a significant step in protecting Australia’s national interest, and are part of the Government’s ongoing work to strengthen the foreign investment framework.”
Stricter penalties for those foreign investors who breach the rules and application fees to ensure that Australian taxpayers are no longer required to fund the cost of administering the system will apply from December 1 this year.
Further information on the reforms to strengthen the foreign investment framework is available on the FIRB website.
The new regulations, in summary:
Since 1 March 2015, foreign investors have required approval to acquire interests of $15 million or more in agricultural land.
The $15 million threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase.
Foreign ownership register
From 1 July 2015, foreign investors holding interests in agricultural land must register those interests with the Australian Taxation Office (regardless of the value of that land).
All existing holdings must be registered by 31 December 2015 and any new interests be registered within 30 days.
This will provide a clear picture of foreign ownership of agricultural land as at 31 December 2015. The Australian Taxation Office will publish aggregate data in the first half of 2016.