A FEDERAL opposition proposal to tighten foreign ownership of Australian farm land has been welcomed by the industry.
National Farmers Federation (NFF) president Jock Laurie said yesterday’s release of the federal Coalition’s discussion paper showed that both the opposition and government were taking the issue of foreign ownership seriously.
A key proposal of Tony Abbott’s paper is to require Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval for cumulative agricultural land acquisitions valued at $15 million or more.
At present no registration of foreign ownership is required for properties valued below $244 million, giving foreign buyers unrestricted access to all but a handful of Australian holdings.
“This is welcome news for the Australian agricultural sector, as it means greater transparency around this much-debated issue,” Mr Laurie said.
The Gillard government agreed in June to establish a working group to consult on the development of a foreign ownership register.
While Mr Abbott’s proposal goes much further, he prefaced his proposal with a commitment to supporting foreign investment.
“The Coalition unambiguously welcomes and supports foreign investment,” he said.
“Foreign investment has been and will continue to be instrumental to the economic development and growth of Australia.
“Many nations including China, India, Brazil, the United States and New Zealand have foreign investment regimes that provide more regulatory oversight and greater transparency than ours in terms of land holdings.
“We believe proper oversight can provide greater certainty to investors and ensure there is greater confidence in the Australian community that the investment taking place in agriculture and agribusiness is in our national interest.”
Mr Laurie said the NFF also supported appropriate foreign investment.
“Of course, it is essential that we keep in mind that foreign investment has traditionally been very positive for Australian agriculture.
“We do not wish to deter foreign investment, but we do want to see greater transparency around investment to ensure that the motivations behind this investment are clear.”
Several large south-west properties have been bought by foreign interests in recent years.
Mount Elephant station, a 3310-hectare showcase property near Derrinallum, was sold for more than $20 million to Swedish Count Carl Gustav Wachmeister in January 2010.
Two months later, Qatar-based Hassad Food bought the 2630-hectare Kaladbro Estate at Strathdownie to produce livestock and grain for overseas markets.
Larundel south of Ballarat sold to Chinese investors for about $14 million in 2011