THE Prime Minister’s decision to set up a register of foreign-owned agricultural land is a step in the right direction, member for Wannon Dan Tehan says.
“My view is it’s a very good first step but it’s a pity it’s taken so long,” Mr Tehan said yesterday.
PM Julia Gillard announced the register at the National Farmers Federation national congress, saying she wanted to take the politics out of foreign ownership.
Ms Gillard said the register would provide a more comprehensive picture of the specific size and locations of foreign agricultural land holdings.
Mr Tehan said under present arrangements, the Foreign Investments Review Board would not investigate farm land purchases unless the value was more than $244 million.
“It’s a meaningless threshold. I do not know of a farm in Victoria that would sell for $244 million,” he said.
Mr Tehan called for the threshold to drop to $15 million at a minimum and be accumulative so that a foreign investor buying several properties would come under review for the full amount.
He also suggested the board should include a member with agricultural or agribusiness experience to allay concerns of rural and regional communities.
Victoria’s peak farming body also welcomed the move yesterday, saying it would provide greater transparency to the debate on foreign ownership.
But Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) president Peter Tuohey said his members wanted the register to be extended to water assets.
“As far as the VFF is concerned any foreign ownership of farm land and water should go onto the register, no matter what it is worth,” Mr Tuohey said. “This does not mean the VFF is opposed to foreign ownership.”
About 0.8 per cent of Victoria’s farmland is foreign-owned, although those figures rely on ABS analysis, which is out of date.