Australians will have a better oversight of foreign purchases of agricultural land following the passage of legislation in parliament this week which delivered on another key Coalition election commitment.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce and Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton said that the legislation formalises the new register of foreign ownership of agricultural land and lowers the screening thresholds for foreign purchases of agricultural land and agribusiness by private investors from $252 million to $15 million (cumulative) and $55 million respectively.
“While we have always welcomed foreign investment in this country, this critical legislation simply allows the government, and the Australian community, to have the proper oversight of foreign purchases of Australian land,” Minister Joyce said.
“This is not about blocking foreign investment, it is about providing a level of oversight and scrutiny that the Australian people demand when we analyse potential foreign investment proposals to ensure they are in the national interest.
“The establishment of a register will give us clear and accurate information on who owns what and lowering the screening thresholds to $15 million and $55 million will allow the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) more oversight and responsibility in scrutinising foreign purchases.
“It will also give a clearer picture of the level and sources of foreign investment in agribusiness, with a common sense definition of agribusiness as certain first stage processing immediately outside the farm gate. This includes businesses that process meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, fruit and vegetable processing, and sugar, grains and oils and fat manufacturing.
“The Government has also resolved to introduce a register of foreign ownership of water entitlements which will give greater clarity on the level of foreign ownership of another of our precious natural resources.
“This is a clear indication of our commitment to strengthening the foreign investment framework to better reflect the expectations of the Australian people whom we’re here to serve.”
Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton said this legislation would provide certainty for communities across the electorate of Parkes that foreign investment in the region is in the national interest.
“I know there are people throughout the communities I represent that are concerned about foreign acquisitions and what the implications are,” Mr Coulton said.
“With this legislation, we can now be confident that we’ve vastly improved the scrutiny and transparency around foreign investment in our agricultural land as well as in agribusiness.
“It’s important that we note the positive effect foreign investment can have in the community as it not only provides benefits to local farming families but it can also contribute to the prosperity of local businesses, local communities and the broader economy.
“We must ensure that significant foreign investment across Western New South Wales has the potential to not just benefit the local economy but also ensure it is in Australia’s best interests.”
“With profitable and productive agricultural assets around the world becoming harder and harder to find, we don’t want Australian businesses and the Australian community to miss out on the massive opportunities that the future growth in food and fibre demand will deliver.”
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 1 December 2015.
Further information on the reforms to strengthen the foreign investment framework is available on the FIRB website.