The perception that Chinese interests are the largest holders of Australian farming land is false according to the federal government’s first report on its Agricultural Land Register, which reveals the UK is the top source of foreign land investment in the country.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has welcomed the first numbers to be compiled by the Australian Tax Office’s land register, which requires international investors to submit their interests in Australian land.
At June 2015, China owned 2.8% of foreign owned land at 1.5 million hectares, while the UK, US, Netherlands and Singapore had the top four largest land holdings. Interests from the UK hold 7% of Australia’s total agricultural land, or 52% of all foreign held land.
Michael Santhanam-Martin, lecturer in agricultural production systems at the University of Melbourne, says the results are not surprising.
“The US and the UK have had an interest in Australian agricultural land over a long period of time,” he told SmartCompany.
At June 30 of this year, all foreign owners accounted for 13.1% of Australia’s available agricultural land, with livestock and cropping the two top types of activities performed. Queensland and the Northern Territory had the biggest foreign owner interests of any state or territory.
Treasurer Scott Morrison told the ABC the register will add needed transparency to foreign investment processes.
“We want people to be confident about how foreign investment is run in this country,” he said.
The report also clarified the definition of ‘foreign person’ for the purposes of tracking overseas ownership of land in Australia, saying the phrase covered someone not ordinarily a resident of Australia, a foreign government or foreign government investor, or foreign corporation.
CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley told SmartCompany foreign investment in Australian farmland had been an important part of Australia’s prosperity since the 1800s.
“To double the real value of annual agricultural exports by 2050, it’s estimated Australia will require around $400 billion to fund farm consolidation and changes in farm ownership and an additional $600 billion to lift farm productivity,” he says. Primary producers were set to benefit from the new register because of the greater amount of information now available to all Australians, CPA said.
In 2014 foreign farm ownership was pegged at 11% of available land, showing a 2% increase in the last two years.
The top 10 source countries for foreign land investment, at June 30 2016:
- The United Kingdom – 27.5 million ha (52% of foreign land ownership)
- USA – 7.7 million ha (14.8% of foreign land ownership)
- Netherlands – 2.98 million ha (5.7% of foreign land ownership)
- Singapore – 1.9 million ha (3.6% of foreign land ownership)
- China – 1.5 million ha (2.8% of foreign land ownership)
- Philippines – 1.1 million ha (2.2% of foreign land ownership)
- Switzerland – 1.1 million ha (2.1% of foreign land ownership)
- Jersey – 0.9 million ha (1.8% of foreign land ownership)
- Indonesia – 0.8 million ha (1.5% of foreign land ownership)
- Japan – 0.7 million ha (1.3% of foreign land ownership)