The countries beating China in agriculture investment in Australia

Fair Work

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:

  1. The United Kingdom – 27.5 million ha (52% of foreign land ownership)
  2. USA – 7.7 million ha (14.8% of foreign land ownership)
  3. Netherlands – 2.98 million ha (5.7% of foreign land ownership)
  4. Singapore – 1.9 million ha (3.6% of foreign land ownership)
  5. China – 1.5 million ha (2.8% of foreign land ownership)
  6. Philippines – 1.1 million ha (2.2% of foreign land ownership)
  7. Switzerland – 1.1 million ha (2.1% of foreign land ownership)
  8. Jersey – 0.9 million ha (1.8% of foreign land ownership)
  9. Indonesia – 0.8 million ha (1.5% of foreign land ownership)
  10. Japan – 0.7 million ha (1.3% of foreign land ownership)


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5 years ago

Oh to be a city slicker when Morrison and Joyce are talking unadulterated bulltish.
Some properties carry 1 moo cow per square kilometre another may carry a dairy herd of 150 on 100 hectares or you can buy a few farms in Tassie and end up with a 30,000 head dairy herd on 25 properties that make up Van Diemen’s Land Company or even Cubbie Station where the then Labor Govt gifted $300million water right to the business so it could be sold to overseas interests for $300m as they could not get a bid prior to the water right being given. Now there is no water down stream for NSW farmers unless there are floods in QLD. But hey, it paid Kev07 political debts.
It’s not the size of the land mass but the quality that determines the value.
You might have land that crops at a consistently high yield or high quality, another in an area of low rainfall that has low yield or low quality. Take the Barossa compared to Mildura for example. Same for grain, legumes, grapes-table and wine and so on.

Listing owners and property as was initially promised would allow you to research to ascertain quality and also which owners or leasors pay tax in Australia. Are they loaded with debt, maybe evade the thin capitalisation and transfer pricing rules and pay no tax as well.

So Emma, a little work to be done from behind the old desk. Morrison daren’t kiss and tell on his donors and the LNP and ALP Pollies don’t want people to know the extent of the backroom deals being done at the expense of Australians.
Maybe your next article can be on conflicts of interest. Auditors must be not only independent but also seen to be independent. The Chair of the FIRB has conflicts yet Morrison says nothing……could it be same masters but an indirect route?

Not Fooled....
Not Fooled....
5 years ago

and where is JB Swift? they hold more than 40% of abattoir capacity in this country and ALL THE AND FOR THE CATTLE TO STOCK IT, but aren’t on the list? They are from Argentina? If they have a listing on the local stock exchange, they don’t have to declare?

5 years ago

The problem really is that none of the other countries on the list are communist dictatorships and therefore potential enemies.