Australia tightens rules on owning farm land

SYDNEY - Australia tightened rules yesterday requiring overseas investors to declare holdings of agricultural land amid concerns that it is losing control of its own food security.

Foreign ownership of Australian land has become a touchy issue. Official estimates put foreign ownership at 10 per cent, but there are concerns that it is far higher.

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said foreign owners should declare their interests with the country's tax office from July 1. The tax office will collect information on the location and size of property, size of interest acquired and country of origin of the foreign investor.

The information will be entered in a national register that will be made available to the public.

The move marks a further tightening in rules governing ownership of Australia's farm land. In March, the threshold for purchases of agricultural land by foreign entities requiring regulatory approval was lowered.

Foreign purchases of agricultural land over A$15 million (S$15.5 million) will be subject to regulatory approval from Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board. Previously, Australia required regulatory approval on foreign purchases of agricultural land of more than A$240 million.

Agricultural land has been a prickly issue in Australia for years, particularly as millions of hectares of agricultural land disappear every year, potentially impacting the country's valuable ability to export food.

Australia, which exports far more food than it produces, is one of the world's biggest suppliers of beef and a major producer of wheat.

In 2012, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott was the opposition leader, his Conservative party released a policy paper calling for increased scrutiny of farm land and agribusiness.

A government study into ownership of Australian agriculture in January 2012 also found that foreign firms controlled about half of the nation's key food industries, but offshore investors owned just 11 per cent of its farm land.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Australia tightens rules on owning farm land'. Print Edition | Subscribe