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Greater transparency of foreign investments needed

23 April 2012

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling for greater transparency around investments made by foreign interests in Australian agricultural land and water.

NFF President Jock Laurie says the NFF’s position, determined by the NFF members in an out of session meeting last week, supported increased monitoring of foreign investments in Australian agriculture to inform future Government policy settings on this issue.

“Today, the NFF is calling for a national land register that makes it compulsory for all foreign persons or organisations who acquire or transfer an interest in agricultural land and water to report the sale within a prescribed period – applicable retrospectively, so that all purchases made to date are also captured,” Mr Laurie said.

“We are also calling for an annual report of the register findings to be published, summarising any changes to the holdings of agricultural land held by foreign interests,” Mr Laurie said. “This report will trigger an annual review of the policy settings around foreign investment, including the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) reporting threshold for agricultural land purchases by commercial interests,” Mr Laurie said.

Mr Laurie said that it is important to remember that foreign investment has traditionally been very positive for the Australian agricultural sector.

“Foreign investment has provided a much needed injection at a time when limited financial investment was occurring within Australia. Yet our members remain concerned about any changes to the motivations behind investment towards ensuring food security for other countries,” Mr Laurie said.

“The NFF welcomed the Government’s policy changes earlier in the year to conduct a biennial review of foreign investment and strengthen the national interest as a welcome first step: but on closer analysis of the issue, we believe that a national register is an additional, vital ingredient to ensure the level of transparency that the agricultural sector,” Mr Laurie said.

“At the core, the NFF supports foreign investment in Australian agriculture – provided that it does not negatively distort our resource allocations or outputs, does not undermine our farm gate prices, and is not undertaken with the intent of damaging competition in the marketplace.

“This has become a highly contentious issue. We have focused our efforts on building transparency around foreign investment. We will monitor the issue and if we believe stronger Government policy is required, then we will lobby for this on behalf of our nation’s farmers.

“While there have been some calls for the FIRB threshold to be lowered, we believe to do so at this point would be premature. This debate has long been described as a debate without data – and, in order to suggest a suitable FIRB threshold, we must first know what land is owned by whom- based on real data, not just a survey sample. Thus we do not suggest a change to the threshold at this point – but will certainly lobby for this if this issue continues to be of concern to Australia’s farmers,” Mr Laurie said.

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