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Senate inquiry supports foreign investment register

27 June 2013

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has welcomed the release of a Senate Committee report that recognises the need for greater information about foreign investment in Australian agriculture and supports the development of a register of agricultural land, agribusiness and water entitlements.

The report into foreign investment and the national interest, handed down by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee yesterday, says a register must be comprehensive, publicly available and help the Government model how it can manage foreign investment in the years ahead.

NFF CEO Matt Linnegar said it was positive to see Senators agree that foreign investment is welcome in Australia, on the proviso that it is commercially based and competes on a level-playing field with Australian farmers and agribusinesses.

“The NFF has long said that foreign investment has traditionally been very positive for Australian agriculture and that it is important that we do not deter this investment. However, Australian farmers want to see greater transparency around investment to ensure that the motivations behind this investment are clear,” Mr Linnegar said.

“That’s why the NFF, in April last year, called for a national land register that makes it compulsory for all foreign persons or organisations that acquire or transfer an interest in agricultural land and water to report the sale – and why we were extremely pleased that the Government listened, and such a register was announced by the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, at the NFF’s National Congress in October.

“Today, we welcome the release of the Senate’s report, and we agree with many of the recommendations made: including the need to address the gap in knowledge, and strengthen and streamline current regulations and policies. We also think there will be broad support from the agricultural sector of any move that allows greater access to domestic capital for Australian agribusinesses.

“We note that the Senate report has recommended reducing the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) threshold of $248 million for farmland and agribusiness. We maintain our position on the FIRB threshold: we firmly believe that before any policy decisions are made, we need to first have all the information. Thus, before we support any reduction, we wish to see the national land register in place to understand the current levels of foreign investment in agriculture.

“Building this transparency, in order to have all the facts, is the most important consideration at this stage. The NFF has made a submission to the Federal Government’s discussion paper on the formation of the national register, and we await the Government’s decision on the structure – and timing – of this register with great interest.

“The sooner the register is established, the sooner we have a clear understanding of the current picture of foreign investment in Australia, and the sooner we can make decisions on the policies we need to manage this well into the future,” Mr Linnegar said.

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