Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says a new farm register shows a “substantial amount” of Australian agricultural land is foreign owned, but the Treasurer has downplayed figures.
The federal government’s long-awaited farm register reveals investors from the United Kingdom easily have the biggest stake in foreign-owned farmland in Australia.
The register, compiled by the Australian Tax Office, shows 13.6 per cent of Australia’s farmland is foreign-owned.
UK-based investors own 27.5 million hectares or almost 53 per cent of that portion and less than 0.5 per cent of total agricultural land is held by Chinese investors.
Mr Joyce said the level of foreign ownership has been increasing and the register would allow the Government to make “judgements based on fact rather than purely emotion”.
“What it does show, so that people understand … more than two times the size of Victoria,” Mr Joyce said.
“So when people dismiss it as not much, that’s a substantial amount of land.”
But the register does not specify where foreign governments or foreign government investors own the land.
Much of the public angst about foreign investment is linked to concerns over state-owned enterprises buying Australian farms.
The United States is the second-highest country on the register, followed by the Netherlands with almost 3 million hectares, Singapore with almost 2 million hectares, and China with 1.5 million hectares.
The Philippines, Switzerland, Jersey, Indonesia and Japan round out the top 10 foreign buyers.
Register busts some ‘myths’ around who’s investing and where
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said the register showed fears over Chinese investment have been exaggerated.
“China is just not at the level people think it is.”
He said foreign capital is needed and “drives economic growth in Australia”.
Treasurer Scott Morrison used the figures to play down concerns about foreign ownership of Australian farmland and said it will help give people confidence about the issue.
“I think it’s something that’s been missing and that’s why as a Government we thought this was really important to do,” Mr Morrison said.
“We want people to be confident about how foreign investment is run in this country.
“We still have the absolute right of veto where it’s not considered to be in the national interest.”
National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said some myths about foreign ownership have been “busted”.
“This register is a really good thing, it allows us to know where the investment’s coming from, what sectors, what states,” Mr Mahar said.
“It does, to a certain extent, bust a couple of myths around who’s investing and where.”