Article – Australia: Ripe for reform: Unlocking $60 billion of farming land

22 April 2014
Brian Kirkup
DibbsBarker
The Queensland Government has taken the first step to address the land tenure reform pleas of farmers Queensland-wide with the introduction of the Land and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Bill) into Parliament.
Delivering the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee’s ‘Inquiry into the future and continued relevance of government land tenure across Queensland’ (Inquiry), the Bill stands to revolutionise and restructure Queensland’s land tenure system to provide leasehold land owners greater security of tenure over $60 billion worth of leasehold land.

State of play

Approximately 68% of Queensland is currently state-owned land administered under the Land Act 1994 (Cth) (Act) amounting to 118,420,876 hectares worth in excess of $60 billion. Farmers of this land have long argued that the lack of security provided by leasehold rights makes it difficult to access funding, causing an unnatural brake on long-term planning and investment in the agricultural industry.
Although financiers have made it clear that the key factor in securing finance is a leaseholder’s demonstrated ability to repay the loan by generating cash flow, the Queensland Premier has acknowledged that improved security of tenure will give primary producers greater confidence to invest in their properties and deliver greater negotiating power with financiers to the rural sector.

Reforms

The Bill implements the first phase of intended state land tenure reforms. These reforms are set to improve tenure security for term leases used for agriculture, grazing and pastoral purposes by:

  • introducing a simpler renewal process through rolling (automatically renewing) lease terms for rural leasehold land over 100ha in area
  • simplifying conversion to freehold title by removing the out-dated requirement for a pastoral purpose term lease to convert to a perpetual lease tenure prior to conversion to freehold title
  • removing red tape to allow lessees to consolidate multiple adjoining leases (where held by the same lessee)
  • removing statutory restrictions on corporations holding certain pastoral holdings and individuals holding two or more holdings, if the aggregation would equate to more than two living areas
  • establishing a more affordable and streamlined rural leasehold land rent and purchase price regime.

Effect

The proposed amendments largely reflect stakeholder aspirations and the Queensland Government’s response to the Inquiry. They will allow for the implementation of land tenure solutions designed to support growth and provide opportunities for the agricultural sector by removing and/or streamlining tenure administration processes throughout the Act.
Rolling lease extensions will remove the requirement for rural leaseholders to enter into land management agreements at the time of renewal and will eliminate the need for a further re-assessment or consideration of the most appropriate use and tenure for the land. Leases will be rolled over for the length of the original term (ie 30 year rollover for a 30 year lease), and leaseholders can apply for a renewal of their lease in the last 20 years of that lease. This means leaseholders could effectively secure the next 50 years of their land tenure, thereby arguably creating greater comfort around long-term investment in the property.
The removal of red tape relating to the conversion of leasehold land to freehold, consolidation of multiple adjoining leases and existing restrictions on corporations holding certain pastoral leases is intended to encourage both local and foreign investment in the agricultural sector, generating economic benefits in these rural areas.

Conclusion

Queensland is ideally positioned to take advantage of the forecasted increase in global demand for food, fibre and other high valued agricultural goods over the next 20 to 30 years.
At a farm gate level, it remains to be seen how far the reforms will go in providing flexibility and savings in terms of land rent and purchase price concessions.
Courtesy of DibbsBarker
 

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