Article – Figures show foreign ownership of farmland remains rare

23 June 2014
Lucy Barbour
ABC Rural
Figures published in a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that foreign ownership of agricultural land is relatively rare in Australia.
Of the 400 million hectares of farmland in Australia, less than 12 per cent had a degree of foreign ownership.
Victoria had the lowest proportion of foreign owned land, while the Northern Territory had the highest.
The head of the ABS’s business industry and environment statistics division, Bruce Hockman, says larger businesses account for the majority of foreign owned land.
“95 per cent of that area is owned by only 47 businesses, so if you want to track what’s happening with foreign ownership it really is about looking at the big guys.
“Those businesses own very large tracts of land, probably over 100,000 hectares.”
The ABS surveyed a sample of 11,000 businesses known to have agricultural interests, out of a total possible 147,000.
Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, Mick Keogh has questioned the accuracy of the ABS’s sample.
“It’s really biased towards the small end of the farm sector in terms of the sample used and that creates uncertainty around the estimates provided,” he said.
“They start at about $5000 worth of agricultural output and go up from there and we know that there’s very little foreign ownership of land in that end of the business spectrum that is agricultural and that most of the focus is the top end, the larger scale.
“It doesn’t really tell us with a great deal of certainty what’s happening amongst the larger farm businesses, which are the main targets of purchases by overseas interests.”
Obtaining exact information about who owns larger-scale farmland in Australia can be difficult, given that there is still no national foreign ownership register.
The Federal Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce says his Government will deliver on its 2013 coalition election campaign promise to establish one.
“The government is doing this properly,” he said.
“The initial work of my department has focused on exploring the possible systems for collecting information from foreign owners and their agents to create a comprehensive record of investment.
“This will allow the government to provide more reliable reporting on the level of, and trends in, foreign investment in Australian agriculture.
“Australia has a pretty good system of checks and balances in our foreign investment screening regime to help ensure the investments that go ahead are the right investments for Australia.”
But Mick Keogh says the process of setting up the register is taking too long.
“[Registers] exist in a non-controversial [way] in all most every other nation,” he said.
“I know that we live in this wonderful thing called a Federation where there’s no control in often times about getting the states to line up and agree but you would hope that we would be able to get things done a little quicker than seems to be the case at the moment.”
Courtesy of ABC Rural