The Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Act 2015 aims at increasing transparency around foreign investment in Australian agricultural land. A foreign investor is required to notify the government within 30 days if they are starting or ceasing to hold agricultural land.
As of 30 June 2016, foreign investors owned 13.6 per cent or 52.1 million hectares of total Australian agricultural land. Investors from the UK are the largest owners of agricultural land with 27.5 million hectares, flowed by the US with 7.7 million hectares, Netherlands with 3 million hectares, Singapore with 1.9 million hectares and China is the 5th investor with 1.5 million hectares. Other 5 countries in the top 10 investors include Philippines, Switzerland, Jersey, Indonesia and Japan.
Of the total agricultural land owned by foreign investors, only 9.4 million hectares are held as freehold and 43.4 million hectares are held as leasehold. Livestock production is the highest usage of the agricultural land with 45.8 million hectares, flowed by crops with 1.5 million hectares and forestry with 1.4 million hectares. The other land usage include horticulture and non-farming activities.
Queensland has the highest level of foreign owned agricultural land with 17.7 million hectares, followed by Northern Territory with 15.2 million hectares, Western Australia with 8.8 million hectares, South Australia with 7.2 million hectares, NSW/ACT with 2.4 million hectares, Victoria with 607,000 hectares and Tasmania with 342,000 hectares.
The total number of agricultural properties owned by foreigners is 7,214. NSW and ACT together have 1,798 properties, Victoria has 1,558 properties, Queensland has 1,345 properties, Western Australia has 917 properties, Tasmania has 911 properties, South Australia has 614 properties and Northern Territory has 71 properties.
This level of foreign investments is not, by any standard, an invasion of foreign ownership into the Australian agricultural assets. A perceived hysteria was that China owns away Australia and its productive assets which turned out to be a fallacy as these investors own less than 0.5 per cent of total agricultural land across the country. The contemporary world is a phenomenon of free trade and investment and it is time for us to embrace it.
Foreign investment is an integral part of the Australian economy. Currently, we have more than $3 trillion worth of foreign investment in this country. These investments contribute to economic growth, improve productivity, create jobs and incomes for all Australians. Australia cannot afford to risk its economic future and high living standards by being inward looking and engaging in protectionism.