Who owns Australia’s farms?

The government has released the first report from the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land, delivering on its commitment to increase scrutiny and transparency in Australian agriculture

 

Agricultural and Farming statistics in Australia:

 

Agribusiness In Australia

52.1 million hectares of Australia’s total agricultural land, more than two times the size of Victoria, is foreign owned

United Kingdom, United States, Netherlands, Singapore and China are the largest investors

 

The Land Register shows foreign investors hold approximately 13.6% of all Australian agricultural land. The United Kingdom is Australia’s principal source of investment in agriculture and the preferred means of agricultural investment is through leasehold.

Of the 13.6% of agricultural land held by international investors the overwhelming majority, or more than 52%, is owned by United Kingdom investors. The countries with the next largest shares are: the United States, Netherlands, Singapore and China.

“Foreign investment is integral to Australia’s economy. It contributes to growth, productivity and creates jobs, but the community must have confidence that this investment is in the national interest,” said Treasurer Scott Morrison upon the release.

“The Turnbull Government understands that trade and foreign investment has always created jobs in Australia for Australians, driven our economic growth and always will.

“With more than $3 trillion worth of foreign investment in Australia today, we cannot afford to risk our economic future by engaging in protectionism.”

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) administers the Agricultural Land Register and receives information directly from foreign investors. All foreign investors with an interest in agricultural land are required to register that interest, regardless of the value of the land.

 Agricultural value of the land

Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said that the common perception that the level of foreign ownership in Australian agricultural land has been increasing seems confirmed.

“Previous estimates by ABS surveys found at June 2013, 12.4 per cent or 49.6 million hectares out of 400 million hectares was foreign owned,” he said.

“This has also increased on the December 2010 survey estimate of 11.3 per cent or 44.9 million hectares out of 398 million hectares being foreign owned.”

As well as the national, state and territory level data on overall foreign ownership levels, Minister Joyce said that the report also showed “who owns what” with the top ten countries and their respective ownership levels.

“The land register is giving us the first comprehensive baseline picture of foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land. From now on the annual reports from the land register will give us more accurate data on which to base public discussion.”

 

Foreign ownership of Agricultural land

The proportion of agricultural land held by foreign interests varies significantly from state to state as follows:

Table 1: Proportion of agricultural land held by foreign persons

State/Territory[1] Foreign Interests

(‘000 ha)

Australian Agricultural Land (‘000 ha) Percent Foreign

(%)

NSW/ACT 2,375 57,434 4.1
VIC 607 12,009 5.1
QLD 17,658 135,918 13.0
WA 8,841 81,399 10.9
SA 7,156 45,837 15.6
TAS 342 1,569 21.8
NT 15,169 50,392 30.1
Total 52,147 384,558 13.6

Table 2: Freehold and leasehold land interests held by foreign persons

State/Territory Freehold

(‘000 ha)

Leasehold

(‘000 ha)

Total[2]

(‘000 ha)

NSW/ACT 2,146 232 2,378
VIC 565 71 636
QLD 5,426 12,860 18,286
WA 798 8,045 8,842
SA 141 7,015 7,156
TAS 302 40 342
NT 46 15,123 15,169
Total 9,423 43,385 52,808

[1] Some properties span multiple States/Territories. For these properties, the property address provided by the registrant has been used to determine the State/Territory.

[2] In some instances, the same property has been separately registered by a foreign person with a freehold interest in the land and a foreign person with a leasehold interest in the land, as required under the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Act 2015. Land size information from both registrations has been included in Table 2 only. As a result, the total hectares held by foreign persons are greater in Table 2 than elsewhere in this report.

When it comes to which countries hold the greatest land interest, the report details the following:

Country Total
United Kingdom 27,504
United States 7,727
Netherlands 2,976
Singapore 1,862
China 1,463
Philippines 1,119
Switzerland 1,069
Jersey 944
Indonesia 774
Japan 685
Total 46,123

Source: Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land – Report of registrations as at 30 June 2016

 

The ATO matches land titles, immigration and other third party data sources to identify foreign investors who may not have recorded their land on the Agricultural Land Register.

The Register as at 30 June 2016 is available on the Foreign Investment Review Board website www.firb.gov.au

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