23 Oct 2012

Australian govt to set up foreign land register

5:43 pm on 23 October 2012

Australia is setting up a foreign-ownership register for farmland, as the government on that side of the Tasman moves to ease public concern over foreign buyers in the agriculture sector, particularly Chinese.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told the National Farmers Federation national congress in Canberra on Tuesday the register will provide a more comprehensive picture of the specific size and locations of foreign agricultural landholdings.

AAP reports the federal government is to issue a a consultation paper soon as a prelude to discussions with stakeholders including farmers, the states and territories about the design and content of the register.

And the ABC reports that Tasmania's state government is courting Chinese investment for the New Zealand-owned, Tasmanian-based Van Diemens Land Company.

Owned by the New Plymouth District Council, it controls more than 20 dairy farms and has been talking above expansion, but locals in north-west Tasmania are split as to whether the sale is a good idea.

Ms Gillard said she wanted to take the politics out of foreign ownership.

"Foreign investment is not a new thing," she said.

Only 0.1% of total direct foreign investment is in agriculture, forestry and fishing, while 89% of agricultural land is entirely Australian-owned. A further 6% is majority Australian-owned.

Ms Gillard said that proportion was roughly similar to levels 30 years ago.

AAP reports the final design of the register will take into account the need to improve transparency of foreign ownership in agriculture without imposing unnecessary burdens on investors or duplicating work already undertaken by state and territory governments.