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Foreign investment in Australian agriculture to be registered and public

Staff writer |
Australia will force all foreign investors to register their agricultural holdings from Wednesday as scrutiny on overseas investment increases.

The government hopes the practice, which will see property data collected, collated and released to the public, will allay public fears that foreigners are "taking over" Australia's abundant fertile land.

It follows a government crackdown on rogue foreign investors and the introduction of application fees, starting at $3,500.

In a joint statement, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia was committed to increasing scrutiny of an important section of its economy.

"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 for our nation's benefit," they said.

"The new register will strengthen reporting requirements and provide a clear and accessible picture of foreign ownership of agricultural land."

From Wednesday, newly-purchased interests must be registered within 30 days. Owners of existing holdings will be given until the end of the year to submit details on their properties.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) will collect information such as the location and size of property, size of interest acquired and country of origin of the purchaser on new foreign investment in agricultural land to develop a national register. The data will be made available to the public from 2016.

It follows a drastic lowering of the screening threshold for foreign investment in agriculture from 194 million U.S. dollars to 11 million. For foreign government-related entities, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) scrutiny threshold for all proposed investments remains at zero.

"As a result, the Foreign Investment Review Board is reviewing an additional 30 proposals that would otherwise have avoided scrutiny," Hockey and Joyce said.

"These measures are a significant step in protecting Australia' s national interest, and are part of this Government's ongoing work to strengthen the foreign investment framework."

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