18 January 2012

Government to boost transparency of foreign investment in agriculture

Assistant Treasurer Mark Arbib said the Government is improving the transparency of foreign investment in agriculture with more regular and expanded surveys, as well as guidance on the factors currently considered in assessing foreign investment applications in this sector.

Senator Arbib and Acting Agriculture Minister Simon Crean today released the Foreign Investment and Australian Agriculture report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and commissioned by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC).

Senator Arbib said the report provided a factual picture of existing foreign investment in Australian agriculture and addressed community concerns in this area.

The report confirms that current foreign ownership of agricultural land, businesses and water entitlements in Australia is comparable with the levels of 1983-84.

Around 99 per cent of agricultural businesses by number in Australia are entirely Australian owned. Around 89 per cent of agricultural land is entirely Australian owned and around 91 per cent of water entitlements for agriculture are entirely Australian owned.

Senator Arbib said the report emphasised that the current strong regulatory framework surrounding foreign investment in agriculture protects the national interest and the current policy settings are providing a "considerable level of scrutiny of foreign investment proposals and operations of foreign-owned agribusinesses in Australia".

The report highlights the need for better data sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of how the landscape of foreign investment in agriculture may be evolving and recommends more regular collection of information.

"The Gillard Government recognises there are some concerns in parts of the community about foreign investment in agriculture and will fund an ongoing and expanded statistical data collection by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to be conducted every two years," Senator Arbib said.

"We will also expand the Agricultural Census to provide more information on ownership of Australian agricultural land."

The modest cost of the expanded survey will be met from existing Government resources.

The Government has also today released a Policy Statement on Foreign Investment in Agriculture (attached), which provides guidance on factors the Government typically considers in assessing foreign investment applications involving the agricultural sector.

"Australians can be confident that we have a strong and robust system in place to protect the national interest while also supporting the economy and jobs," Senator Arbib said.

"The Government applies a rigorous national interest test to all foreign investment applications.

"National interest principles include the affect of investments on national security, competition, the economy, the community and other government policies. The Government also considers the type of investor and whether the investor operates independently of foreign governments.

"Consistent with these principles, the Government is committed to ensuring that investments do not adversely affect the sustainability of Australia's national agricultural resources, including their economic, social and environmental contribution to Australia."

The enhanced data collecting and Policy Statement will improve the transparency of foreign investment in Australian agriculture and the screening process for foreign investment applications in the sector.

As part of the Policy Statement the Government is providing guidance on factors typically considered in assessing foreign investment applications in agriculture.

The Government typically considers the affect of the proposal on:

  • the quality and availability of Australia's agricultural resources, including water;
  • land access and use;
  • agricultural production and productivity;
  • Australia's capacity to remain a reliable supplier of agricultural production, both to the Australian community and our trading partners;
  • biodiversity; and
  • employment and prosperity in Australia's local and regional communities.

The Government will keep monitoring foreign investment in agricultural land, water and agribusiness to ensure that we continue to attract foreign investment and support Australian agriculture, while also ensuring that particular investments are not contrary to Australia's national interest.