Investors in the United Kingdom and United States own two-thirds of Australia’s foreign-owned agricultural land, the government’s new land register has revealed.
The first report of the registry of foreign ownership of agricultural land, to be released on Wednesday, shows that 13.6% of Australia’s 385m hectares of agricultural land is foreign-owned.
Of the 52.1m hectares of land that are foreign-owned, UK investors account for 27.5m hectares, almost 53%.
US investors own 7.7m hectares, followed by the Netherlands (2.98m) and Singapore (1.9m).
Despite a strong media focus on Chinese investment, China only comes in fifth at 1.5m hectares. Chinese holdings represent less than 0.5% of the total agricultural land across the country.
In April, the treasurer, Scott Morrison, blocked the sale of Australia’s largest landholder S Kidman & Co to a majority Chinese-owned consortium because it “may be contrary to the national interest”.
The $370m sale would have significantly boosted Chinese holdings, as the S Kidman & Co property comprises 2.5% of Australia’s agricultural land.
The report found that the highest use of foreign-owned agricultural land by area was livestock production with 45.8m hectares or 88% of the foreign-owned total, followed by cropping at 1.5m hectares or 2.8% of the total.
The Nationals Farmers’ Federation chief executive, Tony Mahar, told ABC News foreign investment has been and will continue to be good for agriculture.
“If we are going to be a $100bn industry, which we think we can, we need a range of further investments, domestic and foreign, that will allow us to be more globally competitive,” he said.
“This register is really good. It allows us to know where the investment is coming from, what sectors, what states and it does, to a certain extent, bust a couple of myths around who is investing and where.”
The acting prime minister and minister for agriculture and water resources, Barnaby Joyce said the Coalition government “welcomes foreign investment, which plays an important role in the growth and productivity of our agriculture sector”. But foreign investment levels should be “subject to appropriate consideration and scrutiny”.
Joyce said the government had “clearly heard and understood the concerns of the Australian community that the government should have more thorough oversight and more accurate data in relation to foreign investment in agriculture, to properly ensure that such investments are in our long-term national interest”.
The Coalition government has also decreased the threshold at which agricultural land purchases are scrutinised by the Foreign Investment Review Board from $252m to $15m.