Foreign land register reveals China ‘takeover’ is heavily over-stated

Jon Condon September 7, 2016

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FEARS that China is threatening to dominate agricultural land ownership in Australia are heavily over-stated, statistics released in the Federal Government’s much-anticipated Foreign Owned Agricultural Land Register this morning reveal.

The report suggests that as at June 30, almost 14 percent of Australia’s farmland is in foreign hands — with more than 50pc of that held by interests from the United Kingdom. The report identified 52.1 million hectares of agricultural land as foreign owned, out of a total farmland area 385m ha.

Chinese investment in agriculture runs a distant fifth, accounting for just 2.8pc of foreign-owned land, or 0.4pc of the total farmland.

Land interests apportioned to UK investors at 27.5 million hectares are almost four times as large as the next largest country, the US (7.7 million ha), which accounts for 14pc of foreign-owned farmland, and 2pc of total ag land.

Next largest is the Netherlands, with almost 3 million ha, and Singapore 1.9 million ha (full list at base of page).

Typified by the attempted sale of S. Kidman & Co, China’s recent attempts to invest in Australian farmland have caused great debate and consternation for the Government, but the statistics fail to support that community and government concern. Treasurer Scott Morrison in April knocked back the sale of Australia’s largest cattle empire S. Kidman & Co to Chinese company Dakang Australia Holdings, saying it was “contrary to the national interest.”

But had Chinese interests successfully purchased the Kidman & Co pastoral leases totalling 11 million ha, China would have jumped to second place, but still well behind the UK.

The report does not include a breakdown of individual property registrations, only a summary of the number of investments by country, state and type of farm.

Of the total area of foreign owned land (52m ha), 9.4m ha was freehold, with 43.4m ha held as leasehold land.

Not surprisingly, highest use of foreign-owned agricultural land by area was for extensive livestock production with 45.8m ha, or 88pc of the foreign-owned total. Next largest was cropping at 1.5m ha, or 2.8pc of the total, followed by forestry.

Treasurer Scott Morrison handed down the report in Canberra this morning.

Mr Morrison said the register was part of the Government’s strengthening of Australia’s foreign investment regime.

“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,” he said in a statement.

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

Primary Industries minister Barnaby Joyce, who has advocated for stricter foreign investment rules in the past, said the figures proved foreign investment in the nation’s farmland was increasing.

He said perceptions that foreign ownership was increasing were confirmed, with previous surveys showing 12.4pc of agricultural land was foreign owned in 2013, and 11.3pc or 50m ha owned by foreign interests in a 2010 survey.

“This is the first comprehensive data on the actual level of foreign ownership of agricultural land in Australia,” he said in a statement.

Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh said he was surprised that China did not appear to own more.

“It may well be that the Chinese interest has been in industries like the dairy industry and farms in southern Australia, and again they are smaller acreages but perhaps more productive,” he said.

Mr Keogh said the strong UK ownership could be attributed to Australia’s colonial past. “Certainly vestiges are very prominent in ownership of land and also the major pastoral houses in Australia all had English origins, so I guess what we are seeing is a continuation of that historical link that has always been there,” he said.

Top 10 investor countries for foreign investment in Australian farmland:

  • UK – 27.5 million ha (52.7pc of foreign-owned agricultural land, or 7.2pc of total Australian agricultural land)
  • US – 7.7 million ha (14.8pc of foreign-owned or 2pc of total agricultural land)
  • Netherlands – 2.98m ha (5.7pc of foreign-owned or 0.8pc of total)
  • Singapore – 1.9m ha (3.6pc of foreign-owned or 0.5pc of total)
  • China – 1.5m ha (2.8pc of foreign-owned or 0.4pc of total)
  • Philippines – 1.1m ha (2.2pc of foreign-owned or 0.3pc of total)
  • Switzerland – 1.1m ha (2.1% of foreign-owned or 0.3% of total)
  • Jersey – 0.9m ha (1.8pc of foreign-owned or 0.25pc of total)
  • Indonesia – 0.8m ha (1.5pc of foreign-owned or 0.2pc of total)
  • Japan – 0.7m ha (1.3pc of foreign-owned or 0.18pc of total)

Largest areas of foreign-owned agricultural land by state:

  • Queensland: 17.7m ha, 1345 individual properties
  • Northern Territory: 15.2m ha, 71 properties
  • Western Australia: 8.8m ha, 917 properties
  • South Australia: 7.2m ha, 614 properties
  • NSW/ACT: 2.4m ha, 1798 properties
  • Victoria: 607,000 ha, 1558 properties (primarily forestry)
  • Tasmania: 342,000 ha, 911 properties

More details, industry reaction, later today.


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