Government plans to ensure Australian as well as foreign buyers bid for ag land

Liz Wells February 2, 2018

THE Federal Government has announced plans which will require agricultural land being offered for sale to be marketed widely to ensure Australian as well as foreign bidders get the opportunity to buy it.

In a statement, Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, said foreign investment in Australian agricultural land was welcome in cases where it was in the national interest.

“The Coalition Government understands the Australian community must have confidence that foreign investment will bring real benefits—this includes ensuring that Australians have adequate opportunity to invest in Australian land,” Mr Littleproud said.

The plans propose that subject to exceptional circumstances, foreign investors must demonstrate that agricultural land they intend to acquire has been part of a public sale process and marketed widely to potential Australian bidders for a minimum of 30 days.

They also state Australian bidders must be shown to have had an opportunity to participate in the sale process.

“Our agricultural land and water resources are arguably our nation’s most valuable natural assets and I know there have been concerns around the ability of Australians to participate in the sale process of that land, including approval of the sale of S. Kidman & Co Limited.”

“That’s why we have brought in a series of checks and balances for foreign investment —they facilitate investment while making sure Australia’s national interest is protected.

Mr Littleproud said genuine above-board foreign investors have not been concerned by the government’s measures to improve oversight and transparency.

These measures have included a reduction in the screening threshold for foreign purchases of agricultural land from $252 million to $15m, and the establishment of the agricultural land register.

All acquisitions of agricultural land by foreign investors for residential development will also be subject to standard development conditions requiring development to commence within a five-year period to prevent land banking

This condition already applies to acquisitions of vacant land.

In line with practice

Elders general manager real estate, Tom Russo, said he did not expect the proposed requirement to have a material impact on sales of agricultural land.

“Agents have a duty to maximise the return for their vendors, and that means putting the asset before the entire buyer universe, Australian and foreign,” Mr Russo said.

“The vast majority of sales already occur through a well-structured sale process, and my view is this announcement from the government is consistent with agency best practice as it stands.”

Mr Russo said assets of more than $15m were already attracting Australian as well as offshore interest, and that properties in that price range rarely sold in less than 30 days.

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