MP backs foreign-owned water register

MP backs foreign-owned water register

Laws to register foreign ownership of Australian water entitlements have passed the House of Representatives with the support of the Federal Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie.

The NXT MP said the register was a “good start” towards a strategic and more “transparent” approach to foreign investment.

“Water is everything in Australia and we should all know exactly who owns our nation’s water, and our land,” Ms Sharkie said.

The Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Amendment (Water) Bill 2016 seeks to provide – for the first time – a record of the level of foreign investment in Australian water entitlements.

The holdings must be reported to the Australian Taxation Office so the Government can establish a baseline picture of the overall level of foreign ownership and monitor trends over time.

The Bill was passed in the Lower House on Monday and is expected to go to the Senate later this week.

Speaking in support of the legislation, Ms Sharkie said she was not opposed to foreign investment but she was against  “selling the farm overseas to the highest bidder”.

“The Government must balance the need for investment with the national need for sovereignty and security” she said.

Ms Sharkie said the water register was an opportunity to fix the problems inherent with the recently introduced land register.

“While the foreign ownership of land register is a great initiative, the statistics the Government released earlier this year were less than satisfactory,” she said.

“Australians now know that 13.6% of our farmland is owned by international interests, but where is the detail about the dollar value, the number of farms, the region specific details?

“The introduction of a water register allows the Government to fix the anomalies and make sure that the water register is sufficiently transparent from the beginning.”

NXT wants the Foreign Investment Review Board threshold lowered so that any sale of Australian land over $5 million is scrutinized with a national interest test.

“New Zealand considers a number of set criteria for the national interest that take into account issues if the sale will result in the creation of new job opportunities in New Zealand, whether the sale will increase New Zealand exports, or add to market competition," Ms Sharkie said.