Australia: How much of the farm have the foreigners bought?

Last Updated: 16 September 2016
Article by Andrew Hay and Scott Girdler

The first report of the Register of Foreign Investment of Agricultural Land is in. What does it reveal - and what next?

Since 1 July 2015 foreign persons have had to report interests they hold in agricultural land (regardless of value) to the ATO. The data provided is used to create and maintain the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land. The ATO is required to publish annual reports on the Register, with the first report published on 7 September 2016.

So how much has been bought?

As at 30 June 2016, foreign persons held 52.147 million hectares of agricultural land, amounting to 13.6% of all agricultural land in Australia. The percentage of foreign ownership was highest in NT (30.1%), followed by Tasmania (21.8%), SA (15.6%), Queensland (13%) and WA (10.9%). NSW/ACT and Victoria came in at 4.1% and 5.1%.

Top investment sources

UK (27.5 million ha, 53% of foreign owned agricultural land) and US (7.7 million ha) entities head up the list of foreign investment sources. They're followed by... the Netherlands (3 million ha) and Singapore (1.9 million ha). China's 5th at just under 1.5 million ha (2.8% of foreign owned agricultural land).

Investment sectors

92% of the foreign owned agricultural land which was characterised by sector is used for livestock (unsurprisingly, considering the large Northern stations). The next most heavily represented sectors are cropping (3%) and forestry (2.8%).

The size of the UK portion of foreign investment is largely down to the interests of UK investors in the largest cattle station aggregations (including Kidman - yes, the Kidman properties are already owned by a foreign person).

Report limitations

The report is reliable - within its scope. Data provided by foreign persons is validated by the ATO, including through the use of data sourced from FIRB and other government agencies and risk algorithms. To protect the privacy of land holders, the details of the identity of the foreign investors cannot be reported.

"Foreign person"

The Register is necessarily limited by definitions. The report concerns ownership by "foreign persons" as defined in the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act, including Australian registered companies in which a foreign individual, corporation or government holds an interest of 20% or more. So a "foreign person" may in fact be majority owned by Australian investors.

"Agricultural land"

As well as freehold land, the Register includes land which is leased to (and even licensed by) foreign persons, for a term (including options) of 5 years or more. Most of the "foreign owned" land in the Register (82%) is not actually owned by foreign persons - it's leased (or licensed). Having said that, the leased land would predominantly be long-term (and sometimes perpetual) pastoral leases. The report doesn't break down the forms of tenure in any detail.

It's all about size

The Register (and the report) provides general statistics on the area of land owned by foreign persons. The size of the Northern pastoral stations (which tend to be comparatively low value, unproductive land) skews the data.

There is nothing in the report on the value of the land held by foreign persons, or on the value of the investment by foreign investors in agricultural land (and enterprises and infrastructure more generally). That sort of information might provide a more useful indication of how the national interest is served by foreign investment in agricultural land.

Assessment of the report

The Agricultural Land Register was to be a "comprehensive land register" created to allay community concerns about the level of foreign ownership of agricultural land by providing "increased scrutiny around foreign investment in agriculture and increased transparency on the levels of foreign ownership in Australia".

The Register and the statistics reported from it do increase scrutiny and transparency but the utility of the report is questionable and the transparency could be improved. The Register itself is not publicly accessible and although information on the market value of the land held by foreign persons is collected, no data on value was included in the report.

Reactions to the report have varied within the government, with the Treasurer saying the report provides "a clear picture of foreign ownership" and shows that 85% of Australian farms remained owned by Australians. Agriculture Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, on the other hand, described the report as providing basic transparency to "ensure oversight and confidence" and observed that the area of foreign owned agricultural land was "more than two times the size of Victoria" and that the level of foreign ownership has increased from 11% in 2011 to 13.6% now.

Farming groups have welcomed the report, with the National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Maher saying that the report is an important first step to addressing community concerns about foreign investment in agriculture, which is vital to addressing the severe capital shortfall faced by the sector. However Mr Maher called for greater transparency on the value of foreign investments, the details of buyers and the location of foreign investments.

What happens next?

Another register - water entitlements

The Agricultural Land Register lapses unless legislation to establish the Register of Foreign Investment of Water Entitlements is in place by 1 December 2016. The Water Register will utilise the same regulatory framework as the Agricultural Land Register - similar requirements to notify the ATO of ownership of water entitlements and requirements that the ATO report statistics.

It is proposed that a foreign person who holds a water entitlement on 1 July 2017 will have until 30 November 2017 to notify that interest to the ATO. "Water entitlements" will be defined as an irrigation right and a water access right, but will exclude water access under stock and domestic rights and riparian rights.

Prospect of more detailed reporting

It may be that we'll see more detailed reporting of the information in the Agricultural Land Register, perhaps with some information on the value of foreign investment, in the future.


Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions