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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 126


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (22:24): I rise tonight to speak on Australia's foreign investment policy and what I believe is a glaring anomaly. The government states that it reviews foreign investment against the national interest case by case, that it prefers the flexible approach to hard and fast rules, that a case-by-case approach maximises investment flows while protecting Australia's interests and that it recognises community concerns about foreign ownership of certain Australian assets. And it does seem to be the case that this is true when it comes to residential real estate. But, sadly, it is not when it comes to rural properties.

Residential real estate is defined by the government as all land and housing that is not commercial property or rural land. In this regard, residential real estate includes vacant land that can be used for residential purposes, hobby farms and rural residential blocks. Regardless of value, foreign persons generally need to notify the government to take an interest in residential real estate—and, as the Foreign Investment Review Board has acknowledged, that includes a one-bedroom unit—or to buy shares or units in Australian urban land corporations or trust estates.

Even though commercial property and rural land are not classed as residential real estate, special rules exist for commercial real estate. Foreign persons also need to notify if they want to take an interest in developed commercial real estate that is valued at $53 million or more, unless the real estate is heritage listed—then, a $5 million threshold applies. And, when it comes to vacant land, foreign persons need to apply to buy or take an interest in land for commercial development, including to start a forestry business, regardless of the value of the land. Compare this to what happens to Australian agricultural land. A foreign person needs approval to buy an interest in a primary production business where the total assets exceed $244 million. As will be highlighted in the media tomorrow, it would seem that we are now starting to see Australian farms being advertised for sale to help foreign persons in their attempts to migrate to Australia, an issue I will now be asking the Senate inquiry into the Foreign Investment Review Board national interest test to take a look at.

Here are the questions I would like answered. Why do vacant blocks, hobby farms and rural residential blocks require a foreign person to get prior approval to acquire an interest, no matter what their value, yet the same rule does not apply to family farms unless they are valued at over $244 million? Why is it that for developed commercial real estate that is heritage listed a $5 million threshold applies, yet it would seem that for heritage listed agricultural properties the threshold is $244 million? Why is it that new forestry plantations require notification to the Foreign Investment Review Board, yet existing forestry plantations, below the $244 million threshold, do not? Why is it that a foreigner must apply for approval to the Foreign Investment Review Board to buy a one-bedroom unit, yet they are required to do nothing if they purchase agricultural land valued at $220 million?

Surely it is time to fix these anomalies. Surely it is time that all land was treated equally by the Foreign Investment Review Board. Surely it is time for the national interest test to be applied without discrimination to all parts of Australia.