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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2968

Mr PITT (HinklerAssistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (17:42): In summing up, I thank those members who have contributed to the debate. With the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Amendment (Water) Bill 2016, the government is implementing its commitment to increase transparency around foreign investment in water, through the creation of the register of foreign ownership of water entitlements.

Last year saw this government make the most significant overhaul of the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 since its introduction over 40 years ago. The changes, which took effect in December 2015, sought to ensure that Australia remained an attractive environment for investment while also strengthening the integrity of Australia's foreign investment framework. As part of these reforms the government introduced a Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land. This register has improved the level of transparency around agricultural land. The first report released on 7 September showed that 13.6 per cent of all Australian agricultural land was foreign owned.

This bill is looking to complement the Agricultural Land Register by introducing a register of foreign ownership of water entitlements. For the first time, the government and community will have a comprehensive and reliable source of information about the level of foreign investment in water.

Foreign investment makes an important contribution in supporting economic growth, jobs and prosperity, and can assist in expanding Australia's production capacity. But community concern that foreign ownership of certain water entitlements and rights is impacting prices has the potential to undermine confidence that foreign investment is in the national interest. This bill seeks to address these concerns by increasing transparency and ensuring that the government and community have a clear picture about the level of foreign ownership in this resource.

The bill amends the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Act 2015 to require foreign persons who hold registrable water entitlements and contractual water rights to notify the Commissioner of Taxation of those holdings from 1 July 2017. Leveraging off the existing Agricultural Land Register framework will minimise the regulatory burden for foreign persons who need to register both agricultural land and prescribed types of water. The Commissioner of Taxation will be required to provide a report on the findings of the register, which will be tabled in parliament each year. The reports will include aggregate details on the overall level of foreign ownership in water entitlements and provide a picture of the source country of investors. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.