Labor to introduce register for foreign ownership of land

The federal government has announced plans to introduce a foreign ownership register for agricultural land, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying she wanted to take the politics out of foreign ownership.

Ms Gillard told the National Farmers Federation national congress today that the register will provide a more comprehensive picture of the specific size and locations of foreign agricultural land holdings.

''Foreign investment is not a new thing,'' Ms Gillard said.

The Prime Minister said the government would release a paper to begin discussions with farmers, the states and territories about the design and content of the register.Just 0.1 per cent of total direct foreign investment is in agriculture, forestry and fishing, while 89 per cent of agricultural land is entirely Australian-owned.

A further six per cent is majority Australian-owned and that proportion was roughly similar to levels 30 years ago, Ms Gillard said.Federation president Jock Laurie described the announcement as ''fantastic''.

''We have been calling that for a while,'' he told reporters, adding there was nothing better than a truly informed debate.

''I think a register will give the community that information.''

In August, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott released a Coalition discussion paper, which proposed more scrutiny for bids by foreign investors for Australian farms.

The paper proposed developing a national register of foreign ownership of property in co-operation with state land titles offices. Feedback on the paper is due by the end of October.

It also suggested that the threshold at which the Foreign Investment Review Board became involved would be lowered dramatically to a flat $53 million, or 15 per cent of the total value of a business worth $244 million or more — whichever is lower.

Mr Abbott today praised attendees at the congress as ''patriots''.

''You are citizens as well as farmers,'' he said.

''We will never make decisions vital for the future of the people of our country without talking to them first,'' Mr Abbott said.

He told attendees that agriculture was not the ''old economy'', pointing to the ''extraordinary opportunity'' of growing populations in the Asian region.

Yesterday, Trade Minister Craig Emerson called on farmers to embrace foreign investment to take advantage of rising Asian demand.

AAP, with Judith Ireland

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