The private members' bill tabled by Senators Xenophon and Milne which seeks to increase controls over foreign acquisitions of Australian farms and agricultural companies has been referred to the Senate Economics Committee for inquiry and report.

The Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010 proposes amendments to the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act and if passed would require :

  • the Federal Treasurer's approval for any foreign acquisition of an interest in agricultural land of more than 5 hectares;
  • a national interest test (based on a prescribed list of factors) to be applied against such acquisitions;
  • the publication of details of any application to acquire Australian farms or an interest in agricultural enterprises.

The proposed national interest test would go well beyond the current requirement to consider the impact of an investment on the economy and the community, and would include factors such as:

  • any benefit to Australia or Australians or any part or group thereof;
  • creation or retention of jobs in Australia;
  • the introduction of new technology or business skills;
  • the effect on Australian exports;
  • any increased processing of primary products in Australia;
  • aggregation and vertical integration; and
  • head office arrangements.

There is a very short timeframe to make submissions to the Committee. All submissions are due by 25 February, and the reporting date for the Committee is 15 June 2011.