Government launches register to track foreign water assets ownership

Posted 16 December 2016

Murray RiverA new national register will bolster the country’s water resources management by taking an annual snapshot of foreign investments.

The Federal Government has passed legislation that requires foreigners to inform the Australian Tax Office (ATO) of any water access entitlements they own. 

Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce said the register would complement recent government moves to increase scrutiny and transparency around foreign investment in agricultural land.

“Water is one of our most vital natural resources; it is fundamental to our agricultural productivity and to our way of life. It is important that we have a clear and accurate picture of the level and trends of foreign investment in our water access entitlements,” he said.

The changes will take effect from December 2017 and will require foreigners with holdings in registrable water entitlements or contractual water rights to notify the ATO once each year.

People holding certain water rights whose foreign status changes will also be required to notify the ATO.

“The ATO will make summary statistics on foreign ownership of water entitlements captured through the register. This information will be available on the ATO's website,” Joyce said.

In 2013, almost 14% (1808GL) of all water entitlements on issue had some level of foreign ownership, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That was a 60% increase from 2010, when just 1169GL was under foreign ownership.

“The register will provide greater transparency to the public, participants in water markets and the agricultural sector about the value, extent and – over time – trends in foreign investment in the sector,” Joyce said.

“Australia continues to welcome foreign investment, which plays an important role in the growth and productivity of our agriculture sector, but it is important that we can be confident those investments are in our long-term national interests.”

It is hoped that the land and water registers will help address community concerns and uncertainty over water resources management and foreign ownership of national assets.