Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Legislation Amendment Bill 2015
Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) (16:13): I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
First, I thank senators for their consideration of this bill. The bill is part of a broader package of tools that includes the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeover Fees Imposition Bill 2015 and the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Bill 2015. Combined, these legislative changes will make an important contribution to strengthening the integrity of Australia's foreign investment framework, ensuring Australia maintains a welcoming environment for investment that is not contrary to our national interest. These reforms will ensure that from 1 December 2015 Australia's foreign investment framework is more modern, less complex and better targeted to changing demands and community expectations.
With this bill the government is implementing its commitment to increase scrutiny and transparency around foreign investment in agriculture, while also responding to concerns raised by the House Economics Committee. The committee noted that a lack of compliance and enforcement of residential real estate rules is undermining the overall integrity of the foreign investment framework. These changes will deliver a robust regulatory framework, increasing community confidence and providing a predictable and welcoming environment for investors.
The Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 represents the most significant overhaul of the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 since its introduction 40 years ago. It provides essential changes to simplify the system, strengthen the framework and guarantee that the rules are enforced. It introduces additional and stricter civil and criminal penalties to ensure foreign investors and intermediaries do not profit from breaking the rules. The accompanying transfer to the Australian Taxation Office of responsibility for regulating foreign investment in residential real estate will further enable stronger enforcement and audit and compliance with the existing rules.
The bill also enables the lowering of screening thresholds for investments in Australian agriculture; this will make sure that all significant investments in this sector are scrutinised. The bill now also includes a Senate amendment around foreign ownership of water entitlements. The bill includes a sunset clause applying to the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Bill 2015, which commits the government to implement a register of water entitlements within 12 months. Establishing a register of water entitlements is consistent with the government's reforms to increase transparency around the legislation and foreign investment in agriculture, while ensuring the timely implementation of this important reform package.
I should reiterate that these changes are about welcoming essential foreign investment that is not contrary to our national interest—investment that strengthens Australia's economy, creates new jobs and unlocks innovation. With the passage of this bill, the government simultaneously fulfils our promise to protect our country's national interests while confirming that Australia does indeed remain 'open for business'. I commend all the amendments to the House.