Gillard announces foreign ownership register

UPDATE 1:54PM A national register of foreign ownership of Australia's prime agricultural land will be introduced irrespective of whether Labor or the Coalition wins government at the next election.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday announced the Labor Government would introduce a register of overseas investments in farm land, with a discussion paper to be released later this year.

Her announcement at the National Farmers' Federation congress in Canberra comes after months of lobbying from the farm group, and also follows a similar announcement from the Coalition.

While her statement was cordially welcomed by the crowd, Ms Gillard did not make any commitments on when such a register would be created, leaving the building immediately after finishing her speech.

Ms Gillard told delegates the register would "provide a comprehensive picture" of the size and locations of foreign farm holdings.

While at pains to point out the level of foreign ownership in farm land had "not changed for 30 years", recent takeovers in the processing sector would not have to be registered, as they were agri-businesses, not primary producers.

Reaction came thick and fast, with Nationals leader Warren Truss labelling the plan "half-baked" and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert tagging it as "simple common sense".

Queensland independent MP Bob Katter said the register would not prevent farm land being sold off-shore, ensuring only that Australians now could "watch how (our country) is being sold out".

Just weeks after the controversial takeover of the nation's largest cotton farm, Cubbie Station, Ms Gillard said the government now aimed to "take the politics out of foreign investment".

The speech was seen as a public bid to placate concerns about the level of scrutiny foreign investments come under.

NFF president Jock Laurie welcomed the announcement, saying he hoped it would provide the information that could then add to a more balance debate on foreign investment and its regulation.

Topics:  foreign investment foreign ownership tony abbott

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