THE Federal Government's approach to foreign investment is making it easier for investment groups, not families.
That's according to an agent who facilitates the sale of Australian farms to foreign buyers.
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Commercial Property Profiles owner Rex Philips told The Weekly Times it was now easier for investment groups, instead of family businesses, to buy Australian land.
In November last year Immigration Minister Chris Bowen launched a new visa designed to encourage significant migration investment into Australia.
It allows business migrants with $5 million or more to invest to apply for a "provisional significant investor visa" and has concessions on visa requirements, such as not having to meet a points test and there is no age restriction.
The visa has a low-residence requirement of 160 days over four years, after which migrant investors are eligible for permanent residence provided they maintain their investment.
Investment options include direct investment into proprietary Australian companies.
Mr Philips said the changes meant there was less scrutiny of investors in farmland.
"They've basically opened the door, and say if you bring your money you're welcome. You can then go home again and sit in Hong Kong or wherever and have a passive interest in running a business."
Mr Philips said previously 95 per cent of applications were "legitimate" family operations but investment groups now accounted for about half the interest.
"In the past, it was mostly people who wanted to invest in a property and move over to live on it," he said.
"Personally, I'd prefer to see family operations, say a person off a farm in South Africa buying in over here and able to take on a property without debt - debt is the enemy of farming and debt levels are the reason the Australian market is now so depressed."
Former Victorian Farmers Federation president Andrew Broad has pointed the finger at mounting difficulties in making a profit as the cause of many Australian farmers being forced to sell to willing buyers.
He said if Australia "was not prepared to address the fiscal, policy and attitude settings that are robbing our horticultural industries of profitability, then our fruit and vegetable farms will continue to be bought out by other counties that do value their food".
Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury was unavailable for comment.