The FIRB’s new milk teeth

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The report of the parliamentary committee inquiry into the Foreign Investment Review Board is out.

The inquiry has been conducted with great fanfare to edify the Liberals’ rising star and  MHR for Higgins Kelly O’Dwyer.

And what are its findings, once the party-political propaganda is removed?

  •  A national register of land title transfers that records the citizenship and

residency status of all purchases of Australian real estate would fix this and

would allow facts to be injected into discussions about foreign investment,

rather than ‘best guestimates’. A national register would also help with

compliance and enforcement with the foreign investment framework –

allowing data to be compared easily.

Ahem, we already have a national cadastra (land registry).

It aggregates state land data and has existed since soon after Federation.  104 years ago, the Fisher ALP government believed large swathes of the country were under-utilised and vowed to break up the big estates.  Fisher set up the national register within the Australian Tax Office as a pre-condition to imposing a federal land tax with the Land Tax Act 1910 and the Land Tax Assessment Act 1910.

The economics committee recommendation merely overlays citizenship and residency criteria on this existing dataset.  Data-matching departing visa-holders ought give a clear and complete picture of whether owners are in the country and compliant.

  •  The systems failure at FIRB needs to be repaired; and new resources

injected into FIRB to ensure better audit, compliance and enforcement

outcomes.

Well, quite.  Under-resourcing the FIRB began under the Howard government. The Liberals’ free-trade posturing (code for freedom to invest, not the icy blast of real competition on cosy monopolies) leads them to look away when foreign interests buy Australian assets – even where there are national strategic imperatives.  Smearing Rudd and Gillard for their budget errors does not mean Liberal hands are clean.

  •  The ability to sanction people who have breached the foreign investment

framework more easily is critical. Hence the need to bring in a civil

penalty regime for breaches of the foreign investment framework; along

with the need to capture those people, who have previously stood outside

the framework but materially impact the integrity of our foreign investment

regime. For instance, third parties who knowingly assist foreign investors

to breach the rules.

The key word here is ‘sanction’, which likely refers to international law and the trans-national reach of our domestic laws.

Funny, the disputed asset is land, which remains subject to Australian law under all circumstances – it is remarkably difficult to shift off-shore.  It could be argued any purchase by a foreigner ought have a covenant added to the title as a warning at sale of the property’s special status.   Third-parties playing straw man for ultimate owners are notoriously difficult to expose – good luck bringing a civil case against any but the most obvious examples.

  • Currently, non-resident foreign investors can profit from the illegal

purchase of property. Given this, the current financial penalty that can be

applied to a property, regardless of its value, is seen by many as simply the

‘cost of doing business’. Fines and pecuniary penalty orders should

directly relate to the value of the property concerned. Furthermore

investors who breach the framework should not be able to profit.

Sure.  Just remove the cap on the fine and leave calculation to the judge.

The inquiry recommendations are typical for a conservative government.  They are internally coherent, appear to resolve the issue and allow commerce to continue.

They do not address the core of the problem: foreign, absentee owners invest to collect the economic rent accruing to land from the activity of residents.  They are not resident, so do not contribute to this activity.

As a parallel, Ireland suffered for centuries from absentee English landowners demanding rents in currency which they spent in London – a constant economic drain that beggared the country.

Why not use that recently-discovered federal land registry to charge them land tax at the state rate for the privilege of capturing the value from our soil and toil?

The maximum State Land Tax rates are: NSW 2.0%, Vic 2.25%, SA 3.7%,  QLD 1.75%, WA 2.67%, TAS 1.5%,  ACT 1.23%.

Prosper did not make a submission to the inquiry, despite our very strong interest in the matter.  We saw it as a witch hunt with a twist to enable the government to brand its critics racist.

Ed Husic for the ALP played the race card and leapt blindly into the Liberals trap, the damn fool. Leith van Onselen shreds him here. I can only wish the ALP’s parliamentarians had the vision and statesmanship of Andrew Fisher. We wouldn’t have a land bubble – or this fight over foreign interests.

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https://prosper.org.au/2014/11/27/the-firbs-new-milk-teeth/