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Register of interests

The Register of Foreign Ownership of Water or Agricultural Land Act 2015 (Cth) (the Register Act) requires each foreign person to notify the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) of the following.

  • its freehold interests in agricultural land and its rights to occupy agricultural land under a lease or licence whose term (including any extension or renewal) after the person becomes a foreign person is reasonably likely to exceed five years – such notifications must be given within 30 calendar days after the person becomes a foreign person;
  • its holdings of registrable water entitlements and contractual water rights (each of which is a defined term) – such notification must be given by 30 days after the foreign person started to hold that entitlement or right; and
  • any acquisitions or disposals of registrable water entitlements and contractual water rights (where the remaining term of the contractual water right (including any extension or renewal) is reasonably likely to exceed five years), and any changes to the volume of water referred to in a registrable water entitlement or contractual water right (where the remaining term of the contractual water right (including any extension or renewal) is reasonably likely to exceed five years) – such notifications must be given within 30 days after the end of the financial year in which such events occurred.

There are exemptions from the notification requirements in respect of the enforcement of a security held solely for the purposes of a moneylending agreement.

The Register Act does not provide for the ATO or any other body to grant exemptions from the notification requirements or to extend the 30 day notification periods.

Notifications are to be made online and a significant volume of information is required. The information in the notifications are required on a register, which is not made public.

At a time to be determined by the Government, that register will be replaced by a Register of Foreign Ownership of Australian Assets which will record information about foreign ownership of interests in Australian land, interests in Australian water entitlements and interests in certain Australian entities or businesses. As with the existing register, the new register will not be made public.

Once the new register is established, a person will be required to notify the registrar of the occurrence of any of various events, within 30 days after the event occurs, including:

  • the person is a foreign person who acquires or ceases to hold an interest (other than an equitable interest) in Australian land or exploration tenement (in each case irrespective of whether FIRB approval was required for the acquisition of the interest);
  • the person is a foreign person who acquires or ceases to hold an interest in an Australian water entitlement;
  • the person is a foreign person who takes an action in relation to an entity or business where the action is: a notifiable action, a notifiable national security action, a significant action that has been notified to or called in for review by the Treasurer, or a reviewable national security action that has been notified to or called in for review by the Treasurer;
  • the person is a foreign person of the type described above and ceases to be a foreign person;
  • the person becomes a foreign person while holding an interest of the type, or resulting from an action of the type, described above; and
  • any change of five percentage points or more in a previously disclosed interest in an Australian entity or business.

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