SYDNEY: Australia has since May forced the sale of 16 properties bought without government permission by foreigners, Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Monday.

“Foreign investment provides significant benefits for Australia but we must also ensure that such investment benefits all Australians, is in line with our rules and is not contrary to our national interest,” Morrison said in a statement.

Foreigners must seek approval from the government’s Foreign Investment Review Board before purchasing property in Australia.

Foreign ownership of land by foreigners has become a sensitive issue in Australia and a flashpoint between Australia and China in particular.

Chinese bidders were blocked in April from buying the country’s largest farmland holding, and Chinese and Hong Kong bidders were blocked from buying electricity distributor Ausgrid in August.

Seven of the 16 forcibly sold properties were owned by Chinese nationals, according to a list issued by the Australian government. British nationals owned four, Canadians two, and the remaining three belonged to Malaysian and Papua New Guinean interests.

The properties sold for a combined A$14 million ($10.5 million), with the bulk of the proceeds going to the seven Chinese owners. The sellers were also fined for breaking the purchasing rules.

Since 2013 Australia’s government has forced the sale of 46 properties with a total value of A$93 million, mostly held by Chinese interests.

Australia has established a registry to track foreign farmland holdings which shows British interests are the biggest foreign landowners, with Chinese investors a distant fifth.
($1 = 1.3332 Australian dollars)

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