2015: A big year for FIRB

2015: A big year for FIRB

2015 is proving to be a year of significant change in relation to Australia’s foreign investment regime.

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On 2 May 2015, the Government announced that it would introduce legislative reforms in relation to a number of proposals (raised in its initial options paper), with a view to implementing the reforms with effect from 1 December 2015. The reforms are likely to include the imposition of fees for applications lodged with the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and introducing new enforcement powers in respect of any past or future non-compliance with Australia’s foreign investment rules.

Another options paper was also released in May 2015 in relation to further proposed changes to ‘modernise and simplify’ Australia’s foreign investment framework. The Government-released exposure draft legislation and submissions in respect of it closed on 17 July 2015.

FIRB and the ATO

The Government has also taken a significant step in calling upon the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to assist FIRB in relation to the residential real estate and agricultural sectors.

The ATO is now responsible for:

  • processing foreign investment data in relation to residential real estate, through the use of the ATO’s data matching program to ensure that foreign investors in this sector have correctly obtained FIRB approval
  • developing a national register of the foreign ownership of agricultural land in Australia.

Practical takeaway

It is now more important than ever that foreign investors have regard to, and seek appropriate advice in respect of, FIRB’s requirements at an early stage in the investment process.

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