Article by: Hari Yellina
Two Sydney Harbours’ worth of Australian water is owned by Canadian investors. When it comes to agriculture, Canadian super funds have a well-known appetite for irrigation water. In just four years, the Canadian share of Australian water has increased by 282 percent. In terms of the top ten foreign countries with the largest stake in Australian water, the Canadians have remained far ahead. It’s interesting that the world’s largest foreign water proprietors and Australian farmland owners don’t align. China is the largest foreign owner of Australian farmland, followed by Canada in fifth place. The extent of their water holdings is related to the kind of investments they want to make, such as horticulture, grazing, and crops.
The Foreign Investment Review Board has published two annual reports in recent years, one on foreign ownership of agricultural land and the other on foreign ownership of water.
The following are the top ten foreign water owners (in gigalitres):
Canada has a population of 810, the United States has a population of 626, China has a population of 604, the United Kingdom has a population of 377, France has a population of 161, Hong Kong has a population of 134, the Netherlands has a population of 109, Germany has a population of 108, Belgium has a population of 103.
When entire foreign freehold and leasehold interests are combined, China has 2.3 percent of agricultural land, followed by the United Kingdom (2.2 percent), the United States (0.8 percent), the Netherlands (0.7 percent), and Canada (0.6 percent). By the end of June last year, the Bureau of Meteorology estimated that 39,739 gigalitres of water entitlements had been issued across Australia. More than ten percent of these entitlements have foreign owners.
The top ten countries hold 71.4 percent of the 4389 gigalitres of foreign-held water entitlement. Agriculture (65.3%) and mining are the two principal applications of these foreign-held water entitlements (23.8pc). In Western Australia, mining consumes the lion’s share of the water allocation. The Murray-Darling Basin contains just over half of all foreign-held water entitlements (2229 GL). This amount represents around 11.3 percent of the total Murray-Darling Basin water entitlement now on the market. Each state had an increase in the amount of foreign owned water entitlement during the past year, with the exception of Queensland, which saw a 4.3 percent decrease.