China and US hold biggest foreign stakes in Australian water

A new register for foreign interests has found China and the US each hold 1.9% of the total water entitlement on offer in Australia.

The Australian federal government has published a register of foreign ownership of water entitlements for the first time, with Chinese and American investors holding the biggest stakes in foreign-owned water entitlements.

Both China and the United States account for 1.9 percent each of the total water entitlement held, while the United Kingdom took third place for foreign investors on 1.1 percent.

A total of 4,035 gigaliters of water entitlements across Australia had some level of foreign ownership as at June 30, 2018, out of the total water entitlement on issue of 38,674 GL. This means 10.4 percent of water entitlement on issue has a level of foreign ownership.

On a state and territory basis, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory had the greatest amount of foreign-held interest in water entitlement on issue by volume with 1,036 GL out of 14,971 GL (8.7 percent), followed by Queensland at 1,219 GL out of 6,631 GL on issue (18.4 percent) and Western Australia at 995 GL out of 3,844 GL on issue (25.9 percent).

The remaining states and territories all have individual totals of less than 250 GL.

The main use for foreign-held water entitlements in all states was agriculture, apart from Western Australia where 78 percent of the entitlement was used for the mining industry.

In the Murray-Darling Basin, which accounts for the majority of irrigated agriculture in Australia and more than 51 percent of the total volume of water entitlement on issue in the country, 9.4 percent of the entitlement had a level of foreign ownership – 1,852 GL out of the total 19,773 GL on issue.

The use of water in the Murray-Darling Basin has been contentious due to ongoing drought conditions and proved a major issue in recent state election in New South Wales.

Investors were assured their holdings were ‘not at risk’ following the findings of a South Australian Royal Commission that criticised the operation of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the body responsible for implementing the bipartisan Murray-Darling Basin Plan.