Foreigners who have breached the rules in Australia over ownership of property are being forced to sell the homes concerned.
Another 15 sales, adding to the overall tally which is now at 61 with a combined value of $107 million, have been announced by Treasurer Scott Morrison under the rules of the foreign investment framework.
The 15 latest properties are located in Victoria and Queensland, with a combined purchase price of more than $14 million. The foreign owners come from a range of countries including China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and Germany.
‘The Government is committed to enforcing our rules so that foreign nationals illegally holding Australian property are identified and their illegal holdings relinquished,’ said Morrison.
A further 36 foreign nationals have sold properties during the course of Australian Taxation Office (ATO) investigations, showing improved compliance with the rules and a strengthening of the enforcement programme.
The foreign nationals in the latest group of forced sales bought the properties without the approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and in some cases held multiple established properties in breach of the rules.
The ATO identified these breaches through data matching programmes as well as using information provided by the public and has so far detected more than 570 foreign nationals who have breached the rules.
This has resulted in forced sales, self-disposals, variations to previously approved FIRB applications and retrospective approvals with strict conditions. Morrison stressed that breaches of these conditions will result in civil penalties or criminal prosecution.
Under the Government’s enhanced penalty regime the ATO has issued 388 penalty notices to foreign nationals in breach of the rules, attracting penalties of more than $2 million. Penalty notices have been issued to people who have failed to obtain FIRB approval before buying property as well as for breaching a condition of previously approved applications.
Another aspect of the foreign investment reforms announced by the Government was the introduction of fees for applications to the FIRB to ensure Australian taxpayers no longer foot the bill for screening foreign investment applications. Since introducing the new fees on 01 December 2015 more than $140 million has been collected to assist with this important program of work.
Meanwhile, officials in Australia have been discussing the possibility of creating a US style Homeland Security Department that would see the current immigration department have a much increased role.
At the same time as Donald Trump is reported to want to introduce an Australian-style points system for visa applicants, officials at the highest level in Australia want to emulate the US. Secretary of the Department for Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Michael Pezzullo and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton are both reported to be keen on the change.
The enlarged department would be built on the existing Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which already includes the Australian Border Force.