THE Abbott government's foreign investment crackdown looks shaky after Labor reserved judgment on whether it will support the plan, which includes tougher fees and penalties, some of which start on Monday without any draft law in sight.
From March 1, 2015, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) will also scrutinise foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land worth $15 million or more, down from the high threshold of $252 million.
But a Senate estimates inquiry on Thursday heard the FIRB is yet to include any details of the policy change on its website and the government is yet to introduce any legislation to make the change legal.
In addition, the definition of agricultural land is being reviewed over the coming months and the final decision will be applied retrospectively to all transactions from March 1.
"The whole thing is a shambles," Labor senator Sam Dastyari said.
"How can the policy not be in place 100 hours before it is to be implemented? It starts on Monday so how could the rules not be in place?"
A proposed $5000 application fee for foreign buyers for properties worth up to $1 million, rising to $10,000 and beyond for properties worth more than $1 million, is estimated to raise $200 million a year, with the expectation it would fund better enforcement activities by the FIRB.
But only a day after Treasurer Joe Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the proposal on Wednesday ahead of four weeks of consultation, it emerged the fee levels and expected revenue raised could change again, along with how the government will spend the money.
A bipartisan parliamentary inquiry recommended a $1500 fee to cover FIRB activities. But Mr Hockey told ABC Radio on Thursday that Coalition backbenchers had complained foreigners should be charged more to apply to buy Australian homes.
"We consulted with colleagues in the Liberal and National parties and their very strong view was that $1500 is not enough," he said.
"Well, it's based on consultations already; we said it's up to $5000. Now, if the community comes back and says $5000 is too much for a foreign investor to buy a $900,000 home or unit, then we'll take that into account. That's why we go through this consultation process."
In Senate estimates hearings, Treasury chief operating officer John Lonsdale said the $200 million estimate for possible revenue collected from the new fee was not an official forecast.
He said the revenue collected depended on whether the government made any changes to the fee amounts and whether it even went ahead with the application fees at all after consulting with the property industry and the community.
Mr Lonsdale said there was no guarantee the revenue would be extra funding for FIRB because the application fees may go to fund a new investigative unit within the Australian Taxation Office to look at acquisitions by foreigners.
Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said it depended on the government's final "landing point" after the consultation period.