Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) chairman has admitted that illegal residential property sales in the country are inevitable, as regulators’ ability to uncover and prosecute such sales by foreigners is “sorely limited”.

FIRB chairman Brian Wilson has called for a national register for property transactions to help track buying by foreigners, who are forbidden from buying re-sale residential property unless they are temporary residents. They must also sell their homes when they leave the country.

“There are about 11million residential dwellings in Australia, and about 600,000 property transfers every year,” says Wilson. “It is inevitable some of those properties will be exchanged contrary to the law, but our ability to first discover and then prosecute these cases is sorely limited.”

The regulator has proposed a register as part of a package of changes to tackle the problem, including civil and criminal penalties and hefty application fees. Australia’s Treasury is currently consulting on these proposals.

Wilson remarked that the register idea has “wide support” but admitted that to be effective, it will require the support of state and territory land titles offices. Queensland is currently the only state that now asks buyers if they are foreign.