Australia: Chinese bid for Cubbie sparks political row

Cubbie Station

ABC News | Mon Sep 3, 2012

Chinese bid for Cubbie sparks political row

The approved sale of sprawling cotton farm Cubbie Station to Chinese interests has sparked a political row as Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce insists foreign ownership is not in the national interest.

Source: Lateline | Duration: 4min 57sec

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► Transcript

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Nationals Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce has described the sale of Australia's biggest cotton farm to a Chinese dominated consortium as a disgrace.

Senator Joyce says the sale of Queensland's giant Cubbie Station is not in the national interest and should be halted.

But the Federal Treasurer says the deal has saved many jobs and without a foreign investor the country's biggest irrigated farm may no longer have been viable.

And as John Stewart reports, the transaction also has the backing of the Queensland Government.

JOHN STEWART, REPORTER: Cubbie Station rolls across 93,000 hectares in southern Queensland. It's one of the biggest farms in the Southern Hemisphere and can soak up more than half a million megalitres of water.

Years of drought took its toll on the huge cotton and wheat property, and in 2009 the station was placed into voluntary administration with debts of $300 million.

Last week the Federal Government announced that 80 per cent of the station would be sold to a Chinese dominated consortium, Shandong Ruyi.

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says the sale is a disgrace.

BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONALS SENATOR: If we don't think the ownership of prime agricultural land is in our nation's interest, if we don't think that an organisation that produces up to 13 per cent of our nation's cotton crop is in our national interest, Mr Swan, what on Earth is in our national interest?

JOHN STEWART: Senator Joyce says that Cubbie Station is Australia's biggest water license holder and that farmers further downstream in the Murray-Darling Basin will have to negotiate with the new Chinese owners to keep their share of water. And he says it's unclear who will actually run the station.

BARNABY JOYCE: We've applied to the Parliamentary Library and we cannot get any transparency as to actually who is the owner of Shandong Ruyi. What we do know is the CEO is appointed by the Chinese Politburo. What we do know is that the state-owned enterprises are both the subsidiaries and part-owners of this organisation. What we don't know is exactly who's behind it.

JOHN STEWART: Senator Joyce's stance has put him at odds with Queenlsand's State Development Minister.

JEFF SEENEY, QLD STATE DEVELOPMENT MINISTER: We should be welcoming foreign investment. There should be safeguards built around it, and from what I've seen of this particular exercise, there are safeguards in place.

JOHN STEWART: The Federal Government says the remaining 20 per cent of Cubbie Station will be owned by an Australian wool processor and the new Chinese investors have agreed that the Australians will operate the property.

Shandong Ruyi has also agreed to sell down their initial 80 per cent stake to no more than 51 per cent within three years of the purchase.

The Federal Treasurer stands by the deal and says the Chinese investment has saved 170 jobs and provided vital economic investment in the St George region, the home base of Senator Joyce.

Wayne Swan tweeted to Senator Joyce, "I'll always stand up 4 Aussie jobs, unlike ur mob during the GFC ..."

Professor of Chinese Business at Sydney University, Hans Hendrischke, says it's unlikely the government in Beijing will have any real control over Cubbie Station.

HANS HENDRISCHKE, CHINESE POLITICAL ECONOMY, SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: The Chinese government itself is divesting itself of their own state-owned enterprises because they don't - they know they cannot run them. So, there is quite a few good examples of Chinese investors in Australia where they bring in their top people and people who are highly qualified to run commercial ventures.

JOHN STEWART: The Opposition Leader is not opposed to the deal and says the Foreign Investment Review Board has had a close look it.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER (2GB, Aug. 31): They would have looked at what investment the Chinese are bringing in, what improvements the Chinese intend to make. Are the Chinese going to be an active contributor to the local economy?

JOHN STEWART: The National Farmers' Federation want a land register created to bring greater transparency to ownership, but says as long as the Chinese company does not disadvantage Australian cotton growers, the deal has its benefits.

JOCK LAURIE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS' FEDERATION: We need to be clear about that fact that there is an Australian company in there, so it's not wholly and solely owned by foreigners. There's certainly an Australian company there and my understanding is the (inaudible) are going to have a major say in the management of that and they're going to employ a lot of local people, continuation of that staff. So, it's going to be interesting to see where the debate ends up.

JOHN STEWART: Senator Joyce says it's not too late to stop the deal going ahead and that Australian farmers can still be given the opportunity to manage the country's biggest cotton station.

BARNABY JOYCE: If the Americans put a man on the Moon, we can subdivide land. If we subdivided the land and we sold it off, we would be able to reduce the price so that Australian farmers would get the opportunity to buy this country.

JOHN STEWART: The final decision on approving the owners rests with Cubbie Station's administrators.

John Stewart, Lateline.

  • Icon-world  ABC
  • 03 Sep 2012

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