Australia's Rinehart, China group win cattle empire bid

Australia's Rinehart, China group win cattle empire bid

SYDNEY - Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart and a Chinese consortium won final approval Friday to buy one of the world's biggest cattle estates, ending a lengthy and fraught sale process.

The green light came more than a year after Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked an all-Chinese offer by Shanghai Pengxin for S. Kidman and Co, Australia's biggest private land owner, as being against the national interest.

He also knocked back a joint bid by Chinese-owned Dakang Australia Holding and Australian Rural Capital for the same reasons, with part of the land in a weapons-testing area.

Those decisions came amid growing concern in Australia about the purchase of local infrastructure and land by foreign interests with Canberra also this year rejecting a Chinese bid for the nation's largest electricity network.

Australia's richest woman Rinehart entered the fray in October, backed by Chinese property developer Shanghai CRED, offering Aus$386.5 million (US$295 million) for Kidman, with the tycoon holding a majority interest.

"Consistent with the recommendation from the Foreign Investment Review Board, I have decided that the acquisition of Kidman as proposed would not be contrary to the national interest and will be permitted to proceed as proposed," said Morrison.

Despite majority-foreign bids being rebuffed, the treasurer was keen to make clear Australia still welcomed foreign investment "where it is consistent with our national interests".

"Foreign investment has underpinned the development of our nation and we must continue to attract the strong inflows of foreign capital that our economy requires," he said.

"Without it, Australia's output, employment and standard of living would all be lower." Kidman, founded in 1899, holds around 1.3 per cent of Australia's total land area, and 2.5 per cent of the nation's agricultural land, running 185,000 cattle. It is a key source of beef for export to Japan, the United States and Southeast Asia.

Under the approved proposal, a neighbouring farming family will buy the largest of the 10 stations in the Kidman group, Anna Creek, which is next to a sensitive rocket-testing range.

The rest of the empire will go to Australian Outback Beef, which is 67 per cent owned by Rinehart and 33 per cent by Shanghai CRED.

Billionaire Rinehart's fortune comes from iron ore mining, but she has been building her cattle interests and the acquisition will make her one of the top three beef producers in Australia, with a 300,000-strong herd.

"We intend to provide additional investment in cattle and infrastructure, including technology improvements in our efforts to keep cost and quality competitive internationally," she said.

"We are excited about the future, and looking forward to getting down to work with the Kidman managers ... to explore and drive technology and other improvements." Her chief executive Garry Korte added their bid, with control remaining in Australian hands, "may become a more palatable role model for future deal structures in Australia, where foreign ownership is concerned".

One of those championing the Rinehart deal was anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson, the head of the populist One Nation party who stridently opposes foreign ownership of agricultural land.

"I would rather Australia have two-thirds in Kidman station, rather than the total ownership and control by the Chinese or any other foreign investor," she said recently.

"You never know further down the track, two-thirds is actually Australian owned ... so Gina Rinehart might buy-out the Chinese." Kidman managing director Greg Campbell said he was glad a deal had finally been done.

"Mrs. Gina Rinehart is a prominent Australian and we appreciate her desires to further invest and grow the business," he said.

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