Buyers keen on Cubbie Station

Cotton farm.
Cotton farm. Contributed

THE storm within Coalition ranks over the proposed sale of the nation's biggest cotton farm to Chinese interests is unlikely to clear before parliament resumes next week.

Queensland's Cubbie Station, near Dirranbandi, has been under administration for three years with debts of more than $300 million.

Administrators McGrath Nicol were currently in sales talks with a consortium of Chinese and Australian buyers, after Treasurer Wayne Swan gave a Chinese-backed consortium the green light to buy the farm last week.

The potential sale of the huge cotton farm has highlighted a chasm between Coalition partners the Nationals and the Liberal Party.

After statements from Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey that the Coalition supported foreign investment, neither Mr Hockey nor Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were able to rein in Senator Barnaby Joyce.

Senator Joyce came out swinging on various media against any proposal to buy the farm, sparking the Nationals to convene and emergency telephone hook-up on the subject on Tuesday night.

While not all those on the hook-up were against the proposal, various party members confirmed concerns were raised about "where the line should be drawn" on the Nationals core values against sovereign interests buying up agricultural land.

Queensland Senator Ron Boswell said he was of a mixed mind about the proposal.

But he said there were concerns that not only was the company proposing to buy the farm a Chinese company, but party members were worried that "the financial backing of the company may come from the Chinese Government".

But while the company, ShanDong RuYi, was previously a state-owned enterprise, it was privatised in 2001 and now has a 30% equity partner in a private Japanese firm.

Senator Boswell and other party members yesterday confirmed the issue would now go before a closed door meeting next week in Canberra.Nationals MP Bruce Scott, who is Member for Maranoa (where the farm is located), said he was not necessarily against the proposal, due to the local economic benefits it could bring.

But he asked for more details to be released, while highlighting his concerns that under the current system foreign entities found it hard to buy a suburban home, but could easily buy the largest irrigated cotton farm in the country.

A spokesman for the adminstrators of Cubbie Station said the sale process was on-going and would not detail whether the adminstrators were negotiating directly with the Chinese firm, or through the Australian company that were both part of the bidding consortium.

Topics:  buyers, coalition, cubbie station



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