Selling Kidman pastoral empire to the Chinese is ‘complete madness’, say Dick Smith, Ian McNamara and Bob Katter
Dick Smith says Australia’s agricultural land is becoming more valuable and should not be sold to foreign investors.
by Matthew Cranston AFR
Australian entrepreneur and aviator Dick Smith has called the imminent sale of Australia’s largest landholder S.Kidman & Co to a Chinese company an act of madness and says that with the value of agricultural land rising, Australian super funds should be competing to buy the cattle stations.
Speaking from his 1214 hectare property outside Canberra, Mr Smith, who funded the first major book on his “hero” Australia’s greatest pastoral king Sir Sidney Kidman back in 1987, said he was shocked that Australian investors could not compete with foreign investors.
“I am totally opposed to a sale to the Chinese. It’s complete madness,” Mr Smith told The Australian Financial Review.
“Farming land is going to be incredibly valuable – it is going to generate a lot of wealth into the future so you don’t want all that wealth creation to go overseas.”
Pengxin chief executive Andy McLeod and Gary Romano chief executive of Hunan Dakang Pasture Farming Co
S.Kidman & Co, which has cattle station holdings covering 11 million hectares, was placed on the market for sale in April last year with EY. The company was expected to sell for more than $325 million.
Chinese group Shanghai Pengxin, which has successfully purchased large farming properties in New Zealand where foreign investment rules are much stricter, was S.Kidman & Co’s preferred bidder for the business.
But the sale was prevented from going ahead late last year on the grounds that part of the landholding was within the Australian Defence Force’s so called “green zone” – the lowest security rated area of the Woomera rocket range.
The land that was within the security area, namely the world’s largest cattle station Anna Creek, has since been carved out of the overall S.Kidman & Co portfolio of land, allowing for the sale of the remaining business.
However Mr Smith said using the security concern as a reason to prevent the sale was a “furphy”. “I really don’t understand why the major parties are ok with still selling it off. Nine out of 10 people I speak to are opposed to it.”
Other Australian investors have been enthusiastic about buying part or all of the S. Kidman & Co landholdings including transport magnate Lindsay Fox.
Mr Smith became one of the top ten shareholders in Australia’s second largest landholder – the Australian Agricultural Company – back in 2012 because he didn’t want to sound like a hypocrite for suggesting that Australians compete with offshore buyers for our agricultural land. He still has that shareholding.
“The Australian super funds surely they could buy Kidman. Even the prime minister could put in $1 million, I could match it and put $1 million in.”
At the same time that Mr Smith opposes the sale of S.Kidman & Co to the Chinese company – he is also against the sale of Australia’s largest dairy farmer known as the Van Diemen’s Land Company. That company is currently owned by a New Zealand local government but is about to be sold to a Chinese businessman Lu Xianfeng.
“Don’t get me wrong if that Chinese businessman wants to be an Australian citizen and bring his money in and live here and have his wife become a member of the Country Women’s Association and he becomes a member of the Rural Fire Brigade then he should be allowed to. But selling to offshore is just wrong – you may as well not have borders.”
The Chinese based company looking to buy S. Kidman & Co – Shanghai Pengxin is controlled by Hunan Dakang Pasture Farming – a $3.4 billion listed company, majority owned by billionaire Jiang Zhaobai. It has been looking to add beef cattle to its agricultural operations.
On Tuesday, the Board of Hunan Dakang announced that its chief executive Gary Romano had resigned. It is understood that Mr Romano would continue as a strategic adviser for Dakang in Australia and on the company’s S.Kidman & Co transaction.
Katters want to stop the diabetes epidemic among indigenous communities
Mornington Island Mayor Bradley Wilson, CEO Frank Mills, Dick Smith, Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter, Ian ‘Macca’ McNamara from the ABC and State Member for Mount Isa Rob Katter at the opening today (photo credit Brad Thompson)
02 March 2016: Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter today joined Great Australian and Entrepreneur Dick Smith and ABC radio personality Ian ‘Macca’ McNamara to open a market garden for First Australians on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria located in Mr Katter’s electorate of Kennedy.
Mr Katter has long championed community market gardens as a simple way to improve the health standards of First Australians by providing cheap locally grown fresh produce to tackle the diabetes epidemic.
Yet he said today that it took a private donation from Mr Smith as well as the will of the local Mornington Island Council to achieve what successive Governments had failed to do.
“We deeply appreciate Dick helping out here because with Dick comes national attention,” Mr Katter said.
“Our nation has to be measured on how we treat our poorest people and this is one of the most important things that needs to be done.
“I recently asked all of the Shire Councillors in a First Australian community how diabetes was affecting them – sadly every single one of them had a close relative dying of diabetes.
“The problem was simply not there 25 years ago, but it is now, and something has to be done about it.”
The majority of grocery shops in First Australian communities in Queensland are State Government run operations. While the food is subsidised, it is often still prohibitively expensive and due to the long distances travelled, not fresh.
Mr Katter cited examples of his trips to Aboriginal communities 25 years ago where the mal-nutrition problems of today simply did not exist.
“Diabetes is just another name for malnutrition.
“I was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for the best part of a decade and when I went north to say the Torres Straits, 90% of the food that I ate was fresh local food – fish, turtle, crayfish, yam, taro, sweet potato, bananas, mangoes and coconuts.
“But the restrictions by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on fishing has almost completely destroyed First Australians’ ability to fish and removed a source of income.
“On the other side we’ve gone and closed everything down on the basis they say that disease could get into Australia – so they have no source of income and they are not allowed to grow their own food.
“The net result has been that if First Australians want fresh fruit and vegetables they have to buy them from the mainland, but they do not have enough money.
“I’ve said time and time again that market gardens must be reopened and I pay tribute to Dick Smith and the Mornington Island Council for taking this first step,” Mr Katter said.