Nationals politicians have joined the chorus of concern over the sale of Cubbie Station, Australia’s most valuable farm.
Inverell-based Senator John Williams said yesterday he had grave reservations about the sale of the iconic Cubbie Station to a Chinese consortium, joining colleague Barnaby Joyce and Nationals leader Warren Truss in condemning the sale.
Senator Williams said he also had concerns about profits leaving Australian shores.
“No doubt the profits under the new ownership will be sent overseas. Wouldn’t these be better spent and invested in Australian towns and cities? We should be selling the fibre not the farm.”
But federal treasurer Wayne Swan says the decision to sell Australia’s largest
cotton farm to a Chinese-dominated consortium will save Australian jobs.
Approval of the sale of an 80 per cent stake in Queensland’s Cubbie Station to textile manufacturer RuYi, owned by investors based in China and Japan, was announced by Mr Swan on Friday, after an assessment by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).
Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce has called on Australians to lobby against the deal, saying it isn’t in the national interest.
Nationals leader Warren Truss said while he welcomed capital inflow, the treasurer had to explain how a purchase of such a scale would not compromise market competition or pricing for Australian cotton.
The decision also prompted calls from the National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie for a National Land Register to monitor all foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land and water.
“Ensuring greater transparency is the key to solving the issue of foreign investment, but until a national land register is in place, this transparency cannot be achieved,” Mr Laurie said.
Senator Joyce said the land should be subdivided and sold off in blocks, because “quite obviously you can’t get an Australian farmer with $300 million”.
“But if we broke the farm up we’ll have the capacity to let farmers in on the ground so Australian farmers are the benefactors of the area.”
Earlier Senator Joyce said it was a loss of another section of prime agricultural land to an overseas interest, the loss of an Australian biggest water licence to an overseas interest, and the loss of 13 per cent of the national cotton crop.
He called Mr Swan’s decision “disgraceful and sneaky”, adding it was not too late for people to protest because contracts had yet to be exchanged.
Mr Swan says Senator Joyce’s stance is at odds with that of Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
“On one hand Mr Abbott and (Joe) Hockey have said they support the FIRB process and Chinese investment,” he said in a statement.
“On the other, Barnaby Joyce says taxpayers should pay $300 million to buy Cubbie Station.”
He criticised Senator Joyce’s views as “xenophobic” and said without new investment, the ongoing viability of Cubbie Station, and about 170 jobs, would be put at risk.
Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the sale of the station, at Dirranbandi in Queensland’s southwest, had been “well and truly considered” by the board.
Foreign investment was needed to “grow the Queensland economy” and should be welcomed.
Under the terms of the approval, textile manufacturer RuYi will initially take an 80 per cent stake in Cubbie.
The stake will be sold down to 51 per cent within three years.
The vast property was placed into voluntary administration in 2009 with reported debts of more than $300 million.