Updated 5.38pm, Friday April 29.
FEDERAL Treasurer Scott Morrison on Friday afternoon issued a statement all-but vetoing the S.Kidman sale process to a Chinese-led buyer consortium, saying it was not in the national interest, and that offering Kidman as a single aggregated asset had rendered it difficult for Australian bidders to make a competitive bid.
The latest development, described by the Treasurer as his ‘preliminary view’ adds to what has already been a dramatic and often turbulent 18-month process that has aroused public comment like no other rural property transaction in Australia’s history.
Here is the Treasurer’s statement in full:
As part of my long and careful deliberations regarding the acquisition by foreign investors of S. Kidman and Co. Limited, consistent with the formal process required, I have today informed the investor that my preliminary view of the proposal that has been put to me is contrary to the national interest.
Australia welcomes foreign investment, however we must be confident that this investment is not contrary to the national interest.
Australians must have confidence in how we regulate foreign investment, to ensure continued support for foreign investment that is critical to our economy in providing jobs and growth. This is a relevant consideration.
On 15 April I exercised my statutory discretion to extend the period in which I have to review this application. I did this in order to provide me with sufficient time to consider this complex case. Without this extension I would have been required to have made a decision that week. This additional time has assisted me in forming my preliminary view.
The Kidman land portfolio is the largest private land holding in Australia. The Kidman portfolio holds approximately 1.3 per cent of Australia’s total land area, and 2.5 per cent of Australia’s agricultural land. Even after the excision of Anna Creek and The Peake properties, Kidman will still be Australia’s largest private land owner and hold over 1 per cent of Australia’s total land area, and 2 per cent of Australia’s agricultural land.
Given the size and significance of the Kidman portfolio I am concerned that the acquisition of an 80 per cent interest in S. Kidman & Co Limited by Dakang Australia Holdings Pty Ltd (Dakang) may be contrary to the national interest. I have today made my concerns known to the applicant and provided them with a natural justice period in which they may respond and consider how they wish to proceed. The applicant shall have until next Tuesday 3 May 2016 to respond.
I have concerns that the form in which the Kidman portfolio has been offered as a single aggregated asset, has rendered it difficult for Australian bidders to be able to make a competitive bid. The size of the asset makes it difficult for any single Australian group to acquire the entire operation.
On 20 April I commissioned an external and independent Review of the Kidman sale process to examine market integrity issues around the Kidman sale process so that I could be fully informed. The Review, conducted by Professor Graeme Samuel AC, was tasked with providing advice on whether the competitive bid process offered fair opportunity to Australian bidders to participate.
The Review contains sensitive commercial in confidence material which precludes its release. While the review found the sale process followed a satisfactory commercial practice that offered opportunity to Australian parties to make an offer, the review also found there remains significant domestic interest in Kidman.
I outlined my concerns in my announcement and decision on Kidman on 19 November 2015. I noted then that the size and significance of the total portfolio of Kidman properties in the proposed form as a single composite property asset was not in the national interest. I am not yet satisfied these concerns have been addressed by the revised proposal that has been submitted to me.
The size and significance of the portfolio, combined with the impact the decision may have on broader Australian support for foreign investment in Australian agriculture, must also be taken into account in this case.
The Turnbull Government welcomes foreign investment where it is consistent with our national interests. However, we must always ensure it is on our own terms. There are not too many jurisdictions anywhere in the world where foreign acquisition of large holdings would be permitted.
As Treasurer I have approved many significant foreign investment proposals and I consider each on its merits.
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. Without foreign capital and investment, Australia’s output, employment and standard of living would all be lower.
Foreign investment rules facilitate such investment while giving assurance to the community that the investment is being made in a way which ensures that Australia’s national interest is protected
We will continue to welcome and support foreign investment that is not contrary to our national interest.
The proposed Kidman investors led by Dakang Australia Holdings have been given a “natural justice period” of until next Tuesday, May 3 to consider how they wish to respond to the Treasurer’s preliminary decision.
Mr Morrison earlier this month announced that he was deferring making a decision on the sale for up to 90 days, suggesting to many that he was pushing the politically-divisive issue beyond the election scheduled for July 2.
The sale of the iconic Kidman cattle empire has proven to be a divisive issue in Coalition ranks with many members of the Nationals opposed to the sale of such a significant rural asset and large landholding to Chinese interests.
Barnaby: Nation demonstrates the capacity to say ‘No’
Today’s decision by treasurer Scott Morrison regarding S Kidman & Co showed that Australia has the capacity to say yes – and often does – to foreign investment, but is also prepared to say no, agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said in a statement issued this afternoon.
A sometimes vocal opponent of foreign investment, Minister Joyce said the treasurer’s decision demonstrated that we do have proper oversight of who owns the most precious asset in our nation – the land we stand on.
“It’s vitally important that people are confident that it’s not a ‘one way street’ on these decisions, and the Coalition government fully understands the concerns of the public on these issues, Mr Joyce said.
“This is a substantial pastoral asset and the Australian people have the right to say they have serious concerns about it being sold to foreign interests. I believe people from other countries understand the sensitivities in our nation on this issue, because they share the same sensitivities.”
“We also remain the most liberal country on earth in terms of the purchase of agricultural assets – the most liberal by far,” Mr Joyce said.
He pointed to the superannuation sector – the Australian people hold more than $2 trillion in superannuation, and about 0.3pc of that is in agricultural assets – as a potential domestic ‘white knight’ investor.
“This is a great time for people to contact their superannuation funds and ask why they don’t hold a greater stake in our agricultural sector – an investment that is obviously attractive to overseas interests,” Mr Joyce said.
Sources: Treasurer’s office, agriculture minister’s office.