The sale of one of Australia’s prized cattle stations in the Kimberley for about $100 million to Chinese owned company Shanghai Zhongfu was quietly approved in March by the Foreign Investment Review Board and Scott Morrison and kept it secret until after the election.
Chinese company Shanghai Zhongfu has bought one of Australia’s prized cattle stations in the Kimberley for about $100 million, opening the way for massive new cropping development and food processing in the Ord irrigation region on an unprecedented scale.
The sale of 476,000ha Carlton Hill near Kununurra by Australia’s largest private cattle holding Consolidated Pastoral Company, owned by Britain-based investment firm Terra Firma, was quietly approved in March by the Foreign Investment Review Board and Scott Morrison.
“The matter was assessed by the government prior to the election and not deemed to be contrary to the national interest,” the Treasurer’s spokesman said last night.
The deal delivers property and agricultural developer Shanghai Zhongfu, trading in Australia as Kimberley Agricultural Investment, enough new rich cropping country in the Ord irrigation scheme — including 13,000ha of freehold arable land — to justify investment in associated value-added food processing plants in nearby Kununurra.
On the potential drawing board are a long-discussed $400m sugar and biofuel mill, a possible cotton gin, cattle abattoir, grain grading facility and other food processing factories, including a fermented sorghum baijiu plant, all building on Australia’s reputation as a source of clean, green, safe and healthy foods for export to China.
KAI won the right in 2012 to develop 14,000ha of irrigated cropping land — opened up by the public purse — in the Ord irrigation scheme stage 2, paying $1 a year rent for the 50-year lease in return for pledging to invest more than $600m in land clearing, irrigation development, farming, processing plants and jobs.
With just 1650ha of cultivated land fed by irrigation channels developed and sown to chia, quinoa and maize this year, achieving critical mass for the Chinese cropping company has proved slow and elusive.
Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan said approval of the sale of Carlton Hill and associated Ivanhoe Station to the Chinese — with one of the biggest single station price tags seen for many years — proved the Coalition government was not opposed to all foreign investment in agriculture.
The Turnbull government blocked the $371m sale of the Kidman cattle empire for a second time in April, prior to the federal election, to a Chinese consortium dominated by Shanghai Pengxin, raising claims of xenophobia and anti-Chinese bias within the junior Coalition party, the Nationals, and particularly by its leader, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Senator Canavan said Shanghai Zhongfu was a welcome new owner of Carlton Hill station, with a reputation established in the Ord region as a good local citizen, employer and agricultural business.
He said the hefty further Chinese investment in Kimberley irrigated cropping country also showed northern agricultural development was happening, and was more than just hot air and talk.
KAI’s purchase of Carlton Hill — the flagship of the CPC’s 19 station empire — gives the Chinese giant enough land to grow sugar, cotton, sorghum, chia and other grain crops on an unprecedented scale to justify its earlier plans to build value-adding food processing factories near Kununurra.
KAI general manager Jim Engelke said obtaining cropping scale and freehold land ownership land was the key reason for the purchase. The sale is understood to include a cash payment of about $70m to CPC.
CPC will also benefit from 10-year free leaseback deal valued at about $30m for 90 per cent of the property’s non-arable grazing land, where it will continue to run its 50,000 cattle.