Australian government blocks cattle ranch sale to Chinese

Buyout of country's largest landowner rejected due to national security concerns.

The Australian government recently blocked the sale of S. Kidman & Co., the country’s largest private landowner and one of the world’s largest cattle ranches, to Chinese and other foreign investors on security grounds. The Australian Financial Review reported the deal was worth as much as 350 million Australian dollars ($250 million).

Kidman holds approximately 1.3% of Australia’s total land area, and 2.5% of Australia’s agricultural land. It has 10 cattle stations, including properties across regional South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland covering 101,411 square kilometers. Additionally, the company has managed a long-term average herd of 185,000 cattle.

Australian politicians have been opposed to foreign buyouts, but sales to China are especially opposed since China is already the largest investor in Australia’s agriculture sector.

Greg Campbell, Kidman’s managing director, told the Wall Street Journal that the government appeared to be concerned not only about national security but also the company’s large footprint over the continent.

“It’s up to the government,” he said, adding that Kidman would reconsider how to restructure the deal to pass regulators. “But we are still trying to learn a bit more about the detailed reasons.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked the deal because the acquisition by foreign investors “would be contrary to the national interest.”

According to Morrison, one of Kidman’s stations, Anna Creek, is largest single property holding in Australia and around 50% of the Anna Creek pastoral lease is located in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), a missile-testing range, in South Australia.

“The WPA weapons testing range makes a unique and sensitive contribution to Australia’s national defense and it is not unusual for governments to restrict access to sensitive areas on national security grounds,” Morrison said. “Given the size and significance of the total portfolio of Kidman properties along with the national security issues around access to the WPA, I have determined, after taking advice from FIRB (Foreign Investment Review Board), that it would be contrary to Australia’s national interest for a foreign person to acquire S. Kidman and Co. in its current form.”

Morrison said he would continue to welcome and support foreign investment that is not contrary to Australia’s national interest.

“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 it, Australia’s output, employment and standard of living would all be lower,” he said.

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