It’s point­less to get an­gry

Herald Sun - - OPINION - ED GAN­NON IS PUB­LISHER OF THE WEEKLY TIMES AND CO-HOST OF THE AG SHOW ON SKY NEWS BUSI­NESS ed.gan­non@news.com.au @Edgan­nonWtn

SHOULD we be out­raged if a for­eigner sells an Aus­tralian prop­erty to another for­eigner? Well, we have in the past and more than likely are about to be again very soon.

And again it will show the al­most schiz­o­phrenic way gov­ern­ments deal with land sales to for­eign­ers.

The Con­sol­i­dated Pas­toral Com­pany hit the mar­ket last week, send­ing a surge of ex­cite­ment though the ru­ral in­vest­ment sec­tor. This is as big as they come. CPC was founded by the late me­dia mogul Kerry Packer in the 1980s be­fore be­ing sold by his son, James, in 2009, to UK com­pany Terra Firma.

It com­prises 16 cat­tle sta­tions across West­ern Aus­tralia, the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and got tan­gled up in a stop-start process by a very ner­vous fed­eral govern­ment that did not want an iconic Aus­tralian com­pany fall­ing into for­eign hands, even if most of the sale com­prised leases, so the land would still be “owned” by the govern­ment.

Kid­man even­tu­ally sold to West Aus­tralian min­ing mag­nate Gina Rine­hart, who bought it in a ma­jor­ity part­ner­ship with Chi­nese Com­pany Shang­hai CRED Real Es­tate Stock Co.

The hefty price of CPC puts it well be­yond the means of most lo­cal in­vestors (Terra Firma bought it for a re­ported $425 mil­lion in 2009), so we face the prospect of a for­eign buyer tak­ing con­trol of a large chunk of Aus­tralian farm­land.

Or rather, another for­eign

owner be­cause Terra Firma is a for­eign com­pany. Even if some con­sider “for­eign” to be code for Chi­nese.

The CPC sale is the first real test of the fed­eral govern­ment’s new for­eign own­er­ship rules, which re­quire farm­land worth more than $15 mil­lion to be ad­ver­tised widely for at least 30 days to do­mes­tic buy­ers be­fore a for­eign in­vestor can pur­chase it.

That has caused some unease in the big end of town, which usu­ally likes to keep trans­ac­tions out of the spot­light, sell­ing large farms with lit­tle or no fan­fare.

Plus, any land sale over $15 mil­lion is also sub­ject to For­eign In­vest­ment Re­view Board ap­proval.

The CPC sale is an in­ter­est­ing test be­cause a for­eign-to-for­eign sale should re­ally make no dif­fer­ence. It is not fall­ing out of lo­cal hands.

We saw the same is­sue with the $280 mil­lion sale of Tas­ma­nia’s Van Diemen’s Land Com­pany, Aus­tralia’s largest and old­est dairy farm, to Chi­nese com­pany Moon Lake In­vest­ments in 2016.

Yet fed­eral Trea­surer Scott Mor­ri­son went to great lengths to say the sale was ap­proved on the con­di­tion Moon Lake com­plied with Aus­tralian tax­a­tion law. I would have thought that was a given for any prop­erty sale, no mat­ter the size or buyer.

What was for­got­ten in that sale was the ven­dor, New Ply­mouth District Coun­cil, was from New Zealand.

Last time I looked, New Zealand was not part of Aus­tralia.

Aus­tralian agri­cul­ture is cry­ing out for in­vest­ment to build its po­ten­tial to cash in on the tsunami of Asian de­mand for food and fi­bre.

For­eign com­pa­nies, such as Terra Firma, have shown they are will­ing to in­vest and im­prove the farms they buy here.

Sure, put the ap­pro­pri­ate checks and bal­ances to make sure the buy­ers of our big­gest prop­er­ties are in it for the right rea­sons.

But for a coun­try built en­tirely on for­eign in­vest­ment, it’s a bit rich to pick win­ners and losers based on where the buy­ers come from and how they look.

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