Australia Blocks Ranch Sale to Foreigners on Security Fears

November 19, 2015 02:15 PM

Australia blocked the sale of the nation’s largest private landowner to an overseas buyer, saying the location of one of the company’s 10 cattle ranches in a weapons testing area could compromise national security.

S. Kidman & Co.’s properties were listed for sale in April, with local media reporting that China’s Shanghai Pengxin Group was in exclusive talks to buy the string of ranches for about A$350 million ($250 million).

Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement that half of Kidman’s Anna Creek station, the nation’s largest single property holding, sits within the Woomera Prohibited Area -- a remote stretch of the outback that’s been used to test nuclear bombs, launch satellites and track space missions. Selling Kidman in its current form to a foreigner would be “contrary to Australia’s national interest,” Morrison said in the statement.

Australia’s government has increased scrutiny of foreign acquisitions of agricultural land and earlier this month passed legislation to set up a register of overseas holdings of farm properties. Kidman’s ranches span 101,000 square kilometers (39,000 square miles), or about 1.3 percent of the nation’s total land area, and carry about 185,000 cattle.

Sensitive Areas

The Woomera 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.

All bidders have withdrawn their applications to the Foreign Investment Review Board to buy Kidman, Morrison said without identifying them, and it was “now a matter for the vendor to consider how they wish to proceed.”

Chinese investment firm Genius Link Asset Management was also bidding for the property, the Australian Financial Review reported, without citing sources.

Established in 1899 by Sidney Kidman, Australia’s “Cattle King,” the family-owned enterprise produces grass-fed beef for export to Japan, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The company said in a statement it would seek clarity on the government’s concerns and the “deal parameters” so that “stakeholders can continue to work with the government in good faith to reach a satisfactory outcome.”

In 2009, the government blocked China Minmetals Group’s bid for OZ Minerals Ltd. given the proximity of the Prominent Hill copper and gold mine to Woomera. It later cleared the sale of most of the rest of OZ Mineral’s assets to Minmetals.

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