Australia approves sale of huge agricultural land holding the size of South Korea

Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart speaking during a rally in Perth.
Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart speaking during a rally in Perth.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Friday approved the A$386.5 million (S$411 million) sale of the country's largest private land holder S. Kidman & Co to a consortium led by the country's richest woman Gina Rinehart, after blocking two previous bids.

Ms Rinehart and her minority partner, Chinese developer Shanghai CRED, will now complete the purchase of S. Kidman, which runs cattle and pastoral activities on tracts of land the size of South Korea.

The property sale has been a lightning rod for concerns about the sale of Australian agriculture and other key assets to foreign investors, with the government blocking earlier bids to Chinese-led groups. "It has been two years since the shareholders resolved to sell and 18 months since the process began so it is nice get the regulatory approval," Mr Greg Campbell, CEO and managing director of S. Kidman told Reuters.

Domestic ownership of agriculture is seen as crucial for Australia to cash in on global food demand and to keep tax revenues onshore. "Kidman will remain majority Australian owned under this proposal, and remain an Australian incorporated company headquartered in South Australia," treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement on Friday (Dec 9).

Ms Rinehart is Australia's richest woman with a net worth of US$11.7 billion (S$16.7 billion), according to Forbes, based on an iron ore empire in Australia's mineral-rich Pilbara, where she grew up.

Mr Campbell said the deal was expected to be completed by Dec 25, but final Chinese regulatory approval is still outstanding.

The cattle station Anna Creek will not be sold to the Rinehart-led consortium because of its close proximity to a government-owned weapons-testing range, and will instead be sold to private Australian cattle farmers.