Windsor calls for investigation into Cubbie bids

Independent MP Tony Windsor is calling for an investigation into claims Australian investors offered a higher price for Queensland's Cubbie Station than its eventual foreign buyers.

Yesterday the ABC's PM program revealed that at least a dozen Australian bidders expressed interest in buying Cubbie Station, but were rejected.

The station's eventual sale to a Chinese-led consortium was approved by the Federal Government at the end of last month on the advice of the Foreign Investment Review Board.

PM was told some of the rejected bids came from local businesses offering more money, but that they were rejected by the station's administrator.

Now Mr Windsor says Parliament and the Review Board should be told about any higher bids for Cubbie Station - Australia's largest cotton farm and the biggest irrigation operation in the southern hemisphere.

Mr Windsor says the administrator must be careful not to ditch a guaranteed bid.

But he says he must also consider whether it is the best bid to maximise returns to those who are owed money.

"If the administrator was to have accepted a lower bid than he'd been offered, a real offer, then obviously he could be in some degree of legal strife for taking a lower bid," he said.

"So, obviously the administrator is obliged to get the highest bid.

"If people are suggesting that he didn't I think that's something that could be well worth looking at." Lawyer James Loell, who represents an Australian investor who wanted to buy Cubbie Station, told PM about a conversation he had with Lachlan Edwards of Goldman Sachs, who is negotiating the sale for the administrator.

"Lachlan Edwards rang me and I stated my business, told him I had a purchaser, a client who was extremely interested in purchasing Cubbie Station," he said.

"His words to me were to the effect that it was too late, they were in the final stages of negotiating a deal with the same parties that the Treasurer had recently announced, he'd given FIRB approval to.

"I said, 'Are you sure it's too late?' and he said, 'Look, this has been going on for a long time.

We've got to take the bird in the hand, and they are the bird in the hand'." Mr Loell says Mr Edwards told him he had had at least 12 approaches from different parties with similar interests.

"I wouldn't use the word necessarily 'bids', but parties similar to my client with an interest in owning the property.

At least a dozen of them had approached him," he said.

'Bloody disgrace' Three years ago Cubbie Station was placed in administration with debts of around $300 million.

If the sale goes ahead, the 93,000-hectare property will initially be 80 per cent owned by RuYi, a textile manufacturer owned by a consortium of Chinese and Japanese investors.

As part of the sale conditions, the company will sell down its stake to 51 per cent within three years.

Queensland LNP Senator Barnaby Joyce has branded the decision to sell Cubbie Station to foreign investors "a bloody disgrace".

He is calling on the administrators to re-open the sale's process.

"The administrators' role is to make sure that they do the best job for the National Australia Bank, and the National Australia Bank's role is to make sure they get the best return back for their shareholders," he said.

"And you can only get the best return if you're absolutely certain there wasn't a better return out there in the marketplace.

"Now, if there are another 12 bids, there are 12 things that is encumbent upon both the receivers and the National Australia Bank to properly investigate." Critics have labelled Senator Joyce's stance xenophobic, but he denies there are racist undertones to his position.

"I completely and utterly reject that.

It is always so easy to basically impute a character with a taunt of a xenophobe.

It stands in proxy for a dedicated and discerning argument," he said.

Cubbie's administrator, John Cronin of McGrathNichol, did not return return the ABC's calls.

A spokesman from a public relations firm hired by the administrator said the sales process was not yet finalised.

But he would not comment on whether rival parties offering more money had now come forward.

There is a case to say that ditching the Chinese-led consortium's bid now could undermine Australia's reputation as a country open to foreign investment.

But there is also little doubt that many would like to see Cubbie Station, and its vast water resources, remain in Australian hands.

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