FOREIGN raiders have swooped on cheap Australian farming businesses.
And they have Australian taxpayers to thank for the bargain-basement buys.
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Properties and water purchased by managed investment scheme companies Timbercorp and Great Southern with the aid of massive tax breaks are now being sold at dirt-cheap prices to overseas companies.
Critics have labelled the situation a "foreign invasion ... bordering on an act of treason".
And opportunistic foreign companies are circling remaining Timbercorp and Great Southern assets as well as Cubbie station.
Some 92,000ha of Timbercorp forestry land has been sold to US funds manager Global Forest Partners for just $345 million, or $3750/ha. Tens of thousands of hectares of those timber crops are almost ready for harvest, which inflates the asset's real value.
Despite its foreign ownership, the business will trade under the name Australian Bluegum Plantations.
The sale comes a fortnight after Singapore company Olam International became Australia's largest almond grower when it paid just $128 million for 40,825 megalitres of water and 8096ha of almonds formerly owned by Timbercorp.
The water is worth just under $100 million, which means the company effectively paid $3500/ha for 8000ha of established groves.
Managed investment scheme investors paid $25,000/ha for a 20-year lease of the same land, which was last valued at $275 million without water.
Furthermore, The Weekly Times can reveal liquidator KordaMentha sold the almond groves and water overseas despite having received a better offer from the Timbercorp Growers Group. The TGG offer had been conditional on finance.
A spokesman for water lobby group Watergate, Mark Bull, said the sell-off of water to foreign companies was ``foreign invasion, not foreign investment''.
``Why would we spend taxpayer dollars to build water infrastructure and then allow a foreign company to use our water when they've contributed nothing?'' Mr Bull asked.
``We've got legitimate farmers short of water ... it's bordering on an act of treason.''
Timbercorp Growers Group director Kerree Bezencon said corporate piracy was alive and well.
``The vultures are in a feeding frenzy,'' she said.
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said the tax advantage MIS had received had been handed to foreign companies.
That advantage excluded family farmers from buying the failed MIS assets because the size and price of the properties ruled them out, he said.
``How much of your water and critical assets do you want sold to foreign entities?'' Senator Joyce said.
``There's nothing to stop a vertically integrated entity which grows food on the Murrumbidgee and sells direct to Singapore _ it becomes an exclusion of production capacity to feed the Australian people.''
Senator Joyce also warned the sale of Nufarm to the Chinese Government was not in Australia's best interests.
VFF MIS spokesman Bill McClumpha said the new owners of the MIS assets would have an unfair advantage over other irrigators, who were scrambling for 120,000 megalitres of temporary water for their crops.
``They're a subsidised player ... (taxpayers) paid for that,'' Mr McClumpha said.
KordaMentha's Mark Korda said the timber sale was ``a good outcome'' while GFP director of Asia Pacific investments Michael Edgar said his company was ``delighted to add these first-rate Australian assets to our portfolio''.
West Australian Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey, considered the father of MIS, failed to return calls to The Weekly Times, as did treasurer Wayne Swan.
Timbercorp is still to sell 4000ha of almonds, 1300ha of citrus, 5177ha of olives and 412ha of table grapes, plus associated water.
Great Southern must sell 240,000ha of forestry land; 6200ha of horticulture projects including winegrapes and water, and 1.5 million ha of cattle properties.