Australian-Chinese bid for massive cattle estate

Sydney (AFP) - Australia's richest woman and a Chinese property developer joined forces Sunday to bid for one of the world's largest cattle estates, despite Canberra's rejection of previous foreign offers.

Australia's biggest private landowner, cattle firm S. Kidman and Co, has attracted keen interest from Chinese firms wanting to secure the sprawling pastoral empire.

But the government has previously rejected two Chinese-led bids, citing the national interest.

Under the new offer announced late Sunday, mining magnate Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting will acquire 67 percent of Kidman and Chinese property developer Shanghai CRED 33 percent for some Aus$365 million (US$277 million).

Shanghai CRED was part of a Chinese consortium involved in the previous bids. The Chinese stake in the current bid would be significantly smaller than previously.

Kidman chairman John Crosby welcomed the "significant investment proposed in addition to the purchase price and (we) are confident that the Kidman business will be in good hands".

The first bid was rejected last November since part of the holdings contained a weapons testing area. After that, the Anna Creek station in South Australia next to a rocket testing range was separated out and is no longer included in the sale.

The new bid will be partly funded by the sale of Anna Creek and will be subject to approval by Canberra and Beijing.

Apart from the continued Chinese interest, the offer also reflects a further push by Rinehart -- who is worth more than Aus$6 billion according to The Australian Financial Review -- into agriculture.

Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting owns 70 percent of the massive Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia, and has also bought cattle stations in that state and in the Northern Territory in recent years.

Kidman, founded in 1899, holds around 1.3 percent of Australia's total land area, and 2.5 percent of the nation's agricultural land. It is currently 33.9 percent foreign-owned.

Even without Anna Creek it represents two percent of agricultural land.

It is a key source of beef for export to Japan, the United States and Southeast Asia.

Canberra has become increasingly concerned about the purchase of Australian infrastructure and land by overseas interests, and in August blocked the sale of its largest electricity network to foreigners.