Opposition divided over station sale

THE Treasurer, Wayne Swan, branded the Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce xenophobic as a brawl erupted within the federal opposition over the approval for a Chinese-led consortium to buy the giant Queensland cotton farm Cubbie Station.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the Queensland Liberal-National Party government supported the acquisition after it was given the green light by the Foreign Investment Review Board while the federal Nationals, including Senator Joyce, the NSW senator John Williams and the party's leader, Warren Truss, attacked the decision.

But a split also emerged among the federal Nationals, with the MP Bruce Scott, who has Cubbie Station in his seat of Maranoa, backing the sale because it was better than the station, which has been in administration for three years, closing and jobs being lost.

Mr Scott is under pressure from Senator Joyce who wants National Party preselection for Maranoa so he can move to the House of Representatives, and Cubbie Station has now become a crucial element in the preselection jousting.

''The last thing I want to see is the administrators deciding to sell back the water and shutting it down,'' Mr Scott said yesterday.

On Friday, Mr Swan approved a joint proposal by the Chinese textile company Shandong Ruyi Scientific and Technological Group Co Ltd and the Australian company Lempriere Pty Ltd to buy Cubbie after the review board found the sale was not detrimental to the national interest.

The nation's largest cotton farm, the 96,000-hectare Cubbie Station produces 10 per cent of Australia's cotton and has licences to store more water than Sydney Harbour. It went into voluntary administration in 2009 with reported debts of $320 million.

Senator Joyce said the government should buy Cubbie Station.

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