by Matt Goss
MELBOURNE, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- A consortium consisting of Australia's richest woman and a Chinese investment firm has upped its bid for the world's largest cattle station, making them the likely winners of the bidding war.
Australian Outback Beef (AOB), a venture 67 percent owned by Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting and 33 per cent by China's Shanghai CRED, increased its bid for the S Kidman and Co cattle empire, the world's largest, to 293 million U.S. dollars.
The bid exceeds that of a rival syndicate of Australia's four largest cattle farming families, BBHO, and has forced BBHO to withdraw its bid for the series of cattle stations spanning across New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT).
The board of Kidman has unanimously recommended that its shareholders accept AOB's bid should the proposal be approved by Australia's Foreign Investments Review Board (FIRB) and the Chinese government.
Rinehart said the prospect of acquiring the Kidman empire meant a lot to her personally.
"I am from a station background, having grown up on Mulga Downs and Hamersley stations, both in the outback," Rinehart said in a statement published by News Limited on Friday.
"AOB has the capacity and ability to access additional markets vital to any credible plan to grow Kidman in a sustainable way and without breaking the core business."
"We have the money to invest to properly maintain the stations and their hard-working staff."
"This will result in valuable jobs being retained in Adelaide and also importantly create more jobs in rural communities where they are so desperately needed."
The bid by AOB excludes the single largest cattle station in the world, Anna Creek, due to the farm being deemed 'defense sensitive' due to its proximity to the Woomera weapons testing range, and thus being 'off limits' to foreign investors.
The BBHO consortium, which had intended to split the cattle stations up amongst themselves but continue to market the exported beef under the Kidman brand, said it did not want to enter a bidding war with Rinehart.
"After what has been a lengthy and complex sales process, we congratulate the Hancock Shanghai CRED consortium for similarly recognizing the potential of the iconic Kidman brand," the consortium said in a statement issued on Friday.
Tim Treadgold, a respected Australian business commentator, said the sale was a "classic case" of "the biggest chequebook winning the day."
"It only has to be one dollar more and the board of Kidman has no choice but to accept the highest bid," Treadgold told the ABC.
"To not accept the highest bid would cause them great problems."
The Kidman empire covers 101,000 square kilometers of pastoral land, representing 2.6 per cent of Australia's total agricultural land.