Finance

Kathmandu founder Jan Cameron bids for Tassie dairy company as politicians attempt to stop overseas buyers taking control

Ronelle Richards /

 

Hobart resident and founder of retailer Kathmandu Jan Cameron is preparing a bid to buy Australia’s largest dairy farm.

Cameron is the third party to come forward for the dairy producer, alongside majority Australian-owned food consortium TasFoods and Moon Lake Investments, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Lu Xiangfeng.

The Van Diemen’s Land Company located in Tasmania’s far north-west is currently owned by New Plymouth District Council in New Zealand.

Established in 1824, the VDL operation includes 25 dairy farms, a Dairy Support Unit and standalone Heifer Rearing Operation totalling around 30,000 dairy stock. The company has never been Australian owned.

Moon Lake Investments has made a $280 million binding offer to buy VDL, but its bid is subject to approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Tasmanian independent member of parliament Andrew Wilkie has been joined by senators Jacqui Lambie, John Madigan and Nick Xenophon to lobby Treasurer Scott Morrison to veto the Moon Lake deal.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Cameron said she will lodge a formal expression of interest, “commercially similar” to the Moon Lake bid by Friday, according to The Mercury.

“We have once in a lifetime opportunity to bring the magnificent Van Diemen’s Land property into Australian ownership for the first time,” she said.

Once named Australia’s fourth richest woman by BRW, Cameron lost almost 90% of her wealth in the space of just four years between 2009 and 2013.

Her first company Alp Sports was sold in 1987 to fund outdoor clothing retailer Kathmandu with John Pawson.

In 2006, Cameron, by then sole owner, sold Kathmandu to Quadrant Private Equity fund for $247 million.

In 2009 she purchased Retail Adventures out of administration for $85 million, however, the retail group collapsed again in 2012, owing around $170 million.

Her private company Discount Superstores Group Holdings went into receivership in 2014, as did New Zealand retailer Postie Plus, of which Cameron was the largest shareholder.

In July 2014 she sold out her shareholding of Tasmanian based Bellamy’s Organics for $36.6 million, which were worth a reported $226 million last September according to Fairfax Media.

 

Politicians weigh in

 

 

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said in a statement the proposed sale of VDL to to Moon Lake. “reflects an appalling failure of governance”.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull side-stepped the question on this matter posed by me in the House of Representatives on 2 December last year,” he said.

Wilkie said the current New Zealand ownership and the fact a Chinese investor is trying to purchase it is “entirely irrelevant”.

“The fact is this is a commercial asset of strategic proportions and it would be irresponsible in the extreme for the Government to miss this opportunity to bring VDL into Australian ownership,” he said.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon has described the lack of transparency in foreign trading deals in Australia as a “shocker”.

“For instance, we have no idea what the impact will be on local jobs, particularly with the new China Free Trade Agreement making it easier for overseas workers to take Australian jobs,” he said.

Second bidder TasFoods had their $250 million offer rejected and is set for a hearing at the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria on February 21.

According to the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act, federal Treasurer Scott Morrison or the Foreign Investment Review Board are required to take alternative local bids into account when making foreign investment decisions.

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany this morning foreign ownership of Australian-based companies is nothing new.

“We have a history of foreign companies buying Australian farms and businesses, it comes and goes,” Strong says.

“What we need to make sure is competition is maintained, taxes are paid and Australian jobs are maintained.”

Strong also congratulated Cameron and senators for stepping in for Australian workers, but says there are “bigger issues”, with small Australian businesses continuing to be mistreated by large Australian companies.

The Australian dairy Industry is estimated to be worth $13 billion, with more than 6000 dairy farmers producing 9.7 billion litres of milk each year.

SmartCompany contacted Van Diemen’s Land Company but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Ronelle Richards

Ronelle Richards is a former journalist at SmartCompany. She is currently studying a Masters of Journalism at The University of Melbourne and has previously worked as a journalist and photographer in rural newspapers.

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