EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA
The awarding of the NT’s biggest ever groundwater extraction licence for a cattle station tuned food producer, 380 km north of Alice Springs, appears to have run into a problem: The Chinese owners of the company proposed to be getting the allocation are reported to be in financial difficulties.
The company, Fortune Agribusiness Funds Management, is linked with a major Chinese media group in Melbourne to be liquidated, according to the Federal Inquirer.
The news medium says Ostar International Media Group, one of Australia’s largest Chinese-language media groups, which has links to Beijing, has been seized by liquidators.
Ostar, which is based in Melbourne, runs eight Chinese and English-language radio stations, 11 Chinese newspapers, and an online television program. Its most prominent program is the 3CW radio station in Melbourne.
Ostar owes $5.6m, including $550,000 to the Australian Taxation Office, according to the liquidation report, says Federal Inquirer.
The group’s owner, millionaire Jiang Zhaoqing — or Tommy Jiang — is reported to also be linked to Fortune Agribusiness.
A spokeswoman for the NT Government now says Jo Townsend, NT Controller of Water Resources, has recommended the massive allocation but this may not be the end of the story: “The decision regarding the Singleton Station is open for people to ask for it to be reviewed. If it goes to the review panel the licence will be reviewed again.”
The spokeswoman says further details will be disclosed tomorrow.
The permit would empower Fortune Agribusiness Funds Management at Singleton Station to draw, free of charge, 40 gigalitres a year, about four times the amount used by Alice Springs.
The Independent MLA for Araluen Robyn Lambley and the Central Land Council (CLC) in April called for any work to cease pending a review of “this seriously flawed” decision.
The row coincides with a national discussion about the Federal Government’s power to overturn deals made by a state if they are not in the public interest.
Ms Townsend claims: “The application was granted after rigorous modelling and data showed the licensed amount is sustainable and can be managed without adversely impacting other users, as well as environmental assets or cultural assets, if conditions are met.”
Mrs Lambley says the licence for the “foreign-backed company primarily for foreign food production” is “on par with the leasing of the Darwin Port to the Chinese for 100 years in 2016.
“The Gunner Labor Government have been scathing in their attacks on the former Country Liberal Government for awarding water extraction licences to agribusinesses that were tiny in comparison to this. The hypocrisy and irrationality of this decision is unfathomable.”
IMAGE: Four of Ostar’s newspapers.