Asia Institute Tasmania

Op Ed | State needs to do business with Asia, as it has for 200 years


Dr Kaz Ross, Lecturer in Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

Start Date

21st Jan 2016 12:00am

End Date

21st Jan 2016 12:00am

 Ross, K, Op-ed - "State needs to do business with Asia, as it has for 200 years", The Mercury, Opinion, 21 January 2016.

State needs to do business with Asia, as it has for 200 years

THERE are a few things that most Tasmanians know about the Van Diemen's Land Company: it was founded in the 1820s. It has never been Australian owned. It is Australia's largest diary producer. And it is the subject of an increasingly heated and damaging battle over ownership.

The Van Diemen's Land Company is the target of a $280 million takeover bid by a Chinese company.

Late last year, after TasFoods' bid of $250 million was gazumped and the Victorian Supreme Court lifted a subsequent injunction on the sale to Chinese billionaire Lu Xianfeng, it looked like the matter might proceed smoothly to the Foreign Investment Review Board. However, a campaign against the sale by MHR for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, bore fruit this week. Jan Cameron's intention to underwrite a matching bid and "stop the sale of the farm" gained the backing of a handful of Senate crossbenchers. Meanwhile, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson announced the Greens' intention to refer the sale to a Senate inquiry.

Ms Cameron's bid has aroused strong emotions and muddied the already swirling waters. What is clear is that this latest move will probably not address the real needs of dairy farmers in Tasmania's North-West. And there is no doubt that it will be damaging for Tasmania.

Communities in the North-West are right to be concerned about the imposition of what has been labelled the "Chinese" model in which all parts of the business are covered by Chinese labour, suppliers, and so on. This would hermetically seal off VDL Co from the local economy and have a serious impact on the area. Yet how likely is this to happen?

Like many areas of agricultural production, dairying needs management experience in the sector, support for skilling local workers, investment in technology, as well as a sensitivity to local conditions – environmental, economic and political. There is no evidence that Mr Lu's new company, Moon Lake, will not provide this. At the same time, there is no evidence that Jan Cameron's proposed consortium will.

Local ownership is no guarantee that a business will remain profitable and continue to benefit the Tasmanian economy and population.

Source:  The Mercury, Opinion.