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 shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, moved to paper over the internal unrest this morning, saying he was the spokesman on foreign investment policy and others in the Coalition speaking out were just ''freelancing''.
''Some people are freelancing, they do not speak for the Coalition,'' Mr Hockey told Sky News.
''People are entitled to a view, I respect their view but I don't agree with it and I speak for the Coalition.''
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.
Mr Scott said if Mr Swan would release more details of the makeup of the consortium, which, he said, was not state-owned, then some of the hysteria would abate.
On Friday, Mr Swan approved a joint proposal by the Chinese textile company Shandong RuYi Scientific and the Australian company Lempriere Pty Ltd to buy Cubbie Station after the review board found the sale was not detrimental to the national interest.
Initially, RuYi will own 80 per cent and Lempriere 20 per cent but RuYi must reduce its interest to 51 per cent within three years by selling to an independent third party.
The consortium will be bound by the existing water licence conditions which apply to Cubbie Station.
The nation's largest cotton farm, the 96,000 hectare Cubbie Station produces 10 per cent of Australia's cotton crop 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 slammed Friday's decision as a disgrace and said the government should buy Cubbie Station.Mr Swan said the Coalition was a ''deeply divided mess'' and governments had no business buying cotton farms.
''I will always make decisions in the interests of Australian jobs and a strong economy, even in a debate like this where you've got people like Barnaby Joyce who'll put his own xenophobic attitude before Australian jobs,'' he said.
''Without new investment, there is a very real risk to the ongoing viability of operations of Cubbie Station, meaning the loss of around 170 jobs and a vital economic driver in the Dirranbandi and St George regions of Queensland.''
Queensland's deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said his state needed the foreign investment but Mr Truss, also a Queenslander, said Mr Swan ''must explain why it is in the national interest for control of Australia's most valuable farm, along with its massive water rights, to be ceded to overseas owners".
Recently Mr Abbott released a policy paper to try and ease the internal divisions between Liberals and the Nationals caused by foreign acquisitions of farms.
The Cubbie bid would have been approved under the Coalition policy.
with Judith Ireland