A Queensland tourism icon caught up in a multimillion dollar legal battle over a disputed debt – which could have resulted in it being wound up – has secured a major court win.
Big Pineapple Corp (BPC) had asked the Supreme Court to set aside a statutory demand of more than $5.5M after a dispute broke out with one of its joint venture parties.
BPC is the corporate trustee for the land on which the Big Pineapple – a 16m fibreglass pineapple – is built.
Founded in 1971, the Sunshine Coast structure is recognised as a national tourism and food icon showcasing Queensland’s agricultural produce.
The site has also expanded to include a high ropes and zipline course and a wildlife zoo and has been the host of a popular music festival for more than a decade.
A Supreme Court judgment reveals Peter Kendall and his company CMC Property and Brad Rankin and his companies Rankin Super and Rankin Investments had both entered into a joint venture with BPC.
Mr Kendall and Mr Rankin are both directors of BPC.
Mr Rankin had demanded BPC pay more than $5.5M worth of loans to his companies that he claimed were made between 2011-15.
In May 2022, he presented Mr Kendall an offer to sell the land to property development group Scott PDI for $35M.
This was refused by Mr Kendall, who said the Big Pineapple was “not for sale”.
A few months later, BPC was served with a statutory demand from Mr Rankin’s company demanding the investment be repaid by June 30, 2022.
BPC filed an application to set aside the demand, arguing there was a “genuine dispute” over whether the debt was payable.
Supreme Court Justice Soraya Ryan ultimately set aside the statutory demand in a judgment published this week.
“I find that there exists a plausible contention, which requires investigation, that the debt was not due and payable on June, 30, 2022,” Justice Ryan said.
She said Mr Rankin had agreed in cross-examination that he understood Rankin Super’s loan was not going to be repaid unless the joint venture in BPC ended, or he left.
“The existence of the genuine dispute provides a reason for denying effect to the statutory demand as creating a ground for the winding up of BPC,” she said.
Justice Ryan also found the evidence supported an inference that the statutory demand process had been used for a purpose beyond its intent.
“Namely, (this was) as part of an attempt by the Rankin parties to avoid their forced withdrawal from the joint venture by putting pressure on BPC to sell the venture before the Kendall parties exercise their right to compulsorily buy them out,” she said.
The judgment states BPC relied upon the joint venture contributions to meet its financial obligations, which would include an obligation to repay a loan.
“Mr Rankin’s position, that the Rankin parties would not contribute funds to BPC to enable it to meet the statutory demand was, in my view, unfair and demonstrative of the complications of the conflict position he was in as a director of both Rankin Super and BPC,” Justice Ryan said.