The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) joins the growing chorus of those calling for an inquiry into the banks, particularly the Gang of Four big Australian-owned banks that completely dominate the sector (and do very nicely out of it in the process).
CAFCA has been calling for such an inquiry for some time (see the lead article in Foreign Control Watchdog 150, April 2019).
The current revelations about ANZ - criticism that it has defied Reserve Bank instructions to set aside enough spare money to see it through another financial crisis, and the sudden resignation of its CEO because of his questionable approach to expenses (with a very laissez faire "oversight" by the bank's NZ Board, headed by Sir John Key, the master of doing nothing when it involves the interests and profits of Big Business) - only reinforce the need for such an inquiry.
laissez faire "oversight" reinforces need for inquiry
|Sir John Phillip Key|
ANZ is well known to CAFCA. Twice (2009 & 2014) it won the Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand (the respective Judges' Reports are here and here).
But an inquiry needs to look at more than just one of the banks. It needs to look at all of them. Just like the recent Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into banks and insurance companies. It revealed a horrifying picture of systemic corporate malpractice right across the sector - involving the same banks that own the Gang of Four in NZ.
Funnily enough, the banks here see no need for an equivalent inquiry. The NZ Bankers' Association had a novel explanation for why - according to them - things are hunky dory on this side of the Tasman. Antony Buick-Constable, the acting CEO, said: "We think, importantly, it comes down to the smaller size of our country and the smaller size of our banks. We're more connected - we're talking to our customers on the sidelines of footy matches on a Saturday. We think this is an important difference from the Australian landscape. We are very connected to customers" ( Press, 20/9/18, "Banks' Size Crucial To Conduct", Hamish Rutherford).
Oh, really. Well, the current ANZ situation puts the lie to that.
But the Government is also resisting calls for an inquiry. Yet, when it was in Opposition, back in 2009, Labour was happy to take part in the Parliamentary Banking Inquiry, held by the then Opposition Parties in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
So, come on, Labour, you've done it once, when you were in Opposition. Do it again now that you're in Government, with all the resources of the State at your disposal. Don't worry about the inevitable cries that it will adversely affect "business confidence" or possibly even "threaten the New Zealand way of life". The Tory government in Aussie went ahead and had one without the sky falling (except, hopefully, onto the heads of those named - individually and corporately - as guilty). To coin a phrase much beloved by Rightwing politicians and their media mouthpieces in another context - if they've got nothing to hide, then they've got nothing to fear. Time for a New Zealand inquiry into the banks.
In late March the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) distributed our strong concerns about the (ultimately aborted) planned flyover of the Wings Over Wairarapa Airshow by a US Air Force B52 bomber. We wrote to the Government about it.
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How many previous US aircraft visits were from nuclear capable aircraft?
"New Zealand makes its own determinations regarding military aircraft or vessel visits and does not require any state to make a declaration on nuclear armament". This means that US military planes visiting NZ could carry nuclear weapons and New Zealand would not know. So, where is NZ's nuclear free law in all of this? Peters' letter makes a mockery of it, indeed it renders that law null and void.
The Campaign Against Foreign Contropl of Aotearoa (CAFCA) welcomes the announcement by Associate Finance Minister David Parker that a review of the Overseas Investment Act "might" give Ministers "'full discretion' to decide whether the purchase of assets worth more than $100 million by foreign investors should be allowed, with an expectation they would decline any deals that they did not think were in the national interest" (Stuff, 16/4/19).
But CAFCA fears that's where the good news ends as far as this review is concerned. It begs credulity that Parker should have said: "I don't think it will change it (the Act) hugely. I think the big changes came when we banned foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes" (Stuff, ibid.).
Really? Talk about looking through the wrong end of the telescope. CAFCA has never got terribly exercised about the whole subject of "foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes", precisely because it is such a small part of a much bigger picture. It has actually got more to do with immigration - which is not our issue - than foreign control, which definitely is. Such a ban was more about securing votes for Labour than anything else. And it's a pretty threadbare sort of a ban, as it is, riddled with loopholes and exemptions. For a start, NZ's hands are tied by so-called "free trade" agreements, meaning that the entire populations of Singapore and Australia are exempt from the foreign house buyer "ban". The fact that Australia is the country of origin of the single biggest number of foreign investors into NZ shows just how threadbare the "ban" is.
Forget about the rats and mice stuff, like foreign house buyers. This Government's changes to the foreign land buyer regime are more significant but still riddled with exemptions (all of forestry, for a start). The real guts of foreign control of the New Zealand economy is that which involves transnational corporations (TNCs) and their relentless takeover of businesses, assets and land in all sectors, aided and abetted by both National and Labour governments. In 2018 the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approved foreign investment totalling $12.5 billion. The average for the decade 2009-2018 was $8.2 billion. So, a substantial increase in the first full year of the Labour-led Government.
And Parker went on to say that the review "will consider streamlining some 'pernickety' checks on foreign investors to cut red tape, for example by reducing the 'hoops' faced by existing 'long-term reputable investors' who were already paying tax here" (Stuff, ibid). Conclusion: business as usual, despite this Government saying it would take steps to deal with what it claims to recognise as the problem of foreign control. Actions speak louder than words. Let's see some action. Everything points to this review being intended to make foreign "investment" easier, not harder, and that this Government sees the TNCs as its priority, not the New Zealand people.
Any changes to the Act will only apply to new applicants, not to those already well ensconced in NZ. For example, what does the Government plan to do about the cosy cartel of Australian-owned banks, who suck billions out of the NZ economy every year? In 2009, when it was in Opposition, Labour was happy to take part in an inquiry into the banks. But, now that it is the Government, it refuses to countenance an NZ equivalent of the very recent Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry which uncovered systemic criminal and unethical behaviour by those very same banks in their home country.
Here's another specific example, although much bigger, older and much more entrenched. What is the Government going to do about the country's biggest bludger, the transnational owners of the Bluff smelter? They have twisted NZ governments, both National and Labour, around their little finger for 50 years. If Jacinda Ardern is serious that climate change is her Government's nuclear free issue, then she will have to confront and face down the smelter's owners. And do better than the Clark Labour government which folded when the smelter owners threatened to leave the country if Labour brought in an emissions trading scheme. Memo to Jacinda - if they threaten to go, hold the door open for them and help them load their suitcases into the airport shuttle. And make sure that they (those recipients of corporate welfare par excellence), and not the NZ taxpayer, foot the bill for cleaning up their mess. That would involve Labour facing up to the 2003 and 04 indemnities signed by Michael Cullen, Labour's Minister of Finance at the time, accepting that the taxpayer, and not the smelter owners, would be responsible for the cost of cleaning up toxic waste produced by the smelting process.
Tackling the domination of the NZ economy by already entrenched TNCs would involve Labour in putting the real national interest ahead of its dread of upsetting "business confidence". Business in this country is, more and more, foreign business. What is needed is a Government prepared to tackle this transnational corporate colonisation, not one that tinkers around the edges to mollify public opinion while simultaneously making things even easier for the colonisers.
To see what a real review of the Overseas Investment Act looks like, check out CAFCA's submission from when it was last amended (2005, also under Labour)
Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) was alarmed to learn that the "star" of the February 2019 Wings Over Wairarapa air show was supposed to be a US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber flying over Masterton (it became a no-show because it suffered operational problems in Australia, en route from its Guam base). ABC is Christchurch-based and we have had a US military transport base (Harewood) at our airport for more than 60 years. We are used to US military transport planes coming and going here, and for those planes to feature at open days at Christchurch Airport.
But a B-52 bomber is a whole different kettle of fish. Because it is synonymous with the systematic aerial destruction inflicted upon Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War, people may think that B-52s are historic relics, on a par with the various vintage warplanes that are flown at NZ air shows on a regular basis. But not so – although B-52s date back to 1955, they have been in continuous use by the US Air Force ever since, and remain so today (they have been most recently used to bomb Syria).
To quote Wikipedia: “The USAF continues to rely on the B-52 because it remains an effective and economical heavy bomber in the absence of sophisticated air defences, particularly in the type of missions that have been conducted since the end of the Cold War against nations with limited defensive capabilities. The B-52 has also continued in service because there has been no reliable replacement”.
NZ has been out of the ANZUS Treaty for nearly 35 years (the Australia, New Zealand, US military treaty that was the foundation of all New Zealand’s defence and foreign policy from its inception in 1951 until the US, under President Ronald Reagan, kicked us out in 1986. It remains in force today, but only between the US and Australia).
So, what was this Masterton flyover all about? It’s aimed at softening up the New Zealand people to support further extending the military alliance with the US, but this time on home soil, rather than overseas. This is called “soft power”. It took until 2016 for the first US Navy warship to visit NZ since the 1980s’ “ANZUS row”. It was invited to Auckland to take part in the multinational celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the NZ Navy. It never actually got to Auckland, instead being diverted to the South Island to assist in the evacuation of people left stranded by the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake (this was propaganda gold for the US military).
That warship visit was under the Key National government, which is not that surprising. But this (abortive) B-52 flyover was authorised by the Ardern Labour Coalition government. The US knows that it can keep on chipping away at NZ public opinion, aided and abetted by a sympathetic Government. The steady drip, drip, drip of soft power is intended to lead to the full resumption of “hard power” i.e. NZ as a fully functional, albeit, junior, US satellite once again (that is already the reality but it is not the perception that is peddled to the NZ people).
“In a statement, US Ambassador Scott Brown said thousands of people made plans based on being able to see the B-52. ‘We know how disappointed they will be. We share that disappointment. We're gutted’, Brown said. ‘We've been in touch with the organisers and I personally called Defence Minister Ron Mark to convey our apologies and regret…”.
“The Wings over Wairarapa air show has established itself as a world class event and we were honoured to be invited. The US Embassy looks forward to future opportunities to collaborate with this great show" (Stuff, 23/2/19, “B-52 Debut At Wings Over Wairarapa Cancelled Due To Operational Issue”, Amber-Leigh Woolf.)
ABC sees this as a dangerous precedent, and not simply a day out for all the family to watch a big plane fly overhead. B-52s have no place in New Zealand (including our airspace). Nor do any other US warplanes. We have written to the Prime Minister, with a couple of key questions: Why did the Government give permission for this to happen? Did the US Embassy satisfy the Government that this particular bomber was compliant with NZ's nuclear free law? We’ll keep you informed.
Waihopai works for Donald Trump which means New Zealand is complicit in his volatile and downright unhinged behaviour
One of the very few alleged “checks and balances” in the Overseas Investment Act is the requirement that the persons owning and/or controlling the applicant transnational corporation be “of good character”. Note that this only applies to individuals, not to the corporations themselves.
The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) has been making “not of good character” complaints to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) and its predecessor, the Overseas Investment Commission (OIC), since the late 1990s. It’s a long story. Here’s the link to articles about the subject on the Websites of CAFCA and Foreign Control Watchdog
Not one of our complaints has ever been even partly upheld – until now.
On December 8th, 2016, I wrote to the OIO: “In light of the New York Stock Exchange delisting Agria, we request that you investigate whether the people owning and/or controlling Agria are of good character, and whether they should be allowed to continue own and/or control PGG Wrightson. ‘Agria says it will fight New York Stock Exchange delisting’ This is a quote from a New Zealand Herald article reporting the same thing: ‘The Exchange said it had uncovered evidence demonstrating that the company and its management engaged in operations ‘contrary to the public interest’ and not in keeping with sound public policy pursuant to requirement of Exchange's Listed Company Manual’”.
Unlike when making an Official Information Act request to the OIO (or any other Government agency) there is no time limit that the OIO has to meet to answer a “not of good character” complaint. To this day, the OIO has not given CAFCA its decision about our Agria complaint.
But, right before Christmas (when news of this nature is traditionally, and quietly, released) the OIO included this in its cutely titled newsletter The PeriOIOdical (December 2018)
“The OIO has investigated the good character of Agria Singapore and former PGG Wrightson Chair Alan Lai in relation to Agria’s shareholding in PGG Wrightson”.
“Both Agria and Mr Lai have co-operated with the OIO investigation, following the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation”.
“The OIO, Agria and Mr Lai have reached a settlement agreement which required Agria to sell down below its 50.2 percent interest in PGG Wrightson (which it has now done in compliance with the agreement) and provided for penalty proceedings to be filed in the High Court”.
No acknowledgement of CAFCA’s role and the OIO hasn’t bothered to tell us but we’ll take the credit and chalk it up as a first. More please. The whole subject of “good character” is one that needs to be front and centre in the Government’s stage 2 review of the Overseas Investment Act, which is being undertaken this year.