Public Opposition to Land Sales Forces Government Back down On Overseas Investment Act Liberalisation

Ministers have always had veto powers - What’s been lacking is the political will to use them!
When Bill English announced yet another review of the Overseas Investment Act, in early 2009, he said that its recommendations would be made public by the middle of last year. It has taken until the end of September 2010 for that to actually happen, a full 15 months late. When he announced that review National was all set for another gung ho liberalisation of the Act to make New Zealand even more “attractive to foreign investors”(pdf) . After all that is what Labour did when it was in office and the result was the present 2005 Overseas Investment Act, which represented a considerable liberalisation from its predecessor. NZ now has the dubious distinction of having one of the most laissez faire foreign investment regimes in the world.

But this latest review has, contrary to a regular drip feed of information from “inside sources”, recommended precisely no change to the Act. It has introduced two new measures to the Act’s accompanying Overseas Investment Regulations and they both apply exclusively to investments in sensitive land: a new “economic interests” factor allowing Ministers to consider whether NZ’s economic interests are adequately safeguarded and promoted; and a new “mitigating” factor enabling Ministers to consider whether an overseas investment provides opportunities for NZ oversight or involvement e.g. by appointing NZ directors or establishing a head office in NZ.

Some media commentators have labeled these as giving Ministers “veto powers” over foreign investment in large tracts of farmland (actually, for as long as there has been an Overseas Investment Act - since 1973 -  Ministers have always had veto powers over all aspects of foreign investment. What’s been lacking is any political will or courage to actually use them. But let’s not spoil a good story).

What has changed since Bill English announced this review 18 months ago? Obviously, the very large and growing larger public opposition to relentless foreign takeovers of prime agricultural land, and specifically the Chinese bid for the North Island dairy farms empire of the hapless Allan Crafar. There has always been public opposition to foreign takeover of NZ rural land but what is different now is a qualitative change from rich foreign individuals wanting to buy picturesque hobby farms for themselves (think Shania Twain) to agribusiness transnationals wanting to buy great chunks of the dairy industry, which is the current engine of the NZ economy.

This has led to major unease among people who have been among National’s traditional backers and voters (which has taken organised form with the recent launch of the Save The Farms group) and there has been evidence of a major difference of opinion at the highest levels of the Government itself, with Maurice Williamson on the one side labeling opponents of foreign investment as “racists” and John Key on the other, saying, more than once, that he doesn’t want to see New Zealanders end up as tenants in our own country.

It would seem that the Key faction has prevailed – not only is the Overseas Investment Act not being liberalised, it is not being changed at all, and a couple of essentially cosmetic measures have been tacked onto the Regulations to try and satisfy public opposition to farm sales to foreigners.
There has always been public opposition to foreign takeover of NZ rural land whether it be rich individuals wanting to buy picturesque hobby farms or agribusiness transnationals wanting chunks of the economy.
The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) has always said that whilst land sales to foreigners are important in themselves, they are only part of a much bigger picture, namely the wholesale economic recolonisation of all sectors of the NZ economy by transnational corporations. The Government is trying to quarantine the contentious issues of land sales, whilst saying and doing nothing about the big picture.

We congratulate the Government for not liberalising the Act any more than it already is but we call upon Key to take the bull by the horns and actually substantially tighten it up. There is plenty of scope to do so. Start by exercising the veto powers that Ministers already have (and always have had). Recognise that New Zealanders do not want to become inhabitants of a branch office of a bunch of transnationals, and exercise some political will in the national interest. It will be a novel feeling but you’ll get used to it. And if you do so your employers, the people of New Zealand, will thank you for actually doing your job.

CAFCA Media Release September 27 th 2010

Something Well Worth Reading


Corporate largesse  

In his opening address to the 2010 New Zealand Petroleum Conference Minister of Most Everything Gerry Brownlee, has asserted that New Zealand must be “an attractive global destination for exploration and investment” – the   “most exciting developments of the last twelve months have been the entry of Petrobras and Anadarko into New Zealand”, Brownlee continues.
Corporate Welfare
Gerry Brownlee handouts $20 million

None of this comes as a surprise; the present Government’s desire to strip-mine the country is hardly a secret – as the outrageous proposal to open up conservation land for mining testifies. Indeed Brownlee, in drumming up attendance for the conference, has made much of a 20 million dollar gift to the petroleum industry. Again no surprises here, corporate largesse on this scale will seldom get a mention in the daily media let alone be subject to the Governments “crack down on beneficiaries”.

Something Worth Reading  

Flamboyant reached rhetoric, and corporate welfare notwithstanding the issue underpinning the whole discussion should turn to what is good for New Zealand and New Zealanders – the need to bribe the petroleum industry to exploit local resources needs to be considered in light of the environmental impact not simply a projected return of resource extraction as the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico testify.  

US periodical Mother Jones has published a special report on BP’s  Deep Secret – it is well worth reading.


The folly of using private companies for public services

For those who live outside the Herald's distribution area here is the link to Jane Kelsey’s latest;
The folly of using private companies for public services
"There is a wise saying that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
That certainly applies to the Government's announcement taxpayers will get better value for money if public agencies have to consider using private firms for major new public investments.
Public Private Partnerships - more properly, but less attractively, called Private Finance Initiatives or Build Operate and Transfer schemes - are the current fashion in privatisation."
You’ll find Jane’s personal webpage here and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Digest here

If All Else Fails, Call Them Racists

John Key: “As a general and broader principle I think New Zealanders should be concerned if we sell huge tracts of our productive land”

Maurice Williamson, the Minister of Land Information, is obviously having none of this PC nonsense being spouted by his boss. In relation to farms being sold to foreigners, John Key has said more than once that he is not happy about it and doesn’t want to see New Zealanders become tenants in our own country. Williamson, on the other hand, simply brands opponents of such sales as racists. He’d probably like to accuse them of xenophobia too but he probably can’t spell it (and he might think that it means an irrational dislike of warrior princesses).

When You’ve No Argument – Cast Aspersions

Williamson is guilty of the oldest, laziest and most misleading slur in the decades-long debate on this issue, namely when you can’t think of any other argument to bolster your case, call your opponents names. We’ve said it before many times but one more time won’t hurt – the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) is not racist. He is referring to the intense opposition to Chinese transnational corporation Natural Dairy bidding to buy the dairy farms of the hapless Allan Crafar. CAFCA is most definitely opposed to that, but it’s got nothing to do with the potential buyers being Chinese. Our position would be the same regardless of the country of origin of any buyer (yes, even white ones).
Williamson:  'having none of this PC nonsense being spouted by his boss'

If CAFCA and others oppose US transnationals buying up NZ (as we do) or the turkeys voting for Christmas in the shape of a free trade agreement with the US (we most definitely oppose that) we get called anti-American. In relation to our opposing Shania Twain buying South Island high country stations (which we did and do), what would Williamson say about us? That we hate Canadians? Country and Western singers? Women? Or all three? For decades the State spied on CAFCA because we were suspected of being Communists. And we have the SIS files to prove it. So, following his own fuzzy logic, does Williamson conclude that we are opposed to Chinese investors because we’re anti-Communist? We would have thought that would put us in the National Party’s good books. It’s always good fun to call each other names (nah, nah, nah Maurice, you’re a Tory) but it doesn’t advance the argument very far.

In One Word Bullshit

We have a one word reply to Williamson. Bullshit. CAFCA opposes foreign control of this country, not because we are racist but because it is patently not in the national interest, it is simply recolonisation by corporations, one which means that we do become tenants in our own country (Key hit the nail on the head with that phrase), decisions are made elsewhere about our future, the profits go overseas, and there is negligible contribution in terms of jobs and expertise. It is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We need it like a hole in the head.

And it’s important to stress that farm sales are only one part of a much bigger picture, an important one and a high profile one, but by no means the whole picture. Nearly every sector of the NZ economy is dominated by transnational corporations who have achieved a much greater degree of penetration and control here than in most other First World countries. This is due to the blind adherence to the ideology of foreign investment and free trade being the One True Path by our politicians of both major parties. Exhibit A – Maurice Williamson.

Williamson is the Minister who has the final decision on whether Natural Dairy is allowed to buy the Crafar farms (and, if he chooses to exercise his powers, he actually has the final say on all rural land sales to foreigners). He is part of a Government that is taking an inordinately long time to make public its review of the Overseas Investment Act (it was scheduled for mid 2009). Williamson’s speech is further proof of the obvious division of opinion on this subject at the highest levels of the Government. Is he calling the Prime Minister a racist?

Is he calling the Prime Minister a racist?

If the Key faction is genuine in its concern that New Zealanders don’t end up as tenants in our own country, then the perfect place to start would be with an Act that actually adhered to those principles. We now all know where the Minister of Land Information stands on this issue (and it’s no great surprise). CAFCA’s challenge to Key is to translate his fine words into effective actions, and on all aspects of the subject, not just farm sales. Go on John, surprise us.

Protest at Pacific Rim Mining Shareholder Meeting - Vancouver


Pacific Rim Mining held its annual general meeting in downtown Vancouver Saturday - attended by a few directors and more than a dozen protesters.

Most of the demonstrators were from the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) in the US Pacific Northwest. They wore tags describing themselves as shareholders in democracy, human rights, access to clean water and "our future."

Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining is suing the people of El Salvador after the government refused to allow it to mine using methods that would poison El Salvador's rivers. The suit for millions in "lost profits" has been filed under the Central American Free Trade Agreement. CISPES is calling on the company's directors to drop the suit.

The company has been telling their shareholders that they are hopeful of a “resolution” with the Salvadoran government. However, after the 2009 elections, El Salvador finally has a democratic government that is responding to the people’s demands. On Saturday, the President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes reiterated his public commitment: “I will not authorize any mining exploration or exploitation project” and he welcomed the process underway in the Legislative Assembly to pass a national ban on metallic mining.

El Salvador is standing strong in the face of violent attacks against rural communities that oppose the mines and the open threat of the World Bank lawsuit. CISPES needs you to stand in solidarity with these struggles against corporate extortion, neocolonialism, and environmental racism in Latin America today! 

Two CISPES representatives were allowed into the meeting, then ejected after they tried to speak.

Download backgrounder (pdf)