Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

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House of Representatives
5 April 2012
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3. Overseas Investment Rules—Prime Minister’s Statements

[Sitting date: 05 April 2012. Volume:679;Page:1729. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement of 5 July 2010 that “I’d hate to see New Zealanders as tenants in their own country”; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, and the way the Government ensures that is to apply the Overseas Investment Act 2005. The Act sets out that foreign investment in land is permitted if a range of criteria are met, including that it has economic benefits for New Zealand, the prospective purchasers are of good character, and arrangements will be in place to protect or enhance native bush, birdlife, historic heritage, and walking access.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would the Prime Minister put up that as an example of compliance in respect of the 2005 legislation, when in its major outing Mr Williamson and Mr Coleman were found to be dramatically, sadly, and appallingly wanting in understanding the law?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I just do not agree with the member’s statements there. The fact was that decisions made by Ministers of both the previous Government and this Government were based on a widely shared assumption, backed up by legal advice, that the appropriate test was the “before and after” test for investment. The judge has made a decision that says that is not what the legislation means; it actually means a “with or without” test. That is a change in the legal advice, and the Government is responding appropriately, by applying the test the court has directed the Ministers to apply.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Prime Minister in vain trying to defend two “rubber-stamp Ministers”, when he knows that 71 percent of New Zealanders, who feel betrayed by the way he has handled the Crafar farms issue, appeared in a recent poll, and when is he going to put New Zealand’s interest before that of China?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member usually just goes a wee bit too far on these things. The fact is that New Zealand has an interest in lifting incomes and creating jobs, and foreign investment has always been part of that process in New Zealand. Overseas investment in industries used to be in the meat industry, at different times was in our infrastructure industries, and now there is some foreign investment in our farming industry. It is part of the success of this economy. We would all be poorer without the foreign investment, because we do not save enough to invest enough to create enough of our own jobs.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister not understand the difference between a corporate raid from overseas and true foreign investment in the case of Crafar farms, when the Chinese company knows nothing about dairy farming, and is seeking to use a New Zealand - owned corporation—[Interruption] I beg your pardon? You know something about milking cows, do you? [Interruption] Oh, we know who Michael Fay’s mate is.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! When I am on my feet, the right honourable gentleman will resume his seat, or get off his feet. We do not need that kind of exchange. I do not think the interjection warranted that. I will let the member, though, start his question again, so the members can hear it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister not understand the difference between a corporate raid and true foreign investment—because in this case the Chinese company knows nothing about dairy farming, and is seeking to use a New Zealand State-owned enterprise to act as tenants in its own country, by paying at least $18 million a year in rental—and when will he start acting for the New Zealand interest, rather than kowtowing as the Manchurian candidate for China?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am pleased the member now knows the difference between an Asian language and a province in China. But, look, I do empathise with the member: it must have been a hard day when he got up and had to choose between the Chinese and Michael Fay.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a serious issue of the nature of true foreign investment, surely the Prime Minister or his lackey can do better than that. That cannot be an answer, surely.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. He will not refer to other members, while raising a point of order, as lackeys—never. Because the member has done that, I will make it clear to him that if I could have understood the member’s question, I could have perhaps insisted on an answer, but it was quite beyond my comprehension.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is an answer when he accuses me of being some sort of—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat right away. The question has been dealt with, as far as the Speaker is concerned. The nature of the question got the answer it deserved, and we are now going on to the next question.

Hon David Parker: Did the Prime Minister tell New Zealanders nearly 2 years ago that his Government was tightening the rules to clamp down on farm sales to foreigners?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, because that is what the Government did.

Hon David Parker: Is he aware that since he told New Zealanders he was tightening the rules, his Ministers have approved the largest ever sale of dairy land in Southland to German investors, followed by an even larger and more valuable sale of multiple dairy farms in Otago to American investors, and how can he deny that these approvals, together with his Government’s attempts to approve even larger sales of Crafar farms, show that his earlier statements that he was tightening rules were untrue?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The Government introduced some new guidance to the Overseas Investment Office, which made it clear that in making decisions the Government would take into account undue aggregation on the one hand, and vertical integration on the other hand, which was dealing with some legitimate concerns about very large-scale overseas purchases or totally vertically integrated operations, which would not allow for participation of New Zealanders. Those criteria have been applied to the sales that the member mentions. We should keep this in proportion. Although the member can represent those as large sales, he approved some very large sales of land, and in both cases they are very small proportions of New Zealand’s land area.