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General welcome for overseas investment changes

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Bill English
Bill English

Wellington, Sept 28 NZPA - Government changes to rules about overseas purchases of New Zealand land do not protect the country's long-term interests, Labour says.

However, the Government has been quick to point out that more land was sold to foreign owners each year under Labour's rule.

Finance Minister Bill English yesterday announced the outcome of a review into overseas investment rules and regulations.

While the Overseas Investment Act would not be changed, Mr English said changes to regulation outside the Act would, from December, include a new economic interests factor allowing ministers to consider whether economic interests here are adequately safeguarded.

A new mitigating factor would also enable ministers to consider whether overseas investments gave the opportunity for New Zealand participation, oversight or involvement, and more clarity would be provided about the Government's policy on investment in sensitive assets.

Labour Party agriculture spokesman Damien O'Connor said he did not trust the Government to protect strategic assets.

"Farmers still face the uncertainty of overseas buyers pushing up the value of land to beyond the price any efficient New Zealand farmer can afford."

He also raised concerns about primary sector businesses.

"Control of industry is just as important as control of farmland. It is essential that farmers own the processing and marketing of their production for long-term viability."

However, Labour isn't yet saying what should be done -- leader Phil Goff yesterday said the party would announce its policy on overseas investment shortly; it would be stronger than the Government's and designed to keep New Zealand ownership of land, he said.

Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson said during 2000-2008, while Labour was in government, more than 650,000ha of land was sold to foreigners.

Under National, 22,450ha was sold in 2009 and 8599ha had been sold this year up to August.

Labour's overseas investment spokesman David Parker said the international situation had changed dramatically in the past two years and New Zealand was at risk of locals being priced out of the land market.

Overseas purchasers were now wanting to buy large numbers of dairy farms at a time of many mortgage sales, he said.

"Assets sold at inflated prices set on an inflated international market will lead to New Zealanders being effectively locked out of owning our own productive land."

Groups such as Federated Farmers have welcomed Mr English's announcement but are waiting to see detail of the framework.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the changes would not protect New Zealand farm land from overseas ownership.

Dr Norman said he wanted to see the Greens' policy of limiting sales of land to overseas owners to 5ha adopted.

Mr English's review initially set out to make foreign investment "simpler and more attractive" but there was a refocusing in light of Natural Dairy's bid to buy the Crafar family farms.

The Overseas Investment Office is considering Hong Kong-based Natural Dairy's bid for the 20 central and lower North Island farms.

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