Peni’s pointless push for a poll – we already know what most Kiwis think about land sales to foreigners

Alf is as unhappy as most of us about the prospect of the Crafar farms slipping into overseas ownership.

But he doesn’t see the point of adding his voice to a call for a another poll on the matter.

He refers to a news item this morning that said –

A Maori investor leading an iwi bid for a stake in the Crafar Farms wants a poll to be taken to find out what New Zealanders think of strategic assets being sold to foreign investors.

The Maori investor is Hardie Peni, chair of Tiroa E and Te Hape B trusts,

… both of which have a commercial and a cultural interest in the farms because the land was originally part of their ancestral whenua.

This Peni feller was part of a consortium led by Sir Michael Fay which offered $171.5 million dollars for the six farms in receivership.

Obviously $171.5 million is not enough.

Otherwise the receiver, Brendon Gibson of Korda Mentha, would not have turned it down.

Gibson says he has already accepted a much better offer from a Chinese company, Pengxin International Group Limited.

That offer is awaiting Overseas Investment Office approval.

If the OIO gives the thumbs up to the Chinese deal, Peni is giving advice on where to apply the political heat – he says the ultimate decision rests with the Minister of Finance.

Fair enough. Politics could be a factor in the outcome in an election year and our government is sensitive to public opinion.

But Peni also says

…there are two important questions he would like to ask the public: first, is it in the best interests to sell strategic assets to off-shore investors; and second, would people support the Government if they let that happen.

Actually, we know the answers.

Taking the second question first, there have been umpteen polls giving a measure of National’s huge lead in public opinion polls, even though National will be doing lots of things the public does not like such as selling state assets.

As to public opinion on a foreign invasion of property owners, previous polls clearly show a majority of the public is unhappy with sales of Kiwi land to foreigners.

Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings, the Chinese company at the centre of a bid to buy the Crafar farms last year commissioned a survey on Kiwi attitudes towards foreign investment.

It showed the majority of New Zealanders are uncomfortable with the prospect of local farms being snapped up by foreign investors, and the sentiment is strongest among the elderly, women and urban dwellers.

The survey results show 65 per cent of New Zealanders think farms should only be sold to New Zealand residents, and 41 per cent said they would be extremely uncomfortable with farmland being sold to Chinese buyers.

However more than half of people said the buyer’s country of origin would not matter if the investment boosted the economy in general.

At that time, Natural Dairy said it was “heartened” by the fact nearly 55 per cent of respondents said they would approve of a foreign owner if all employees were locals and 54 per cent who said the person’s country of origin did not matter if they paid tax here.

The survey results showed people were less likely to oppose foreign ownership of New Zealand land if the sale was to an Australian, with only 18 per cent saying they would be “extremely uncomfortable” with the idea.

On the other hand, one-third of respondents said they were very uncomfortable with French ownership, 27 per cent were opposed to selling to American interests and 23 per cent said they would be opposed to someone from Britain owning farm land here.

A few weeks earlier the Institute of Economic Research put out a discussion paper on the matter.

The paper referred to polls which indicated about three-quarters of New Zealanders wanted overseas investment rules tightened, although there was also a high awareness that an open economy was important for growth, NZIER chief executive Jean-Pierre de Raad said in the paper.

Restricting overseas investors’ access to the economy would be a damaging policy, and not worth the positive feeling that New Zealanders owned their own backyard or short-term popularity for politicians.

Any move away from an open investment regime would be seen as limiting New Zealand’s growth potential, and investors and credit agencies would react accordingly, he said.

Borrowing costs would rise, which would reduce economic growth and New Zealanders’ income, and access to overseas capital and knowledge would be limited.

“New Zealand simply doesn’t have the capital market depth to afford to be so picky.”

So there.

The rational Alf accordingly will welcome the Chinese purchase of the Crafar farmers, if the deal gets OIO approval and Bill English’s endorsement of that decision.

When it comes to sentiment, however, Alf will slip into a deep despond for a while – until he gets a pick-me-up down at the Eketahuna Club.

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