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Opinion: Dear Labour. Please revise and re-submit Shearer's desired Overseas Investment Act changes; Sunday's rush job doesn't look good
This morning I was going to write an article about your leader David Shearer’s new Member's Bill which would make it easier for the government to turn down Overseas Investment Office approvals for foreigners to buy New Zealand assets.
I was going to include a large amount of Shearer’s comments from the Bill's explanatory note about the need for the law change Labour is calling for. Comments like this:
A major part of our current account deficit is already comprised of interest and dividends paid to overseas investors. New Zealand’s poor savings record means we are reliant on imported capital to fund our current account deficit. Most of this comes via increased lending to home owners, but our deficit is used by some as a misplaced justification for the sale of our productive assets to overseas buyers.
We need to take care not to lose ownership of our farmland by allowing New Zealanders to be outbid by foreign buyers. We cannot afford to lose control of our best income producing assets and become tenants in our own land.
New Zealanders are already good farmers. Overseas owners do not usually increase farm output by any more than a New Zealand purchaser would. Our processors and exporters are also very capable. More often than not foreign purchasers use New Zealand farmers and existing New Zealand processors. International trade, including our free trade agreements, give us access to overseas markets without selling our land.
The New Zealand Labour Party does not believe selling our farm land to foreign buyers improves our economy.
And comments like this
New Zealand farms should not be priced out of the reach of New Zealanders. Asset prices inflated beyond the means of New Zealanders undermine social mobility, and lead to concentrations of wealth amongst a smaller number. Unless we change our ways our farm will be increasingly owned by foreigners and those fortunate to be born into wealthy families – the 1% not the 99%.
The prospects of a sharemilker becoming a land owner are diminishing. Labour thinks this is wrong.
That's all pretty strong stuff. I thought it would really get interest.co.nz readers going, seeing as this is a hot topic at the moment.
But then I started reading the actual Bill and just couldn't bring myself around to reporting it like that.
For starters, you can't even figure out what you want to call this law change.
Right at the top, in the space of eleven lines, you gave it two different names.
Overseas Investment (Owning our Own Rural Land) Amendment Bill is the initial title at the very top.
Then you decide that the new Act should be called the Overseas Investment (Owning our own Infrastructure) Amendment Act 2010
(Note to readers: I'm told by Labour that the top one is the correct one - the second one was a typo.)
Moving on, the move to repeal Section 14(1)(c), which stipulates Ministers must grant consent if satisfied that all of the criteria in section 16 or section 18 (as the case may be) are met, will do the job of making it easier to deny applications. I'll give you a tick for not stuffing that bit up. It's doing what you want your Bill to do.
And again, the desire to amend Section 16(1)(e)(iii) of the principal Act by replacing the words “the relevant Ministers determine that that benefit will be, or is likely to be, substantial and identifiable,” with the following words: “the relevant Ministers determine that under the principles set out in section 17 that benefit will be: (A) substantial and identifiable, and (B) would not be likely to otherwise occur,” would also do the job of entrenching Justice Forrest Miller's High Court ruling in February, and tighten requirements for foreign land purchases.
But then we get to section 17.
In the rush to get this Bill written before Shearer appeared on Q&A on Sunday, you managed to indicate that you would repeal all environmental, heritage, conservation and walking access requirements on foreign landowners for Ministers to consider when making their decisions.
Now I know you didn't mean to do this - you told me so this morning - but if you're going to go on national television and announce you're presenting a member's Bill to change one of this country's laws, then I for one would be hoping you've given it serious consideration, had a few people look over it, and had another look at the actual legislation to figure out what you'll be repealing.
For the record, here's what you suggested Section 17 should look like in the Bill (after having repealed the existing section)
Section 17 of the principal Act is repealed and replaced with the following words:
(1) The Minister must be satisfied the overseas investment will result in:
(a) the creation of a substantial number of additional jobs in New Zealand through the introduction of new technology or new products; or
(b) a substantial increase in exports from new technology or new products that will be produced on the land or from the processing of that and other produce.
(2) The Minister must be satisfied that the additional jobs or increase in exports will be additional to what would be likely to occur if a New Zealander purchased the land instead.
(3) For the avoidance of doubt, a minor change to an existing technology or existing product type will not satisfy section 17(1).
(4) For the avoidance of doubt, an increase in the volume of existing exports will not satisfy section 17(1).
Factors for assessing benefit of overseas investments in sensitive land
(1) If section 16(1)(e)(ii) applies, the relevant Ministers—
(a) must consider all the factors in subsection (2) to determine which factor or factors (or parts of them) are relevant to the overseas investment; and
(b) must determine whether the criteria in section 16(1)(e)(ii) and (iii) are met after having regard to those relevant factors; and
(c) may, in doing so, determine the relative importance to be given to each relevant factor (or part).
(2) The factors are the following:
(a) whether the overseas investment will, or is likely to, result in—
(i) the creation of new job opportunities in New Zealand or the retention of existing jobs in New Zealand that would or might otherwise be lost; or
(ii) the introduction into New Zealand of new technology or business skills; or
(iii) increased export receipts for New Zealand exporters; or
(iv) added market competition, greater efficiency or productivity, or enhanced domestic services, in New Zealand; or
(v) the introduction into New Zealand of additional investment for development purposes; or
(vi) increased processing in New Zealand of New Zealand's primary products:
(b) whether there are or will be adequate mechanisms in place for protecting or enhancing existing areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna, for example, any 1 or more of the following:
(i) conditions as to pest control, fencing, fire control, erosion control, or riparian planting:
(ii) covenants over the land:
(c) whether there are or will be adequate mechanisms in place for—
(i) protecting or enhancing existing areas of significant habitats of trout, salmon, wildlife protected under section 3 of the Wildlife Act 1953, and game as defined in sections 2(1) of that Act (for example, any 1 or more of the mechanisms referred to in paragraph (b)(i) and (ii)); and
(ii) providing, protecting, or improving walking access to those habitats by the public or any section of the public:
(d) whether there are or will be adequate mechanisms in place for protecting or enhancing historic heritage within the relevant land, for example, any 1 or more of the following:
(i) conditions for conservation (including maintenance and restoration) and access:
(ii) agreement to support registration of any historic place, historic area, wahi tapu, or wahi tapu area under the Historic Places Act 1993:
(iii) agreement to execute a heritage covenant:
(iv) compliance with existing covenants:
(e) whether there are or will be adequate mechanisms in place for providing, protecting, or improving walking access over the relevant land or a relevant part of that land by the public or any section of the public:
(f) if the relevant land is or includes foreshore, seabed, or a bed of a river or lake, whether that foreshore, seabed, riverbed, or lakebed has been offered to the Crown in accordance with regulations:
(g) any other factors set out in regulations.
So unless you'd like the Bill to remain as it is (and you've told me there are a few things you've got wrong), I'd expect you to withdraw the Bill in its present state and do a proper job of it. Either that or this was just a giant publicity stunt.