By Alex Tarrant
Directing the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to buy up rural New Zealand land instead of overseas farms would be an expensive way of making sure land here was locally owned, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says.
Instead it would be better to have clear rules in place about overseas ownership of New Zealand land, Norman told interest.co.nz.
The Super Fund last week announced it had bought its first local dairy farm under its NZ$500 million rural land strategy, with NZ$250 million set to be invested in rural land overseas. It is currently seeking international managers to oversee its global farm-buying push. See more in Gareth Vaughan’s February 3 article here.
Each country had to make its own decisions about what assets it wanted to retain in national ownership and what assets it did not, Norman said.
“I’m sure there’d be important parts of the Chinese economy that the Chinese government would never let fall into overseas ownership, and they have a lot of rules around land in particular,” he said.
“So each country needs to decide for themselves what their rules should be.”
Asked whether the Greens would rather the Super Fund invested the entire NZ$500 million in New Zealand, Norman said the party’s view was that there should just be in place strong rules that maintained New Zealand ownership of farmland.
It would be “pretty expensive” to get the Super Fund to buy up available land to stop it going into overseas ownership, Norman said.
“A much cheaper way to do it is actually just to have a clear rule around it. We would actually prefer just to have a clear rule – that’s more our focus than where the Super Fund should spend its money,” he said.
“Also the Super Fund doesn’t have enough money. If there’s serious interest in buying up farmland in New Zealand, the super fund doesn’t have deep enough pockets to deal with that,” Norman said.
...we need a policy to ensure that New Zealand land remains in New Zealand ownership.
National began a review of foreign ownership laws in 2009 with the aim of weakening the laws. We ran a campaign in support of strong foreign ownership laws and forced a U-turn. When the review was released in September 2010 the government had given itself some powers to block overseas ownership of land in certain circumstances.
The Greens have a much simpler solution - keep the privilege of ownership of New Zealand land for New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and New Zealand owned companies.
The Green Party introduced a private members bill which rules out overseas ownership of farmland over 5 hectares. This simple measure will take some of the pressure off rural land prices, making it easier for New Zealand families to buy a farm. It will also take some pressure off the environment because high land prices and high mortgages are pushing farmers to utilise every square centimetre of their land for more and more production. It will also help our current account deficit, as fewer profits will flow overseas. And it will mean Fonterra won't be undercut by foreign competitors.