The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) congratulates the newly formed Save The Farms group, which has called for an immediate moratorium on farm sales to foreigners “so we can have a national debate”. This group, headed by wealthy members of the upper middle class, has attracted considerable media attention and obviously has serious money behind it to finance its campaign. This shows just how far that opposition to the relentless selloff of New Zealand rural land to foreigners (both corporate and individual) has penetrated through all sectors of NZ society, now including those whom would be usually be counted on to support such a policy, indeed to personally profit from it.
The increased public opposition to land sales, right across the political and economic spectrum, is because such sales have now moved beyond the previous sales of iconic high country stations to rich foreigners looking for a second home and/or toy farm (think Shania Twain) to wholesale bargain buyups of dairy farms and processing plants (the Crafar Farms et al), which is the current engine of the economy. And it is equally noteworthy that this unease about, if not outright opposition to, rural land sales has reached the very highest levels of the National government. CAFCA believes that this is the reason why the very long overdue review of the Overseas Investment Act (which Bill English originally said would be made public in mid 2009) is so far behind schedule, with no date yet announced for its release.
It is extraordinary that John Key has, on several recent occasions, expressed his personal opposition to such sales and said that he doesn’t want to see New Zealanders become tenants in our own country. CAFCA believes in giving credit where credit is due and we congratulate the Prime Minister for those sentiments (whatever his reasons for doing so). We can’t recall any senior members of the last Labour government using any such language. Keep it up, John, would you like to become an honorary CAFCA member?
Obviously the Government is hearing rumbles from its own Party members and voters that they, in fact, don’t want to become tenants and it is trying to work out ways to accommodate that concern whilst simultaneously promoting its policy of throwing New Zealand ever more wide open to the transnational corporations that dominate the global economy, nowhere more so than in this country. It wants to quarantine the hot issue whilst proceeding with business as usual in every other sector. To give just one example – the Government, with full support from Labour, is charging headfirst into a free trade agreement with the US, via the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently being negotiated. All these free trade agreements come with binding investment agreements as an integral part of them – if this one goes through, it will throw NZ wide open to US transnationals, including the world’s biggest agribusiness corporations. Already Federated Farmers has expressed “surprise” at the Chinese bid for the Crafar Farms as being an “unintended consequence” of the free trade agreement with China. There’s nothing unintended about it at all, and a free trade agreement with the US will make those “unintended consequences” look like chickenfeed.
The fact of the matter is that, for all the high profile attention they are getting at the moment, farm sales to foreigners are only part of a much bigger problem. For decades successive Governments, National and Labour, have actively promoted the sale to transnational corporations of anything not nailed down. Banks, railways, airlines, the wine industry, telecommunications, forests, the media, whole swathes of manufacturing, the finance and insurance sector, etc, etc, etc – name any sector of the NZ economy and odds on that it is dominated by transnational corporations. There are precious few that aren’t.
So it is not just farm sales to foreigners that need to be subjected to a moratorium but the whole issue of the takeover of the entire New Zealand economy by transnational corporations. Tony Bouchier of Save The Farms said: “We’ve decided it’s time to really sit down and have a cup of tea and have a discussion about this”. Fine, let’s talk about the whole big picture, not just one part of it (important as that is). Bouchier also likened what is happening to what Maori experienced with colonisation and it is an appropriate comparison – NZ is currently undergoing a recolonisation, one by corporations. It is a bloodless invasion, a war without the shooting, and it is time for a ceasefire, so that the people of NZ who are being invaded and recolonised can take stock and say “hold on, this is not in the national interest, it’s not in the public interest, we need to establish real ground rules with teeth that mean that foreign investors only come here on our terms, as befitting guests in our home”.
If the Government really does want New Zealanders not to end up as tenants in our own country, then a perfect place to start would be with an Overseas Investment Act that actually adhered to those principles. That is CAFCA’s challenge to John Key – translate your fine words into actions. But we’re not holding our breath.