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The endlessly fascinating Crafar Farms soap opera focuses attention once again on the political hot potato of foreign ownership of New Zealand land.
The Prime Minister, recognising the political toxicity of the subject, even among National voters, has tried to soothe public outrage by saying that less than 1% of New Zealand farmland is foreign-owned.
The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) knew this was nonsense. If this figure was ever correct, it was a long time ago.
We decided it was time to update our research. So we asked the PM, under the Official Information Act, how he arrived at that figure. The reply we got from Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson (27/3/12) said that in the past decade “about 2% of farmland has been sold to overseas buyers”. So, even the Minister in charge of flogging off land gave a higher figure than the PM. Williamson then qualified his conclusion by saying: ”but we don’t know how much of this land has subsequently been sold back to New Zealanders”.
This feeble response from the misleadingly titled Minister for Land Information just demonstrates that, in fact, he doesn’t have any accurate information about how much land is foreign-owned or controlled.
So the Crafar Farms saga is just part of a much bigger and ongoing story. One which has nothing to do with alleged “anti-Chinese racism and xenophobia”. The official records from the Overseas Investment Office prove that New Zealand’s land, our prime asset as an extremely successful agricultural country, is being flogged off to any Tom, Dick and Harry, from a wide variety of countries. For instance, Germans are now the biggest foreign owners of Southland dairy farms, something which is definitely flying under the political and media radar.
Every poll on the subject shows that a clear majority of New Zealanders, including National voters, don’t want our land sold off to foreigners, regardless of where they come from. And the first thing that needs to be established in this debate is just how much of our land is already in foreign ownership or control.
An absolutely basic first step to establishing this information would be for the Government to establish a register of foreign land purchases, which should also record subsequent sales of that land, whether to other foreign owners or back to New Zealanders.
New Zealanders need to know the truth about this most controversial of issues, and they’re not getting it from the Government. What a surprise.