23 Jul 2015

Labour loses bid to tighten farmland sales

3:15 pm on 23 July 2015

A bill aimed at limiting the sale of rural land to overseas investors failed to make it past the first stage when it was introduced in Parliament last night.

But its promoter, Labour MP Phil Goff, says the issue isn't going to go away.

Phil Goff

Labour MP Phil Goff: "Every application that goes up is simply rubber-stamped." Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Overseas Investment Amendment Bill was supported by opposition parties but lost out by a single vote, with National, Act and United Future MPs voting against it.

The bill aimed to limit the discretion of ministers to consent to overseas applications to buy rural land of more than five hectares, and raised the threshold for the benefits they would bring to the country.

Mr Goff said the figures showed that the Overseas Investment Office and the Government were pretty much rubber-stamping applications.

"In the last three years, I think we've had just under 400 applications from overseas investors to buy up land. Not a single one of those applications has been declined by ministers," he said.

"You'd think that if the Overseas Investment Act was working properly - in a way that said we will only have investment, the buying up of our land, if you can demonstrate very clearly that there are significant benefits to New Zealand - you would think that, if that was being applied properly, then at least some of those applications would have been declined.

"What there is evidence of, is that every application that goes up is simply rubber-stamped.

"As a result, since John Key became Prime Minister of New Zealand, on a broad definition, over a million hectares of land has been sold to foreign interests.

"And on the narrowest definition - that is, farmland sold specifically to 100 percent overseas financial interests - there's 300,000 hectares gone. The question that New Zealanders ask is, what benefit is that to New Zealand?"

Mr Goff said offshore investors buying land should be required to deliver much greater benefits to the country than they are currently required to do.

He said the biggest buyers of New Zealand rural land in the past have been North American, European, Israeli and Australian investors.

But, he said, the largest purchasers of farmland last year were Chinese interests as investment restrictions in that country had been loosened

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