The 'Asian invasion' phobia

17:00, Jul 13 2013
DOUBLE STANDARDS: If Na’vi were buying land in the Wairarapa, instead of film-maker James Cameron, there would be a strong reaction.

Residents of Wairarapa better keep an eye out for long-tailed blue giants who can flit from totara to titoki and land gracefully in the sparkling waters of Lake Pounui. For these alien Na'vi people have left their home on Pandora and taken up residence in southern Wairarapa.

As you can imagine house prices are soaring in the local townships as these foreigners outbid the locals. And who is to blame? James Cameron, that's who. The Canadian-born creator of Avatar and its Na'vi people, has been on a buying spree lately, having procured a 250-hectare working dairy farm and an 817-hectare hillside block near Lake Pounui in February. In March and May he bought 36 hectares of nearby land and last month he acquired a 10.8-hectare walnut farm and another 10-hectare block.

So far there have been few if any complaints about this foreign takeover by the Hollywood director. As for the Na'vi sightings, most say they are exaggerated and claims they are outbidding everyone at property auctions are just a product of feverish imaginations.

Cameron has been granted the right to buy these holdings, because he has complied with our laws governing the purchase of land by foreigners.

"James F Cameron and his family intend to reside indefinitely in New Zealand. They are acquiring the land as part of a larger acquisition of land in south Wairarapa which they will use as a residence and working farm," his application said of the 10-hectare deal.

So it seems when Canadian film directors buy farmland, it's not a concern. Nor when a Swedish interest bought eight dairy farms on 3000 hectares of land near Tokoroa in January. I don't recall a peep of protest about that Swedish purchase.


But just imagine if instead of Cameron or a Swede, those farms had been bought by Na'vis. Or even worse, Asians.

What an outcry there would be.

Because that is what happened when Shanghai Pengxin bought the Crafar farms. Remember when our greatest patriot, Michael Fay, a man who would never sell anything New Zealand-owned to foreigners, challenged the purchase. He and local iwi argued vociferously that their bid was preferable because it would keep the land in New Zealand hands.

The Chinese bid came under intense scrutiny. And it should be examined closely, because farming is of vital interest to our economy. But has the public been as rigorous about the Cameron purchases?

Imagine if the Wairarapa farms had been bought by, say, a Mr Li Jin Jiang, and he said he and his family were planning to live on the land indefinitely. A Chinese buyer, I suspect would generate questions. Mr Li, are you really going to be living here with your family or spending most of your time back home at the Shanghai mansion? Will your children be going to the local schools? And your glamorous wife, Wang Fei? Will she be happy to live on a farm in Wairarapa, milking the cows, no doubt?

Now I'm sure Cameron and his family are planning to live indefinitely in Wairarapa. He seems a sincere and highly creative individual, whose Avatar efforts will be of great benefit to the local film industry. But his case shows we are able to cope with foreign investment when it is Canadian or Swedish, without outbursts of xenophobia.

Thank goodness KPMG has recently published some research on foreign investment that puts things in perspective.

Published last month, the KPMG report looked at approvals by the Overseas Investment Office between July 2010 and December 2012.

It shows that Australia is by far the largest source of investment capital at 46 per cent, compared with 16 per cent for the whole of Asia. China represented a third of that 16 per cent, or less than 6 per cent. North America came in at 15 per cent, and Europe 10 per cent.

It is natural that Australia is the biggest source of foreign investment because it is our largest trading partner.

China is No 2, so inevitably more investment money will come from China, and vice versa because New Zealand companies invest there. Remember, Fonterra has established five working farms in China.

It seems we accept Australian ownership of our companies without qualm.

Ninety per cent of our banking sector is owned by Australians, earning profits of $3 billion or so a year. Most of that money goes back to Australia and it is a major contributor to our large balance of payments deficit.

If we really do find foreign investment so objectionable there is one very effective thing we could do - switch banks. TSB, Kiwibank, Heartland, SBS, Co-Operative Bank - there are several locally owned banks to choose from.

I've thought of doing it myself, but unfortunately, laziness and inertia keep winning out. But it is a relatively easy way to "oppose" foreign ownership. Perhaps if one of the Big Four banks was owned by Na'vis, then that would get us switching banks.

Michael Wilson is TV3 business correspondent for Firstline and 3News@12. Rod Oram is on leave.

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