Farm sales to foreigners worry Kiwis

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 16/08/2014

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An overwhelming majority of Kiwis want the Government to clamp down on the sale of farmland to foreign investors.

The latest Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll suggests three-quarters of voters say it should be made harder for foreign investors to buy large tracts of farmland, while just under a quarter say it should not.

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But opinion was more evenly divided over whether too much farmland had already passed into foreign ownership, with 52 per cent agreeing and 41 per cent disagreeing.

However, a majority of people questioned for the poll also thought foreign investment benefited the economy.

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, who thrust foreign investment back into the spotlight by revealing that the 13,800- hectare Lochinver Station near Taupo was being sold to Chinese buyers, is also promising further revelations relating to land sales.

Opposition parties have thrown themselves into the debate, warning that vast tracts of land - as much as 1 million hectares - have been sold off under National, which has not blocked a farm sale since a change to Overseas Investment Office guidelines in 2010.

The Government has defended the sales, and the controversy has failed to dent its popularity, with National on 55.1 per cent in our latest poll, compared to Labour's 22.5 per cent.

The poll of 1000 eligible voters shows 74 per cent want to make it harder for foreign investors to buy large tracts of farmland, compared with 23.6 per cent opposed.

Labour voters were more likely to favour restrictions, at 84.5 per cent, with National voters 64 per cent in favour.

Craig said the fact that opinion was divided over how much had been sold showed people were unaware of the scale, "otherwise I think there would be real concern". "The reason we broke the Lochinver story is because we believed it did matter to New Zealanders and we did want it in the election debate and we're pretty convinced that this will be a mark against National and also, to be fair, Labour."

Craig said he would release further information relating to land sales, but did not elaborate.

Labour's economic development spokesman, David Parker, said New Zealanders distinguished between foreign investment, which helped create jobs, and the sale of land. "They know there's no great economic sacrifice made by not selling land to overseas people, they have this unease [about] . . . selling something that we can't get back."

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Labour would almost completely restrict the sale of rural land if elected.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said the Government's "best estimates" were that only 1-2 per cent of productive farmland was owned by foreign investors. "Under National, investment in sensitive land receives more Government scrutiny and more stringent conditions than any other form of foreign investment. That is why we have seen the rate of approvals for sensitive land sales more than halve since National took office."

 

- Stuff

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