Heartland backlash over Crafar farm fallout

20:02, Mar 03 2012

One hundred days into his second term, Prime Minister John Key's political rivals claim he may not see out his three-year term as heartland National supporters vent their fury over the Crafar farm sales.

The Sunday Star-Times has obtained emails sent to Key around the time his government agreed to sell the 16 farms to Chinese interests.

Dozens of National backers told Key he had lost their votes over the sale, among them party members and farmers.

One farmer said he had been a National supporter for 45 years but the agreement to sell the farms to Chinese interests ahead of New Zealanders was the "final nail in the coffin''.

Key received more than 100 emails or letters opposed to the sale, most within days of the announcement of the deal with Shanghai Pengxin.

"For many years I have voted for National and I believe in the philosophies. I am utterly disappointed at the decision to sell the farms to a foreign buyer ... 2011 will be the last time I vote for National,'' one said.


Another wrote: "We have always supported you, and National, but we aren't with you on this. We have to let you know how strongly we feel about this.''

Today marks the first 100 days of Key's second term. His office declined an interview request but opponents say anger centred on the farms deal has been the standout feature of that time.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the debate had cut deep into National's heartland. In 2010 Key had shown he "instinctively understood'' how most people felt when he said he didn't want New Zealanders as "tenants in their own land''.

Dozens of the letters sent to Key quoted that statement back to him.

"I am a lifelong National member. So many of my farming friends think as I do. We must not become peasants in our own land,'' one said.

Norman said Key's pragmatism clashed with National's philosophy over the sale. "He's good at reflecting his audience. But because he doesn't necessarily do it in a structured way within a framework in which everything must be consistent, he ends up doing and saying contradictory things. This is a classic case of that.''

Norman said Key's instinct was right. "That's actually how his base feels, and that's what he's run up against.''

NZ First leader Winston Peters said the government would not survive two years and that Key could quit as prime minister. "As time goes by, I think people will see that he is only in it for an addition to his CV. He's your classic Merrill Lynch currency broker, here for today and tomorrow is nothing. In his fourth year, he has not laid out any vision as to where this country is supposed to be going.''

Labour leader David Shearer, who has been careful not to appear overly critical since taking over, said Key would "weigh up the odds'' before deciding whether to stay on.

"He comes from a business world where he weighs up odds. I would think he would be carefully weighing up the odds, and I imagine he doesn't like to lose.''

He said the Crafar debate was "emblematic'' of the issue of selling off New Zealand. "It feeds into the asset sales, into the selling off of legislation to SkyCity to get 350 pokie machines in the door. It's that sort of icky kind of thing people don't like to hear about.''

Since re-election the government has been faced with a police investigation into the "teapot tapes'' and an alleged breach of electoral law by Radio Live over Key's pre-election talkback show. And Foreign Minister Murray McCully, already embarrassed by the publication of hacked emails, has overseen proposed cuts at his ministry that now appear in doubt.

The Maori Party also threatened to walk out on the government over a Treaty of Waitangi clause in legislation for a new "mixed ownership model'' of state assets.

"I think they've been lulled into being careless,'' Peters said. "They were having such a lovely honeymoon, but the wheels are coming off.''



Potential New Zealand buyers were told the 16 Crafar farms could only be sold profitably by bundling them together but the

Star-Times  has now learned the farms were advertised for sale individually in China and Singapore.

The advertisements, in the South China Morning Post and Singapore's Straits Times, emerged in documents released to the Sunday Star-Times by the Overseas Investment Office under the Official Information Act.

The ads read: "One of the largest and most highly anticipated rural portfolios to ever come to the market in New Zealand is presented for sale. A significant opportunity to invest in New Zealand's rural and dairy sector. Farms are for sale individually or as a portfolio.''

Bayleys Real Estate was handling the sale, and its representatives were advertised as being in Singapore on May 3-5, and Hong Kong from May 5-8, 2010.

Hong Kong-based Natural Dairy Holdings had the first bid for the 16 farms accepted by the receivers, but the investment office declined approval that December.

China's Shanghai Pengxin then emerged as the frontrunner, and was finally approved by the government in January. But Sir Michael Fay's rival New Zealand consortium successfully challenged that in a judicial review, and the farms remain unsold.

His group, made up of individual buyers looking to purchase and run the farms for themselves, had earlier had a $171.5m bid rejected by receivers KordaMentha, because it was lower than the Shanghai Pengxin offer.  Critics of that bid said the farms could only be sold profitably as a group because there were some poorly-performed farms in the portfolio.

But the newspaper ads show the receivers were prepared to sell farms individually to offshore investors, something

Labour leader David Shearer said made him angry.

 "It confirms they were trying to sell our land offshore. They were looking for the best price, but best for who? It was going to banks that lent Allan Crafar too much, and which were trying to recoup lending that had been a mistake,'' he said.

"They're bailing out banks at the expense of New Zealand farmers who want to buy that land.''

NZ First leader Winston Peters said the ads were "disgraceful'' even though it was up to the receivers how they marketed the farms. "That's what we've come down to. One day, New Zealanders are going to say, 'look, we've had enough of this', and I don't think that day is too far away.''


National Party supporters vent over the Crafar Farms sale in a few days of anger directed at Prime Minister John Key:

January 20

''I have been involved as a supplier to the dairy industry for nearly 50 years. ... So many of my farming friends think as I do we must not become peasants in our own land. Please don't give NZ First (W.P) any ammunition ... I am a life long member of the National Party - I await with interest the outcome of this perplexing situation.''

January 23

''As a 78-year-old who has voted National since eligibility at 21, I am appalled at your idea of selling the Crafar Farms to Chinese interests.''

January 24

''As a National Party supporter I am very concerned over the possible sale of these properties to the Chinese, or any land sales to overseas investors. This seems to only push up property prices and making it less affordable to Kiwis, we will end up being slaves in our own country. ... Should you let this proceed you will become as detested as Helen Clark is. I personally feel that such sales are an act of treason and gross betrayal of trust and will not be voting National next election.''

January 25

''I can assure you that you will never again have my support or that of many of my friends and colleagues being farmers, scientists, freshwater fishermen and many other thinking New Zealanders, should this transaction take place.''

''I have voted for the last 53 years and only once not voted National but believe me I would not have voted for you last time if I thought you would even entertain the thought of selling our land to foreigners.''

January 26

''I've been a National supporter from 1975. I will not be voting National in future if your Government allows the sale of the Crafar farms to overseas buyers.''

''As a Korean War veteran I will never again vote National as you are just turning out to be a smiling Prime Minister without the best interests of Kiwis at heart. Watch out for trouble over your decision.''

January 27

''This is the first time I have emailed Parliament. Please please listen to the people. ... Please do everything possible to keep ownership of land in our small country for New Zealanders.''

''For the first time ever in my life I am writing to express my protest at a political decision. From the policies espoused by the National Party, I can see it won't be the last time.''

''I am a life long Nat supporter. I have NEVER felt strongly enough with regards a political issue to actually write a member of parliament before. I have always supported National and like my father before me, always vote National as well. However, the Government's agreement to the sale of the 16 dairy farms in the North Island to offshore owners is wrong ... I cannot in good conscience continue to support your Government. ... I now find myself lacking any solid political leadership in my own country. Shame on you and your ministers.''

''I have never written a letter to an MP and I have always voted for National. However, I have just read that you have not intervened in the sales of the Crafar farms which I find upsetting. ... How can I vote for National in the next election!''

''I am a farmer of 35 years, I have five children, four of whom are farming and trying to own farmland is getting further out of their reach. ... As far as I am concerned the National Government is selling us down the river. I have been a National Party supporter for 45 years and my family before me. Never again. The agreement to sell the Crafar Farms to Asians when New Zealanders wanted to buy them is the final nail in the coffin for me. ... Just remember we are the back bone to this country.''

''I have voted National for many years, I am rather moderate, almost apolitical, BUT you lost my confidence and my vote tonight with the news of the CRAFAR FARMS being sold to foreign ownership.''

''I am a National Party member and I expect you and your government to respect that a large majority of public opinion is against the sale and accept that on that basis it should not proceed.''

''As a (now) former admirer of you and your government, I wish to register my strongest opposition to your Government's decision to allow this sale to go through.''

''We trusted you and voted for you a few months ago. Now you are selling the land, ignoring our will, like we are nothing for you. We can do nothing now, but if you do this, we will vote against you next time.''

''My husband and I have been National voters all of our lives but we can assure you that if this goes ahead we will never vote National again. I am sure there are a considerable [number] of people that feel the same way. It strikes me that this decision is political suicide but maybe you don't care.''

''I have been a National supporter for over 30 years including this last election and largely agree with what National has achieved in the past three years but this is totally NOT in the interests of New Zealand and New Zealanders. ... You must reconsider this appalling decision if you wish to continue to maintain the support and respect of New Zealanders.''

''I voted for the National Party at the recent elections and by and large have always been a National Party supporter. I have never written to any member of Parliament before, but I am appalled with the decision to sell the Crafar farms to a Chinese syndicate (or any foreign interests actually).''

''This confirms my suspicions that I made a terrible mistake in voting National.''

''For many years I have voted for National and I believe in the philosophies. I am utterly disappointed at the decision to sell the Crafar farms to a foreign buyer. ... 20[11] will be the last time I vote for National.''

''Bad decision, very bad decision. Beware the reaction by National Party supporters.''

''I have been a strong supporter and defender of many of your government actions and inactions and have already had dozens of arguments over asset sales but I cannot and will not support the sale of prime earning farm land to overseas corporate farmers.''

''I am having difficulty justifying my vote for National after two generations with some of the decisions being made by National and the Prime Minister.''

January 28:

''My Dad was always a National voter and he would be disgusted what is happening to New Zealand, thank God he has passed away. My husband and I have worked our guts out physically having worked on our family farm and Landcorp as well, so I know what I am saying. We are now living in a rural township and everyone is upset at what is happening.''

''I am a National voter but I would have voted Labour if I knew what you were going to do.''

January 29:

''You have betrayed the very people who voted for you saying you would not allow New Zealand to be tenants in their own country and worse you waited until after the elections to make this sale go through.''

January 30:

''We have always supported you, and National, but we aren't with you on this subject at all - along with most of our friends that we have spoken to regarding the sale. We feel we have to let you know how strongly we feel about this matter.''

''I have been a National supporter all my life BUT am very disappointed to hear National are agreeing to sell our land to foreign countries.''

January 31:

''Based on your party's governance, I will never vote National again.''

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