Government Takes First Baby Steps On Foreign Control
But Needs To Get Its Arse-Kicking Boots On, And Fast
The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) congratulates the Government on taking its first baby steps on the major issue of foreign control. Of course we are pleased that it is going to ban foreign speculators from buying houses. But, really, this is what our American friends would call nickel and dime stuff.. We also note that real estate agents are saying that the ban is two years too late, that such speculators bolted as soon as the law required that they show a minimal connection to this country, namely by having an IRD number and a local bank account number. Still, better late than never. It’s just a pity that Labour’s primary concern seems to be structuring the ban in such a way that it will allow NZ to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement without attracting the wrath of those at the TPPA big kids’ table. Signing the TPPA would be a betrayal of the huge number of New Zealanders who passionately campaigned long and hard against it. Forget about the TPPA, Jacinda – with or without the US, it’s a dog.
CAFCA also commends the Government for promising to toughen up the laissez faire regime that allows foreigners to repeatedly buy up NZ’s prime farmland and countryside. Agricultural land, land in general, and our priceless scenery in particular, are NZ’s unique comparative advantages in the global economy. Why be mugs and allow the ownership and benefits to go offshore? Start by closing loopholes like the outrageous rort that allowed a US billionaire to become an NZ citizen because of “special circumstances” and thus be exempted from any legal restriction on buying up chunks of the country.
CAFCA is pleased that the Greens’ Eugenie Sage is the new Minister of Land Information, which puts her in charge of the Overseas Investment Office (CAFCA has often suggested that the OIO’s work could be done by a monkey with a rubber stamp). She has promised to run a tighter ship at the OIO (which wouldn’t be hard). She might like to start with this week’s abrupt halt to the public release of the OIO’s monthly Decisions (approvals). When we inquired about this, we got this answer: “I’m unable to give you an indication of when we will be publishing Decision summaries”. WTF?
But land sales, although they get a lot of attention, only involve tens of millions of dollars. The real guts of any modern economy, the high rollers’ lounge of the capitalist casino, is the business sector. That’s where the billion dollar deals are done. And we’ve heard nothing from the Government about what, if anything, it plans to do about the transnational corporations that so dominate the NZ economy (apart from the commendable, but comparatively minor, aim of trying to get them to pay their fair share of tax). For example, what does the Government plan to do about the cosy cartel of Australian-owned banks, who suck billions out of the NZ economy every year?
Let’s go from the general to the specific. What is the Government going to do about South African-owned insurance company Youi, an unrepentant corporate repeat offender? It won the latest (2016) Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand.. You can read the damning Judges’ Report at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/pdf/roger-award-2016-judges-report.pdf Here’s one quote from that: “Needless to say, although the company was successfully prosecuted and fined a token sum last year, not one of the managers and executives responsible has been prosecuted, the company continues to operate in New Zealand under its Reserve Bank licence, Youi remains a full member of the New Zealand Insurance Council, Hansard records no mention of the scandal in Parliament, television continues to carry the company’s deceptive advertising, and the Chief Executive Officer on whose watch it all happened has been promoted”.
Here’s another specific example, although much bigger, older and much more entrenched. What is the Government going to do about the country’s biggest bludger, the transnational owners of the Bluff smelter? They have twisted NZ governments, both National and Labour, around their little finger for at least 50 years. If Jacinda Ardern is serious that climate change is her Government’s nuclear free issue, then she will have to confront and face down the smelter’s owners. And do better than the Clark Labour government which folded when the smelter owners threatened to leave the country if Labour brought in an emissions trading scheme. Memo to Jacinda – if they threaten to go, hold the door open for them and help them load their suitcases into the airport shuttle. And make sure that they (those recipients of corporate welfare par excellence), and not the NZ taxpayer, foot the bill for cleaning up their mess. That would involve Labour facing up to the 2003 and 04 indemnities signed by Michael Cullen, Labour’s Minister of Finance at the time, accepting that the taxpayer, and not the smelter owners, would be responsible for the cost of cleaning up toxic waste produced by the smelting process. Hands up all those who knew about that.
As for Winston Peters, the Grand Old Man of this Government, suffice it to say that we’ve been led up the garden path by him before on this very subject of foreign control. Back in the 90s he campaigned very hard on this issue, went into coalition with National at the 1996 election, was given real power over foreign investors in his specially created portfolio of Treasurer, and did – SFA. I recommend you read what we wrote about him at the time https://www.scribd.com/doc/24211537/2258-Christchurch-New It’s 20 years old but a fascinating trip down memory lane. CAFCA stands by what we said about New Zealand First then: “…we conclude that the party quite correctly campaigned hard on foreign control because it was, and is, a major issue of broadbased public concern. But that the leadership essentially adopted the issue for opportunistic reasons, as it later did with immigration. With power in its sights, it backflipped and rendered the policy innocuous; once in office, it essentially abandoned the policy and the entire issue”. But, hey, it’s not all bad news – the racing industry extols Winston as their greatest ever Minister, so that’s something, isn’t it.
We wish this Government well but its aims are truly modest via vis this vital issue. It needs to be a lot bolder. Labour in government is always terrified of upsetting business (it left it to Peters to start making slightly critical comments about capitalism). It is scared of provoking a business backlash (which was threatened by business against the Clark government in the 2000 “winter of discontent”). In other words a capital strike, class warfare from the top down. And instead of asking the people who voted it in to back it in such confrontations, Labour always buckles to business (which, in this country, means business dominated by transnational corporations).
Our advice to the Government on how to approach this subject is simple and succinct – less arse kissing and more arse kicking.