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Labour wants law restricting farm sales to foreigners

Published: 11:59AM Sunday March 11, 2012 Source: ONE News

The Labour Party has today released details of a new Member's Bill which would make it harder for foreigners to buy rural land.  

Speaking on TVNZ's Q+A this morning, Labour party leader David Shearer revealed that there are currently 41 new applications by foreigners to buy rural land, totalling 16,000 hectares.

Shearer says the bill would prevent foreign investors from buying rural land unless they can prove it will bring substantial benefits to New Zealand that would otherwise not occur if sold locally.

Named the Overseas Investment (Owning Our Own Rural Land) Amendment Bill, as a member's bill it would have to be selected by ballot to be read in Parliament.  

Shearer says that they know there are currently 41 new applications for land sitting with the Overseas Investment Office.

"We know that that demand is going to increase. We must get substantial benefits out of foreigners owning our land, we must be able to see what can come out of it."

Shearer says that if passed into law it would make it more difficult to sell land to foreigners, unless it could be proved that there were substantial benefits for New Zealanders, such as new jobs, technology or exports.

But if it would not be shutting the door on all foreign investment, he said.

"Our land is best farmed for New Zealanders, and the value flows back to New Zealand as well. What we don't want to see is foreign corporates coming in here and buying up lots of land and the value and benefits flowing out of New Zealand."

Yet political commentator Raymond Miller, appearing on Q+A, questioned whether Labour's policy was any different to the views put forward by the Greens Party and New Zealand First.

"The Greens Party and New Zealand First have been very effective critics. Labour have to be distinctive on this, and there are some major problems with it, what is 'substantial benefit', and how much land?"

The Green Party said that their own Overseas Investment Members' Bill has even greater restrictions.

"The Green Party welcomes the Labour Party to its space. Their bill is a little bit too little too late, but it's better than nothing and before long I'm sure they'll get up to speed with our bill," Greens' Graham Kennedy told ONE News.

Mike Williams, former Labour Party president, speaking on Q+A said that the bill is responding to a public concern.
"John Key crystalised the whole issue very brilliantly by saying 'we don't want to become tenants in our own land'," said Williams.

"I think that this is good, solid, pragmatic policy, and it plumbs a vein of concern among the general public."

Former National Party president Michelle Boag, appearing on the Q+A panel, agreed that the bill was good politics.

"But it still leaves the issue of what is 'substantial benefit' to be interpreted by a court."

Labour's bill comes amid a root and branches review that the party needs to make changes after last year's crushing election defeat.

Shearer's refusing to say whether the party will keep key election policies, such as extending Working For Families to beneficiaries or buying back state assets sold under National.

"We've got to go back and review those, and we've got to review where we're going," Shearer said.

Williams approves the move by Labour, saying "he's ["Shearer] lifted his game. He firmly resisted making policy on the hoof, which is exactly the right thing to be doing at this point."

A major speech is also expected from Shearer this upcoming week.