The battle for the ownership of the Crafar Farms and the Government’s sign-off of the Overseas Investment Office’s approval of the sale of the farms to Chinese bidders has shown the nasty and ugly side of this country.
During the nine-month battle for the hearts and minds of the New Zealand public in the long-running saga to purchase the 16 central North Island dairy farms, once farmed by the Crafar Family, has taken many interesting turns.
In the red corner is the Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin’s who’s successful bid to buy the Crafar dairy farms will – according to critics – leave New Zealanders as nothing more than tenants in our own land.
Meanwhile, in the black corner we have a wide cast of characters stirring up anti-foreigner sentiment. Most recently been this has been led by a rival group of local buyers – the Crafar Farms Independent Purchaser Group— fronted by the merchant banker and former state asset seller Sir Michael Fay.
Add into the mix opposition politicians preying over the corpse of the Crafar deal like proverbial vultures – hoping to swoop on the side of popular public opinion; who have doing their utmost to peel off the thin racist veneer of New Zealanders’ none too deep anti-Chinese feelings, while disingenuously claiming they are not.
Already we’ve seen the unbelievable transformation of Michael Fay, from the biggest flogger of NZ assets and a Swiss-based tax exile to becoming the cheerleader of keeping it Kiwi. Ironically, Fay has been aided and abetted is his cause by arch nemesis and fellow 1980s dinosaur Winston Peters.
Even the masters of the dark arts –public relations consultants – have wadded into the debate in an effort to further influence the court of public opinion. Fay’s PR hack even conned well-known leftie John Campbell into giving his client prime TV time to promote ‘Kiwi’ Mike’s unsuccessful bid.
Another delicious irony is that Landcorp the country’s biggest corporate farmer and a state-owned entity at that, has confirmed it will manage the farms on behalf of the new Chinese owners.
The simple fact is the best price won day. The farms, which total nearly 8000 hectares, saw Pengxin offer $210 million – the Fay group’s bid was around $40m less at $171.5 million.
Fay’s group offered way less for the farms. It might have pushed the patriotic theme – to the brink of xenophobia – but only in an effort to make its low-ball offer more of a winner with the public.
However, instead of promulgating ugly racism or whingeing about suing the Government why didn’t this rival group just offer a better price than the Chinese bidders? Surely Fay has plenty left over from his fees from hocking off NZ Rail and the BNZ back in the 90s?
Are opponents of this deal now saying that farmers cannot sell their own land to the highest bidder – if it’s an overseas buyer? If so – then surely that has interesting connotations for people in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown selling their houses to wealthy international buyers!
Funnily enough, the actual sellers of the Crafar Farms – Westpac and Rabobank – are not exactly New Zealand companies and there has not been too much noise about their ownership of these farms. (Mind you, there are not too many Kiwi-owned banks these days – something Sir Michael knows a thing or two about!)
But Kiwis are not on their own with anti-foreign farm ownership feelings. Our Australian cousins have recently been warned by their federal government that a “xenophobic campaign” will rob their farmers of opportunities presented by the increasing demand from Asian countries for secure food supplies.
This same kind of xenophobia will – if we are not careful – also rob New Zealand farmers of the right to sell their land to the highest bidder.