IT MUST be election season: foreign land ownership is supposedly the hottest political issue for New Zealand voters. Forget the economy, jobs, health, education, spies, the environment or even Nicky Hager’s latest conspiracy theories.It seems evil foreigners coming here and taking over our farms is the big issue. And right on cue Winston Peters has awoken from his three-year slumber to beat his familiar xenophobe drum – though it was the Conservatives’ Colin Craig who beat him to the punch on the possible sale of Lochinver Station to Shanghai Pengxin Group. Soon the me-too brigade – Labour, Greens, Maori Party – was stepping up with further anti-foreign land sales policy. (No word from Internet/Mana on the issue, perhaps because of their foreign ownership.) This is a pitch to voters that scratches the economic nationalism itch and is not unpopular, especially given Asian buyers’ activities in the marketplace. Though loathe to admit it publicly, New Zealanders are uncomfortable with ‘different looking’ people owning farms and houses in our country. We dress this up as being not about race but ‘concerns’ over economic control of ‘our’ assets. Fact is many of our assets are in Australian hands. The US, Switzerland and Australia own more of our farmland than do the Chinese, but that doesn’t grab the same headlines as Asian buy-ups. China is now our largest trading partner. We are happy to sell them logs, lamb and milkpowder, but prefer them to lay off ‘our’ farms. Hang on, Fonterra owns farms in China, and many New Zealand farmers own land in Australia, the US, South America and Europe. Also disregarded in this spurious argument is the matter of individual property rights – the right to sell one’s own house or a farm to whoever, foreign or local. Lack of knowledge about foreign ownership of New Zealand seems to fuel much of the debate. How about we organise an easily accessible register of how many foreigners are buying farms and city properties? (Three Auckland CBD office towers this week went to Hong Kong owners.) Surely such a log, as suggested recently by Federated Farmers, would help blunt the nastier edge to this angst.
FISH & Game NZ’s use in March of dubious survey results to justify slagging dairy farming prompted Rural News to urge farmers to ‘lock the gate’ to F&G members until the parent body shut up.
The newspaper reasoned that since Fish & Game’s governing body had such low regard for farming, it might want members even to forgo any association with farmers – by declining to hunt or fish on the properties of such scoundrels.
A serious call, yes. But we demanded, and we still demand, an end to Fish & Game’s incessant anti-farming carping.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith recently fell foul of the lobby; it demanded Smith resign, accusing him of threatening the group’s future. The minister reportedly told the F&G council “Fish and Game sometimes behaves like a rabid NGO,” which it does.
But Smith rejects accusations that he told Fish & Game members, at a tense meeting in July, essentially to pull back on campaigning or risk its council being stripped of its statutory powers.
In fact he wants Fish & Game to engage more with agriculture and irrigation so as to achieve the highest possible freshwater quality.
“While it is right for them to advocate for freshwater, they sometimes get into being anti New Zealand’s most important industry, the dairy industry.”
Smith in his defence released a DOC official’s notes of the meeting, including, “F&G needs to work out what it wants to be: a statutory body [with] legislation and a relationship with Government, or an NGO.”
Fish & Game is supposed to be an independent body with statutory authority to protect rivers, lakes and streams and the sole agency issuing hunting and fishing licences.
Rural News agrees with the Taxpayers’ Union which says, “The Fish and Game council’s campaigning is a gross breach of faith by a statutory body.”
Enough is enough! If Fish & Game wants to be in politics, the Government should abolish compulsory licences for trout fishing and hunting, by which the lobby funds its political grandstanding.