What NZ Needs Is A Bouncer, Not A Doorman

The Government has announced an “independent review” of the Overseas Investment Office in the wake of its 2014 approval of the sale of Onetai Station to buyers who figure in the Panama Papers.

Once again the people in question were deemed to be of good character by the OIO, despite evidence to the contrary.

Any such review needs to look at considerably more than just this one approval.

Don’t take our word for it. To quote Martin van Beynen in the Press : “The tireless Murray Horton and Bill Rosenberg, at the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, have been making lack of good character complaints to the OIO and its predecessor for nearly 20 years”.

This link to our Website takes you to the result of a keyword search for “good character”. Pages and pages and pages of articles we’ve written about different cases over many, many years.

And what is the common denominator to all our “good character” complaints – the OIO has never upheld any single one of them.

The reason is quite simple – the OIO sees its function as being that of a doorman (doormat would be more accurate), a facilitator of the transnational corporations and other foreign applicants. Definitely not an overseer, regulator or investigator.

This role has been delegated to the OIO by successive governments headed by both major parties throughout the 40+ years of its existence (first as the Overseas Investment Commission). It has fulfilled the role with exemplary enthusiasm: of the very few applications where Ministers have exercised their rights to make the final decision, the OIO has always argued for approval, even when the arguments for refusal are overwhelming. The most recent example of this was the Government’s 2015 refusal to allow a Chinese buyer to purchase Lochinver Station – the OIO wanted it approved.

The OIO is well past its use-by date.

CAFCA says the review needs to look at the following:

  • the OIO’s process for deciding whether an applicant is “of good character”;
  • exactly how the OIO substantiates an applicant’s claim that their application will be of economic benefit to New Zealand;
  • what OIO processes are in place for monitoring compliance with conditions imposed by the OIO and undertakings made by the applicant;
  • what OIO processes are in place for third-party (TP) interests, i.e. determining a TP interest, notification to TPs, receiving submissions from TPs, and keeping TPs informed, particularly after a Decision (approval) has been made;
  • OIO criteria for giving retrospective consent.

Let’s have a bouncer, not a doorman.

But the OIO is only part of the problem of NZ’s incredibly laissez faire foreign “investment” policy (which translates as “come on in and help yourselves”). The whole regime, not just the rubber stampers, needs an overhaul. And to be replaced by one which puts the interests of the New Zealand people first and foremost. 

When the Crafar Farms sale to Chinese buyers first became a major political issue several years ago, John Key said that he didn’t want to see New Zealanders “become tenants in our own country”. CAFCA very rarely agrees with anything Key says but we’re happy to quote him on that one. In the owner-tenant relationship, there is no doubt about who holds the upper hand. Ownership means political power. Foreign control means recolonisation, but by company this time, not country.

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