Stuff are reporting that Jericho Station near Te Anau in Southland is being sold by Landcorp. An offer had been accepted from an overseas investor while an offer from a Southlander has been rejected even though it was only around $200,000 less. The bid is now going to the Overseas Investment Office for approval.
Winston Peters has been critical of the case this year,
Peters has also criticised the Jericho deal on the grounds that it represents an opportunity cost for New Zealand’s largest farmer. If the unconditional offer had been invested immediately it would have generated about $26,000 a month in interest.
Considering it took on average about eight months for an application to handled by the OIO, Landcorp would lose $208,000 in opportunity cost over that time, which equalled the difference in the two bids.
“If this $200,000 difference is true, then it is obvious National’s handpicked Landcorp board is not working in the best interests of New Zealand taxpayers,” Peters said several months ago.
It’s very easy to take a black and white position on this – NZ land should only be sold to NZers. I hold this position myself and am concerned about the amount of rural land in particular that is being sold to overseas buyers. But I’m equally concerned about what ends up happening to that land no matter who buys it. If the overseas buyer is going to convert a station to regenerative or sustainable agriculture vs a NZ buyer who is going to convert a sheep farm to dairy, what’s the best thing to do?
As it is, NZ’s policy has been to favour economics. There is some attention paid to environmental issues, but they’re tagged on rather than being intrinsic. Protection of the environment is too often seen in the mainstream as being mitigation of pollution rather than truly taking care and giving respect. We need to centre the environment in policy, and this is even more important going into the potentially unstable word of climate change. In that context we also need to have our land owned by NZers.
What I’m pointing to here is that single policy solutions are no longer adequate but instead need to be integrated across the activities of the State. We need to protect ownership of land and we need to regulate and facilitate far better stewardship of the land than we do currently.
Which brings me to this. Why is Landcorp selling the farm at all? I hope it’s solely because of the direction from National who were intent on stripping NZ of its assets while it could, and that the Labour-led govt will now change Landcorp’s course. Given the central part that farms have to play in our future of climate mitigation and adaptation, food security, landcare and restoration, and transition to sustainable agriculture, having a government department that leads the way on those things in commercial farming makes sense.
Land should be considered an inalienable part of any country. I would go further and say it shouldn’t be primarily seen as a resource, but instead as the very ground of our being upon which we are dependent. I’m tempted to say that’s a discussion for another day, but there is a direct line of connection between National’s pillage economy and selling Landcorp land, and right in the middle of that is NZ society’s view that land is there to be used, be it productive farming or recreation. Until we place the wellbeing of the land in the centre, it will always be vulnerable to the next change of government.
So yes, let’s push for an end to overseas land ownership, but we need to equally push for the environmental protection of that very same land. We also need the state to remember how central land is to everything else and retain its responsibility for working with public land for the public good.