Rudman comes good

Knock me down with a feather, Brian Rudman has a sensible article about Labour’s position on the Crafar farms:

The Labour Party has had many months to develop a considered response to the inevitable sale of the Crafar farms to a Chinese billionaire, but when the deal finally got ministerial approval last week, where was Labour? Trying to drive up the dead-end cul de sac marked xenophobia already occupied by New Zealand First’s Winston Peters.

Mr Peters called it “economic treason,” which, in the hysteria stakes, just trumps Labour’s primary industry spokesman Damien O’Connor, who went for “gutless, unpatriotic and unproductive”. Labour’s economic development spokesman David Cunliffe warned New Zealanders “are set to become tenants in their own land under the Government’s policies,” while finance spokesman David Parker declared “Labour is opposed to rural land sales to overseas buyers”.

New leader David Shearer’s line was that “keeping New Zealand assets like the Crafar farms in New Zealand hands is a principle worth fighting for,” adding hastily that it was a battle “totally detached from racism and xenophobia”.

Unfortunately for Labour, in suddenly wrapping themselves in the New Zealand flag and shouting “New Zealand assets/land for New Zealanders” in response to the purchase of 7800ha of dairy land by a Chinese buyer, it’s hard for them to avoid the taint.

Labour’s position was and is xenophobic.

And the suspicion they’re exploiting public sentiment running 85 per cent against the sale. Why now all the complaining?

Overseas Investment Office data shows more than 170,000ha of farm land was sold to overseas interests in the six years from July 2005 to May 2011. Most of that was of sheep and beef properties. In the five years to mid-2010, the top three purchasing nationalities were the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States, each with between 34,000ha-40,000ha.

And not a peep from Labour on any of it.

The New Zealand Farmers Weekly reported last July that in the previous six years, only six per cent (5760ha) of foreign sales had been of dairy properties, of which German interests had purchased more than half. It noted that before the Crafar purchase, Chinese and Hong Kong buyers remain a minute portion of total foreign sales, with only 533ha of land in total sold to these investors over the past six years.

Making Labour’s position nothing short of racism and xenophobia.

In July last year when Prime Minister John Key tried to have a bet each way over the Crafar farms debate, muttering he didn’t want New Zealanders to become tenant farmers in their own land, Lincoln University farm management professor Keith Woodford called for an informed debate “as to whether this is the way we want to go”.

He pointed to the wine industry which “on a volume basis [is] about 70 per cent foreign-owned”.

Our forest plantations were even more alienated, he said, calculating that as of 1999, 72 per cent of pine forests were foreign-owned, 35 per cent by United States companies, 12 per cent by Asian interests.

Mr Shearer is now saying “keeping New Zealand assets like the Crafar farms in New Zealand hands is a principle worth fighting for”. With our banks and insurance companies and much else long sold off – $45 billion worth in the hands of Australians the last time I checked – it seems a little late in the day for Labour to espouse this particular principle.

Labour’s positioning is naked political expediency. Little surprise then that Phil Twyford has reacted strongly to Rudman’s column on Red Alert.

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