So, New Zealand First is proposing a land register so that we know who has what land in New Zealand and how much. Nice. Why was it not thought of earlier?
As far as I am concerned this is really just common sense. It is something that should have been put in place sometime ago.
Why the sudden enthusiasm for one now? Good question. When one looks at the narrative of New Zealand First though, to be looking at controls on how and when non-New Zealanders can buy land in New Zealand, is nothing new and in actual fact is as old as the party. What is new is that media are finally latching on to the reasons why the New Zealand First stance – many years in the making – on land ownership is New Zealanders first.
One might be tempted to suggest that this is just a blip in the long term pattern, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that Federated Farmers, an organization normally strongly aligned with National is in support of this too. Their view is that better auditing by the Overseas Investment Office is needed, and that a register of foreign ownership would be a good start.
One might be tempted to say that it is just xenophobic Winston Peters stirring the hornets nest again, and no doubt this is criticism that has already been laid. However it is the default responsibility of every government to put the interests of their nation first. In this respect the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, has been mediocre at best.
But let us be honest here. How many nations can New Zealanders buy land in? In China foreigners cannot buy land, though they are permitted to lease it.
An issue that concerns me is when foreign ownership clashes with Treaty of Waitangi settlements. This has the potential to get nasty and/or legally complicated. Foreign owners are not likely to have understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi or the grievance settlement process that has been ongoing for decades now. We grump about property rights in general, but what about indigenous property rights – i.e. those of the Maori people – whose ancestral lands hold much more than just spiritual values such as those occasionally mentioned in the media? Who is speaking for them, aside from perhaps the Treaty Negotiations Minister?
So, to cut a potentially quite long story short I welcome the land register proposed by the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters. With a properly resourced Overseas Investment Office controlling a register that all land owners are entered into, perhaps a picture of how to sustainably develop New Zealand land resources without discouraging foreign investment, which is something we actually need, can be done.