Yesterday, Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson claimed that opposition to foreign investment is more about racism than overseas ownership.
Speaking at a small-business conference at Massey University yesterday, Mr Williamson said he would not discuss the Crafar issue specifically, but the general attitude to foreign investment was usually linked to the ethnicity of the buyer.
“The number of New Zealanders who don’t like the idea of overseas investment and think it’s really a bad thing, really sort of frightens me, and it’s really amazing that some of them have actually got Pommy accents.”
“So what’s a foreigner? A lot of it’s more to do with racism. If you look different, you’re a foreigner but if you come from the other side of the world, from Scotland, then you’re not.”
Williamson needs to have a word to his colleague, Finance Minister Bill English, who last month seemed to be pandering to the supposed racism Williamson criticises:
Public debate over the issue “would benefit from more information” such as where most buyers were based.
“Just a tiny fraction of approvals are from countries outside of the UK and the US, France and the Netherlands,” he said.
In reality, Williamson and English are both running racial interference, albeit from opposite sides of the field, for continued slack regulation on foreign investment. The ethnicity of foreign purchasers is a red herring.
The real issues are that extensive foreign investment is driving up the price of rural land to an extent that it is unaffordable for many would-be New Zealand farmers to own their own farms. High land prices also force farmers to make the maximum possible return from their land through ecologically unsustainable farming practices. The consequences of this are increased greenhouse gas emissions, increasingly polluted waterways, loss of biodiversity and poor animal welfare practices. Increased repatriation of profits overseas by foreign-owned farms will also continue to drive the widening of the current account deficit.
Williamson and English do a disservice to the debate on foreign investment by trying to divert if from the genuine economic and ecological concerns of New Zealanders to a debate about racism and race.