Oh no! Not the ‘Foreigners’!

A regular reader will know that I don’t oppose foreign ownership of land. In saying that, I think there are arguable cases for excluding certain land and resources from sale, such as conservation estates and Māori customary land (although, I appreciate there are also arguments for allowing foreign investment in conservation land since it takes the burden off the tax payer to fund other public goods. But that’s not the debate for this post).

I’ve written previously regarding foreign ownership of housing. I opposed banning foreign buyers and wasn’t at all persuaded by the hyperbolic commentary implying we were undergoing some kind of foreign invasion in our housing market. Notably, the issue appears to have died down presumably because political parties found it difficult to reorient the debate from xenophobia to national pride, or something.

So now it’s our land more generally. The suggestion that we are selling our sovereignty when we sell land to foreign owners. Derp.

Firstly, land is fixed. It cannot be shifted offshore, so we are not selling land, we are selling rights to exclusively use land. I do think, as others have suggested, that the idea of leases could be explored to preserve security of investment to investors while allaying fears of loss of sovereignty. I also think that it is a reason that we ought to consider land value tax to ensure benefits accrued from using land are redistributed back to the community which may help develop some of the remote areas where land is being bought.

Secondly, Parliamentary Sovereignty. Given that parliament has supreme law making powers, there are no legal obstacles to nationalising the land should circumstances change and the land in question is needed (i.e. scarcity of land for production of certain goods etc) or if the activities taking place on the land adversely affect our environment or communities. Ideas could be explored to create an agreement as part of the sale that all land sales to foreign investors must be sensitive to issues that could arise under Te Tiriti o Waitangi or environmental/local concerns.

And thirdly, foreign investment is vital to economic development in New Zealand. As my Lecturer Alex Tan, pointed out yesterday, in the Philippines only citizens can buy land and the outcome has been that incomes there are depressed due to no/low foreign investment in the country because the risk is too high, i.e. there is a lack of security of their investment.

I am mindful that people may raise issues about my position and Māori land and what they’ll claim is contradictory or hypocritical or some such thing. In my view, any land not owned by Māori is land effectively owned by a foreigner (to some extent). So I don’t think my view is inconsistent with supporting rights of Māori to land while also supporting rights of all others to land.  And while most parties that I would probably support are anti-foreign ownership,  it’s certainly not a particular policy position I support.