Crafar decision due tonight or tomorrow

UPDATED: Prime Minister confirms decision imminent. But the decision could result in more legal action.


The Prime Minister has confimed the decision on the Crafar farms sale is due before the weekend.

“It’s less likely to be today, more likely to be tomorrow,” John Key said.

Ministers were in the final throes of making a decision on Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin’s application to buy the farming empire, Mr Key said following his address to the Waitakere Business Club today.

He would not be drawn on whether he knew what the decision would be, but said he “had a feeling” of what might happen – distancing himself from the inevitable political controversy.

If Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin’s bid did meet the criteria of the Overseas Investment Office, the government did not have grounds to turn it down on the basis of ethnicity, he said.

Mr Key said there was always some concern about overseas ownership of New Zealand land and he did not think the wholesale purchase of New Zealand farms by foreign interests was in the best interest of New Zealanders, because it was a long-term resource.

However, overseas bids did inject competitive tension to the market, he said.

The Government’s likely response to any significant buy-up of New Zealand farms would be to tighten the criteria of the Overseas Investment Office, Mr Key said.

He claimed there had been six-times as much land sold to foreign interests when Labour was in office, than there had been under National.

If New Zealanders decided they did not want land sales to foreign interests, then a political party needed to campaign on banning sales to foreigners, he said.

But to his knowledge, no parties had done so at last year’s election.

A decision on the sale of the Crafar farms will be made late today or early tomorrow, the Wellington High Court heard this morning.

However, that decision could result in more legal action, a lawyer acting for interests trying to block the farms sale to Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin, told Justice Forrie Miller.

David Cooper, lawyer for the Sir Michael Fay fronted consortium that has opposed that bid to buy the farms, said that should the sale be approved by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), his clients would try and stop it by taking action against the fourth defendant in this morning's case, Milk New Zealand Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of Shanghai Pengxin.

Mr Cooper said a deal between the parties involved in the case had resulted in Sir Michael's group being given a copy of the application made by Shanghai Pengxin for approval of its bid to buy the farms.

Sir Michael's group has opposed the sale on the basis of what it has alleged is the questionable business acumen and lack of dairy experience of Shanghai Pengxin's sole director, Jiang Zhaobai.

All parties have agreed to a telephone conference at 12 noon on Monday, when the next step in the saga will begin to play out.

The Chinese company has agreed, if its application to the OIO is successful, not to settle any contact until February 3.

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