Te Tai Tonga MP Rahui Katene says it is "no wonder" that Chinese-backed investor Natural Dairy Holdings is worried state-owned farmer Landcorp's bid for former Crafar family farms being sold by receivers looks like the result of political interference.
Landcorp said yesterday that it was now only waiting for approval from its board before it puts in a bid for some of the Crafar family farms that are in receivership. It has completed due diligence on 16 North Island farms.
But Ms Katene -- speaking during a parliamentary debate on the Tarrifs Bill -- referred to the context of a free trade agreement with Hong Kong and said the UBNZ company had faced commentary from Agriculture Minister David Carter that its bid for the farms was unlikely to go through.
"The prime minister (John Key) publicly censured his free-thinking minister, but the damage had been done," she said.
Mr Carter said on May 25 that the sale currently being considered by the Overseas Investment Office was unlikely to go through, but later said he had not been aware that conditional contracts had already been signed.
Hong Kong-based Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings Ltd -- a minority owner of UBNZ -- was expected to later acquire the farms from UBNZ and at the time accused Mr Carter of attempting to subvert an independent process.
Yesterday Ms Katene noted the company had signed a conditional purchase contract for the farms.
"Is it no wonder that Natural Dairy New Zealand Holdings now says Landcorp's interest looks like the result of political interference?" she said.
Landcorp chief executive Chris Kelly -- who has dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" the idea that Landcorp's bid is at the direction of the Government -- today said Landcorp had some advantages over the Chinese-backed bid, as it did not need Overseas Investment Office approval and so could make an immediate settlement.
He said Landcorp had a proven ability to manage a large number of farms -- it already owns 105 farms -- but his board of directors must give formal approval before a bid is made.
Ms Katene noted that "suddenly, out of the blue" Landcorp chairman Jim Sutton had suggested the company might put in a tender, because of perceived risks to the reputation of the dairy industry and concerns in the wider community about the sale.