Philip Morris CEO Northland farm deal: The Silence of the Winston

NZ First leader uses Whanganui speech to bash National over land sales to foreigners — but curiously not to mention one revealed on his doorstep last week.

A funny thing has happened over the past few days: Johnny Foreigner bought a farm smack in the middle of Winston Peters’ electorate – but so far the NZ First leader has had nothing to say about it.

Late on Friday, the Overseas Investment Office revealed Philip Morris chief executive Andreas Calantzopoulos had bought the 316ha Northland farm.

NBR asked for comment on Saturday morning, then again yesterday afternoon, after Mr Peters failed to mention the deal in a free-ranging speech in Whanganui – despite using the occasion to criticise land sales to foreigners in general and the possible Mt White sale in particular.

“National has sat by and allowed the selloff of some of New Zealand’s most pristine farmland,” Mr Peters said.

“In recent days we have learned iconic Mt White station near Arthur’s Pass in the South Island is likely to be snapped up by foreign buyers.

“Recreational groups are worried public access could be denied them and this happens every time a station goes under the hammer to a foreign buyer.”

He said sales of land to foreign owners “went through the roof last year,” quoting figures that offshore buyers bought 465,863 hectares in 2016, compared to 79,897 hectares sold to foreigners in 2015

“Where is the gain for New Zealand?” Mr Peters asked.

“Our preference is for New Zealanders to farm and look after the land for generations to come.”

So why the silence on a major farm sale to a foreigner on his doorstep?

Given Mr Peters’ recent comment that “ethnicity matters,” a visitor from Mars might wonder if the non-Asian background of the buyer contributed to the lack of urgency.

What gives?

The NZ First leader’s chief-of-staff tells NBR, “Mr Peters is gathering information about Mr and Mrs Calantzopoulos before he comments.” 

Permaculture plans
The property in question is is on Pungaere Road, which runs between Kerikeri and the Puketi Forest, placing it well within the electorate of the local MP and New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, both an ardent critic of land sales to foreign buyers and for many years an ardent tobacco consumer.

The OIO decision, which requires both a good character judgement and proof of plans to add value beyond what a New Zealand owner might add, says the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Calantzapolous and his wife Malgoratza plan to "farm the land in accordance with permaculture [eco-friendly] principles for breeding beef cattle and sheep".

They would protect "two significant areas of indigenous forest" under covenant with the Queen Elizabeth II Trust, fence other areas of indigenous vegetation, and undertake native plantings and pest control on the property, through which the Kerikeri River flows. A predator-free corridor will be established from the property to the Puketi Forest, which includes stands of mature kauri.

These plans were in accordance with the government's Predator-Free Policy and Kiwi Recovery Plan. Walking access across the property and by the river will also be established.

With reporting by BusinessDesk

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