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Lauer case will leave Peters with a wry smile

Opinion Piece

News that US television host Matt Lauer has been sacked by NBC could provide a challenge for the Overseas Investment Office (OIO)and indirectly the new government.

Lauer is the latest high-profile male to be sacked over allegations of sexual misconduct following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It is a long list which has just included the previously much-admired Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion and Lake Wobegon fame.

The issue here is that, as of earlier this year, Lauer owns one of the more iconic and beautiful parts of the South Island — the 6500 hectare Hunter Valley Station that borders Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. The allegations also come soon after the new Government instructed the OIO to tighten criteria for purchases of sensitive rural land of above five hectares, other than for forestry, by foreign buyers.

Interestingly, OIO criteria not only include a “good character” test, they stipulate that overseas owners shall continue to be of good character — and the OIO has the power to order a purchaser to dispose of a property.

Recinding the approval of Lauer’s purchase would be a dramatic move but would likely be supported by the new Government, and especially Winston Peters. One of his key campaign platforms was stopping the sale of New Zealand land to foreigners, and its an issue on which he has a lot of backing.

It is also an issue of significance here, where a lot of farmland has been purchased by overseas interests in the past few decades.

Associate Finance Minister David Parker, who announced the stricter criteria, says he does not expect the changes to have a significant impact on farm prices although there could be change “at the margins”. He also repeated the Government’s position that the only reason a New Zealander sells to a foreign buyer is that they are prepared to pay more. This is true, and that extra return is normally redeployed in our economy.

New Zealand is capital-constrained and does need foreign investment in a number of spheres. Finding a balance is the real test for Parker and the Government.