Older, urban Kiwis against foreign ownership - survey

By Susie Nordqvist

Photo / Christine Cornege
Photo / Christine Cornege

The Chinese company at the centre of a large scale bid to buy 16 New Zealand dairy farms has commissioned a survey on Kiwi attitudes towards foreign investment.

The survey of 1000 people conducted by Curia Market Research for Natural Dairy (NZ) Holdings, shows the majority of New Zealanders are uncomfortable with the prospect of local farms being snapped up by foreign investors, and the sentiment is strongest among the elderly, women and urban dwellers.

Natural Dairy is awaiting Overseas Investment Office approval to buy farms previously owned by the Crafar family which are reportedly valued around $206 million, and were placed in receivership last year.

The survey results show 65 per cent of New Zealanders think farms should only be sold to New Zealand residents, and 41 per cent said they would be extremely uncomfortable with farmland being sold to Chinese buyers.

However more than half of people said the buyer's country of origin would not matter if the investment boosted the economy in general.

Natural Dairy said it was "heartened" by the fact nearly 55 per cent of respondents said they would approve of a foreign owner if all employees were locals and 54 per cent who said the person's country of origin did not matter if they paid tax here.

"Once people realised there would be economic benefits that flowed through there was a lessening of opposition and an increase of support (for the investment)," Natural Dairy spokesperson Bill Ralston said.

Natural Dairy estimates its investment in New Zealand will generate jobs and boost dairy export earnings by more than $120m.

However a spokesperson for a campaign calling for a halt on the sale of New Zealand farms to foreigners said he doubts the value of Natural Dairy's investment.

"If they came here to build factories they would be creating employment, but at the moment on the farms they are planning on buying, the employment is already there," Tony Bouchier of Save the Farms group said.

"The only thing they will be doing is taking profits offshore."

The survey results showed people were less likely to oppose foreign ownership of New Zealand land if the sale was to an Australian, with only 18 per cent saying they would be "extremely uncomfortable" with the idea.

Ralston said he suspected those attitudes stemmed from the fact that New Zealanders were less familiar with the Asian cultures than they were with other nationalities.

One-third of respondents said they were very uncomfortable with French ownership, 27 per cent were opposed to selling to American interests and 23 per cent said they would be opposed to someone from Britain owning farm land here.

The poll also showed younger New Zealanders were more receptive to constructive foreign investment in farmland, as were rural dwellers, the survey said.

Older people living in urban areas were more opposed to the idea.

Ralston said this was interesting given the rural community was far more aware of the flow-on effects of an operation such as the one that is proposed by Natural Dairy.

"They see the jobs, they see the cash coming in to the towns and local communities and so they tend to support it on a far greater level," Ralston said.

"It's kind of odd that that an older generation of urban dwellers seem to be dictating to the rural community about what it should do."

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