Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: January 30

The sale of the Crafar farms has opened a very clear left-right divide in New Zealand politics. Photo / Christine Cornege
The sale of the Crafar farms has opened a very clear left-right divide in New Zealand politics. Photo / Christine Cornege

A very clear left-right divide has opened up in New Zealand politics over the issue of foreign investment, specifically over the sale of the Crafar farms. The political left has been pushing an economic nationalist line against the right's globalised internationalism. This debate has evolved into a question of whether it is xenophobic or even racist to oppose foreign investment, especially the purchase of land.

On the right, Fran O'Sullivan (Key hits stride with Crafar farms decision ) applauds the sale and hopes it points to John Key being prepared to ignore 'the nervous nellies in his own caucus' during its second term. The Government and its supporters accuse opponents of racism, especially Labour, who approved hundreds of thousands of hectares in foreign land sales and has only really raised concerns now that Asian investors are involved - see: TVNZ's Crafar outcry 'borders on racism' - Minister and Audrey Young's Labour opposes Crafar sale to Chinese.

On what might be seen as the 'broad left', those opposing foreign investment include the Labour Party, the Greens, and even government coalition partner the Maori Party. Things are getting heated, with the Labour Party calling the sale 'unpatriotic', and the Standard attacking Fran O'Sullivan's triumphalism about the decision in a rather vicious blog post entitled Treachery.

Economic nationalism often doesn't fit neatly into the left-right divide. The xenophobia it normally attracts is at odds with the left's internationalist traditions, while on the right traditional rural capital is usually on the defensive against larger multi-national corporates.

There is no doubt that public sentiment is running strongly against the sale to Shanghai Pengxin, and the Government is feeling the heat. This morning John Key raised the possibility of tightening restrictions on land sales - see: Change to foreign ownership law possible, says PM. Key's instincts will be to make further placating noises like this but, as with his 'tenants is our own land' comment, he may be setting a trap for himself down the line. Debates about foreign investment and xenophobia will continue to structure politics in this country for some time yet. In this regard, it's worth reading Phoebe Fletcher's blog post, Crafar farms: racism or economic nationalism?

TVNZ's Tim Watkins - not exactly a raving rightwinger - reflects the left-right tension over foreign investment in a very good blog post which tends towards favouring the foreign investment, with some misgivings - see: Crafar Farms deal ticks the boxes - but where does it end?. Bernard Hickey (False comfort from chief borrowing addict ) thinks it will end one of two ways. He says John Key is an 'enabler' who encourages us to use debt and asset sales to continue our deficit and, in doing so, makes the problem worse. He reckons that either New Zealand will eventually have an 'intervention', or else it will have nothing left to sell and no-one willing to lend to it.

With Aotea Square finally 'un-occupied' many are taking the opportunity to review the impact of the local movement. There seems to be a consensus that the movement's aims were not focused enough, there was not enough effort to reach out to sympathetic groups and movements, and that there was great political naiveté in thinking camping in central city parks would actually achieve anything on it's own.

There are thoughtful reviews on the movement's potential and failings in Chris Trotter's To: Occupy Auckland. From: A Vacillating Leftist, Sean Plunket's Memo to protesters - occupy a Crafar farm, Tahu Potiki's Remind me, what are they protesting about?, and Brian Edwards' The Occupy Protests - Cause or Opportunity? I've also written similarly about the experience in Dunedin - see: Eulogy for Dunedin's Octagon Occupation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but many of the challenges were pointed out in the first few days of the occupations when there was still widespread public sympathy.

In other articles of interest, John McCone has written has a very good background piece (Bringing down powers that be) on the Christchurch protest being organised for Wednesday, again highlighting how opposition to the council leadership is crossing traditional political lines. Far from explaining the need for the $68,000 increase, the release of CEO's Tony Marryatt's actual performance review may only increase the protest turnout - see: Marryatt's ratings fell but salary kept rising (). Also, Rod Oram has a very good summary of Christchurch's economic challenges a year after the biggest quake - see: Anger in a city dispossessed. He highlights the failure of the insurance market as a major hurdle and calls for the government to take direct action to fill the gap left by the market. Finally, Tracy Watkins has provided a good analysis of issues and strategy for the Government in her column, The 2012 political circus is up and running.

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Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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