Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Foreign investment shake-up in Labour's plan for future

David Cunliffe. Photo / NZ Herald
David Cunliffe. Photo / NZ Herald

Labour is promising a shake-up of foreign investment in New Zealand if elected, which would include chasing job-creating and high-tech firms but blocking investments in large farms and property.

Leader David Cunliffe did not reveal any new policy in his economic speech yesterday but he aimed to underline his economic credentials before a right-leaning audience at the New Zealand Initiative and spell out his party's economic vision.

This vision included greater investment in a wider range of sectors than residential property, which Labour would fuel by making KiwiSaver universal for all employees and by restarting contributions to the Super Fund.

It would also involve a new approach to foreign investment.

Mr Cunliffe said Labour would change Overseas Investment Office (OIO) rules to ensure foreign investment brought New Zealand access to leading-edge technology and new overseas markets.

Only companies with credible, long-term business cases would be allowed to invest.

"[It is about] really being discerning about quality and having an OIO framework that prioritises investment that will have the maximum contribution to jobs, to innovation and to establishing new business.

"For example, if you want to build a factory in New Zealand that employs New Zealanders, that's a good candidate for foreign direct investment.

"If you want to swish in a whole lot of money, hot money and swish out again that's not so good."

As Labour's shadow economic development minister he had criticised the takeover of Fisher & Paykel Appliances by the Chinese firm Haier in 2012.

The party has already announced policies which would restrict overseas investment in farmland and properties.

Labour would not allow non-resident foreigners to purchase more than 5ha of New Zealand farmland. It would also block non-residents from purchasing any existing residential properties.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English said there was nothing new in the speech, and it was unclear what Mr Cunliffe was promising to do with the OIO.

Mr Cunliffe foreshadowed Crown investments in regional areas, citing a new rail head at Marsden Point in Northland and dredging the harbour at Opotiki to enable new aquaculture projects.

The Opotiki mussel farm proposal, which is seen as a lifeline for one of the poorest regions in the country, has secured half of its funding but requires a government contribution to proceed.

Mr Cunliffe also spoke of expanding research projects which fuelled specific industries, such as Scion's forestry programmes in Rotorua or the Wine Research Centre in Marlborough.

The speech centred on giving New Zealand an "economic upgrade" by focusing on value, not volume.

Mr Cunliffe reiterated Labour promises to introduce a capital gains tax, renew the R&D tax credit, and reform monetary policy.

He ruled out "knee-jerk" devaluations of the dollar to help exporters or "random nationalisations" of privatised assets.

- NZ Herald

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