Foreign Minister Winston Peters yesterday raised the stakes over the sale of Auckland International Airport by linking national security issues to the controversial Dubai bid.
The New Zealand First leader drew attention to the fact that United States politicians moved last year to block the sale of some port operations to a group from Dubai.
The US politicians were concerned that the move posed a risk to national security and cited the 9/11 Commission report, which stated that two of the September 11 hijackers were United Arab Emirates nationals. Dubai is part of the UAE.
During question time at Parliament yesterday Mr Peters raised the issue and asked if "matters of national security" would be considered by the Government in the airport takeover, given that a large chunk of international business arrived through the gateway.
Under the Overseas Investment Act, approval decisions relating to the sale of "sensitive" land to foreign owners fall to two Government ministers rather than the Overseas Investment Office.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said that the decision would be made by Associate Finance Minister Trevor Mallard and Land Information Minister David Parker.
Dr Cullen said those ministers could take into account a range of factors, including "any other factor set out in regulations".
Asked about the exchange later, Mr Peters said he was satisfied that it appeared national security issues could be taken into account.
He noted there was uncertainty about what would happen to the airport in Whenuapai, and "here's another critical airport and it's contemplating being sold off to the Middle East".
Asked if it was specifically the Middle East link that concerned him, Mr Peters said it was not.
"It wouldn't matter where it was going - it's in our national security interest to keep it in New Zealand ownership," he said.
The concern related to all forms of security, including economic, maritime, defence and national security, Mr Peters said.
"The potential of things to go wrong is a critical issue."
He said the question people should ask themselves was who would gain from DAE's proposal.
The potential sale of a controlling stake in Auckland Airport to Dubai Aerospace Enterprise is causing a lot of concern in political circles, and Mr Peters has vowed to battle right through to the final decision.
The Greens are also opposed to the sale, and National Party leader John Key said yesterday that in principle he would like to see the airport remain in New Zealand hands.
Mr Key added that it was not an open and shut issue, and the Overseas Investment Office had an important role in making sure people understood the ramifications of the potential sale.
United Future leader Peter Dunne said the sale of the airport was a matter to be sorted out by its shareholders.
Labour has retained an impartial view on the deal because of the role its ministers could play in the decision-making process.
The closest anyone in the party has come to expressing an opinion was when Prime Minister Helen Clark noted on Monday that "in general, people don't like their public assets privatised".