Monday, March 12, 2012

Good idea, poor execution

Over the weekend, Labour leader David Shearer released his new Member's Bill, aimed at restricting land sales to foreign buyers by requiring that it bring substantial benefits that otherwise would not occur. Its a good idea, which makes it clear that foreign investors must actually invest here, rather than simply engaging in parasitic rent-seeking. Unfortunately, as pointed out by Alex Tarrant on, it is undermined by sloppy drafting. The problem? Replacing the existing section 17 of the Overseas Investment Act with a new one focused solely on jobs and exports. This necessarily eliminates other criteria we currently impose on foreign buyers of rural land, such as conservation, improved walking access, and public access to beaches. It also eliminates the power to set further criteria by regulation. While increased jobs and exports are a vital part of the equation when it comes to foreign investment, these other matters are important, and their presence in the Act has brought substantial recreational benefits to ordinary kiwis.

This isn't good enough, and it makes the opposition look incompetent. Its good that Labour are thinking about this issue, but I'd like them to make a decent job of it. As it stands, they just look half-arsed. And who wants to vote for a half-arse?

As for how to fix it, it's pretty simple: put those stronger jobs and export criteria in s17(2)(a), with the clarification that minor technology changes or export increases are not enough appended in a new subsection (3). Problem solved. The question is whether Labour will actually fix it, or whether they'll pig-headedly push on with a bill which is unfit for purpose, simply to avoid admitting they made a mistake.