Opposition attacks minister who said New Zealanders are racist
A minister who accused New Zealanders opposing farm sales to foreigners of racism was attacked by the centre-right government's political opponents on Friday, dpa reported.
Maurice Williamson, minister for land information, said the general attitude to foreign investment was usually linked to the ethnicity of the buyer.
"The number of New Zealanders who don't like the idea of foreign investment and think it's really a bad thing, really sort of frightens me and it's really amazing that some of them have actually got Pommie (English) accents," Williamson told a business conference on Thursday.
Williamson is due to make the final decision on an application before the Overseas Investment Office by a Chinese company to buy 16 North Island dairy farms.
The Chinese bid has attracted strong opposition from New Zealanders who want to keep farmland in local hands and spawned an organisation called Save the Farms, which is demanding an immediate moratorium on sales to foreigners.
"So what's a foreigner? A lot of it's more to do with racism," Williamson said, according to Wellington's Dominion Post, which reported the speech Friday in a front page story headed, "Minister accuses Kiwis of racism."
Williamson's office did not release the speech or respond to requests for the text.
Phil Goff, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, issued a statement saying, "This isn't about racism, it's about owning our own future.
"Kiwis give everyone a fair go, but when it comes to selling off our most productive land, we should keep it in Kiwi hands."
He said it did not make sense to allow a "buy-up of our land" which simply pushed up property values without being of productive benefit to the economy.
Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party, said, "New Zealand should not be selling off our best assets to Chinese, American or Australian investors."
He noted that Prime Minister John Key had said recently that many New Zealanders would be concerned if foreign farm sales meant they could become tenants in their own country.
"By voicing his own concerns about foreign ownership the Prime Minister was not being racist but merely echoing the concerns held by a of a number of New Zealanders about foreign ownership," Norman said.
The Overseas Investment Office has approved 235 foreign applications to invest in farmland in the last five years.