Labour hits out at overseas investment breach fines; Says document shows OIO investigations since 2011 show 250,000 hectares of sensitive land was illegally sold; Average fine of $8,500 a 'wet bus ticket'

Labour has hit out at New Zealand’s overseas investment compliance regime, saying a document released by Land Information New Zealand shows the Overseas Investment Office imposed fines but retroactive clearance regarding 31 purchases of sensitive land investigated since 2011.

Over 250,000 hectares of land had been purchased by foreigners without the required approval, Labour leader Andrew Little said on Tuesday.

The LINZ document shows the Overseas Investment Office since 2011 has investigated 115 cases of land acquisitions by foreigners where it suspected required approval had not been sought.

Of these, 39 are still under investigation, 31 attracted penalties but retrospective consent, and in 27 cases there was no break of the Overseas Investment Act.

In 14 cases no action was taken due to reasons including that the assets had been disposed of, it was not in the public interest to take an action and that the owner was no longer considered an overseas person. One case attracted a civil penalty under section 48 of the Act, while another was settled.

The average fine for breaches across the 31 cases that attracted penalties was $8,500, Labour said. The value of the land concerned was over half a billion dollars.

“No wonder foreign buyers aren’t bothering to comply with the law when the penalties the Government imposes are so trivial. It’s cheaper to ignore the OIO and pay the fine if you get caught than it is to go through the approval process. What does this say about how the Government values the role of the OIO as guardians of our sensitive land?” Little said.

“The fact so much of our land is being sold into overseas ownership illegally shows the OIO doesn’t have the resources needed to do its job properly.”

See the release from Labour below:

Over 250,000 hectares of land have been bought by foreigners without required approval from the Overseas Investment Office since 2011, and the response was a slap with a wet bus ticket by National, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.

“Our land is being sold into foreign ownership illegally on a massive scale, and National is doing nothing about it.

“The OIO had to validate the purchases retrospectively. It imposed fines in 31 cases of land being sold without approval, totaling 257,000 hectares valued at over half a billion dollars. The average fine was $8,500, or less than $1 a hectare. In other cases, no fine was imposed or the buyers were allowed to make a donation to charity to settle the issue.

“No wonder foreign buyers aren’t bothering to comply with the law when the penalties the Government imposes are so trivial. It’s cheaper to ignore the OIO and pay the fine if you get caught than it is to go through the approval process. What does this say about how the Government values the role of the OIO as guardians of our sensitive land?

“The fact so much of our land is being sold into overseas ownership illegally shows the OIO doesn’t have the resources needed to do its job properly. National is clearly not concerned about foreigners buying sensitive land if it is failing to give the OIO the tools to do its job.

“Labour will properly resource the OIO so it can better police who is buying our sensitive land and give it the tools to ensure foreign buyers are sticking to the conditions of their purchase. Overseas purchases of our land should only be allowed when they create real value for New Zealand,” says Andrew Little.