With TV3’s Reid Research poll last night showing that NZ First Leader (and MP for Northland) Winston Peters would hold the balance of power if an election were held now, Mr Peters is not only dismissing the result as irrelevant but disavowing any suggestion that he wants to be Prime Minister.
Instead he is talking about changes that need to be made to the Overseas Investment Act which surprisingly would not necessarily tighten the criteria for acceptance of the investment but would tighten up the scrutiny of it.
In short Mr Peters, in London for the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup, is sounding like Mr Reasonable.
The TV3 poll shows National would have 57 seats; United Future, ACT and the Maori Party, one each for a total of 60.
That would not be enough to govern in a 121 seat House.
But Labour would have only 40 seats and the Greens 12 thus leaving both blocks needing New Zealand First’s nine to form a Government.
After an interview with TV3’s Lisa Owen on Saturday Mr Peters appeared to be suggesting that even if his party could a smaller share of the vote than another party he could till become prime Minister.
“I’ve told my colleagues and myself for the past 22 years that if you start worrying about your next job you are selling your party down the drain,’ he said.
It was suggested to him that this was neither a yes nor no answer.
“It is a precise answer,” he said.
“We do not even consider things like that because once you do you’ve got colleagues saying I can be in Cabinet or I can be this or I can be that and they take their hands off the wheel and start looking after themselves and that’s the end of the party.”
Mr Peters has persistently played his cards close to his chest as to what sort of deal he might want to strike in return for offering support to a potential Government.
But two things are clear.
He would want a change to the Reserve Bank Act to provide for more criteria to be taken into account on the setting of the official cash rate.
And he would want a restraint on overseas investment.
He said he would want to see the liberality of the present regime reduced.
In particular he would want the current threshold at which the Act comes into play ion business assets ($100 million) reduced and he would want the monitoring process of permitted investments tightened up.
“They don’t do any monitoring at all,” he said.
He said he would like to get rid of the current Overseas Investment Office staff (or “rubber stamp” merchants as he called them) and after the Act was changed he would like o see an annual audit of the performance of permitted purchase to see whether they had complied with the promises made in the applications.
Mr Peters has an unlikely ally in his objections to overseas farm sales in Federated Farmers.
They have congratulated the Government on the decision to turn down the proposed Lochinver purchase.
They point out that in December 2010, the Government tightened the rules around foreign ownership by way of an ‘economic interests’ factor in the Overseas Investment Office’s consideration.
This allows Ministers to consider whether New Zealand’s economic interests are adequately “safeguarded and promoted” in the case of land aggregation or vertical integration.
This land aggregation threshold applies where an applicant is seeking is purchase a property or portfolio of properties which equates to more than 10 times the average size of a dairy or sheep and beef farm.
Lochinver is three times larger than this threshold.
A ‘substantial and identifiable benefit’ test was also incorporated into the overseas investment decision framework in 2010, further bolstered in 2012 by a High Court decision adding a ‘with or without’ test.
“This test has been a key determinant of the Government’s decision over Lochiniver,” said Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers President. “The ‘with or without test’ is designed to ensure that any investment has benefit over and above just making a farm work better, and that these benefits can only be driven by foreign investment,” he said.
“Since Lochinver is so highly regarded in farming circles this was always going to be a tough test to pass, and because the station is three times the land aggregation trigger level for foreign investment, it had to be a test that was carried out thoroughly and confidently.”