Thursday 7 October 2010

Executive Obligations

The service of their swords: For your average medieval knight the essence of the feudal deal was pretty simple: the land was yours, but only for as long as you were willing and able to protect it - along with all those who lived on it and off it. It's taken far too long, but finally our National Party lordlings have realised that if they cannot defend New Zealand's farmland their political tenure will soon be forfeit.

THERE WAS A TIME when the ruling elites had to put their money where their mouths were. More to the point, if they wanted to go on ruling (let alone remain one of the elite) they had to put their lives where their money was.

Back in the Middle Ages, if you weren’t willing to defend your own and your dependents’ lands, then in the eyes of your fellow aristocrats, your men-at-arms, your tenants and most especially your serfs, you weren’t fit to hold them.

That’s because the protection of land – the resource upon which everyone ultimately depends for survival – was the very essence of the feudal system. The serfs, who made up most of the population and supplied all the food, owed many kinds of services to their lord. But their lord, by the same feudal token, also owed services to them.

This reciprocity had a name: noblesse oblige. The obligations of nobility.

And the most important of these was the obligation to defend the demesne: the lands apportioned to lords by their master – the King. Above and beyond all other services, a feudal aristocrat owed his liege-lord (from whom he received the property and people entrusted to his care) the service of his sword.

Even today, defending the source of the people’s wealth and welfare is the sine qua non of executive responsibility. A lord who refuses to defend his demesne is traitor to both his King and his people.

How pleasing, then, that our own "feudal lords" – John Key and Bill English – have finally rendered us the service of their regulatory swords. What remains of this country’s productive farmland: the demesne apportioned to them by their liege-lord and sovereign – the New Zealand people – will not, now, be permitted to fall into foreign hands.

Not that we serfs should forget how much urging it took to recall these lordlings to the obligations of their democratic ennoblement. Nor should we overlook the startling fact that under the stewardship of those wearing Labour’s livery the Overseas Investment Office permitted foreigners to purchase an astonishing 650,000 hectares of the people’s demesne.

The Wearers of Red, who today criticise the Wearers of Blue for their tardiness in addressing the problem of strategic resource alienation, had nine years to redraft the legislation governing the scale and scope of foreign investment in New Zealand – and did little more than tinker around the edges.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in condemning our political masters. Considering the multitude of evil counsellors whispering in their ears, it’s surprising we have any land left at all.

What advice do you suppose the foreign moneylenders are offering them? What demands are being made by our desperately indebted farmers? How many of them can afford to refuse the foreigners’ proffered gold?

And what about the mad monks of Treasury – and their even more ascetic brothers in the Business Roundtable? Having compelled us all to wear the hair-shirt of deregulation and the flesh-biting cilice of free trade, they are still urging our leaders to surrender what’s left of New Zealand’s patrimony to the Holy Church of Globalisation.

That the Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance refused to be swayed by such evil counsels is cause for celebration. But, while we are praising our lords for the service of their democratic swords, let us also offer up a word or two of thanks to the Crafar family.

Had their debt-laden farms not come so close to passing forever into foreign hands, it is very doubtful whether we inattentive serfs or our indifferent lords would ever have become sufficiently roused to rise in defence of our beleaguered demesne.

Having lifted not one finger to save the 650,000 hectares that disappeared into foreign ownership over the past decade, the pledge of every citizen, and every political party must now be: New Zealand for New Zealanders!

Whoever seeks to purchase New Zealand farmland must agree to live on it – or look elsewhere.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 1 October 2010.


Christopher Thomson said...

I am sure I missed them but perhaps you could remind me how balanced your point of view is by linking to all the posts you made about the previous decade when all that land was sold off. You know, during the tenure of your labour government. Why wait until now and then try and sneak in the last 10 years as if it was all down to National?

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Don't know whether you've noticed, Mr Trotter, a hell of a lot of New Zealanders own farms in New Zealand on which they do not live.

DO you have any figures on the number of hectares of farmland sold back into Kiwi ownership by foreign investors over the last ten years? Might give your otherwise excellent rant a little balance.

Anonymous said...

As long as white people don't own it then it's ok.
That's about what it all adds up to now.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Christopher Thompson.

Really, Mr Thompson, I have to wonder whether you even read this posting.

Peruse the following extract - and then ask yourself if I've attempted to place all the blame on National.

"Nor should we overlook the startling fact that under the stewardship of those wearing Labour’s livery the Overseas Investment Office permitted foreigners to purchase an astonishing 650,000 hectares of the people’s demesne.

The Wearers of Red, who today criticise the Wearers of Blue for their tardiness in addressing the problem of strategic resource alienation, had nine years to redraft the legislation governing the scale and scope of foreign investment in New Zealand – and did little more than tinker around the edges."

To Adolf:

Since this blog only started after the 2008 General Election linking back to Labour's reign would be difficult.

Let me assure you, however, that when it comes to this country's lax rules governing foreign investment I have for many years been a staunch critic of BOTH parties .

jh said...

"New Zealand is the new Eden, its clean and green image the beneficiary of a public-relations windfall direct from Middle-earth. Americans are not just visiting the country in numbers unimaginable only five years ago—they’re immigrating, drawn by an arcadian ideal (never underestimate the pacifying effect of several billion sheep), breathtakingly cheap waterfront real estate, see-through fish-tank architecture, and an investment climate that, as one Las Vegas resort owner–cum–South Island winemaker puts it, makes New Zealand “the Switzerland of the South Seas.”
One of the most powerful forces in the shilling of the nation is Helen Clark, familiar to all Kiwis as Madame Prime Minister. In her book, there are no bad tourists, only ones with shallow pockets. And in a recent campaign that will go down in history, Clark aggressively packaged and promoted New Zealand as a place where Californians in particular, because of their relative proximity and the kinship in lifestyles, might consider putting down roots. “Active recruitment,” she called it, and some of the state’s richest residents signed up. Vive le marketing."

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Mr Trotter, I don't believe I had anything to say about the previous administration. You are 'diverting.'

The fact is, New Zealanders own hundreds of thousands of hectares of farm land in other countries.

My objection to sales of large tracts of farmland to Chinese interests is that their track record is such that one can expect such ownership eventually to be damaging to New Zealand's interests.

Pretty simple really.

markus said...

I'm heading off on a bit of a tangent here (partly because I've recently been number-crunching the 2008 Mana vote figures and I feel the deep, deep need, Chris, to spew-out some of my analysis here - hope you don't mind).

But I'm interested in the degree to which Labour's new, harder line on foreign ownership will help to shore-up Kris Fa'afoi's vote in the up-coming Mana by-election. It's clearly one of the few policy lines attractive to both Green and NZ First supporters alike and I have a feeling they're the ones who may well play a decisive role in the outcome of this by-election (certainly in terms of majority-size).

Phil Quin has rightly argued that the 2008 PARTY-VOTE is a far better reflection of Mana's political complexion than Laban's CANDIDATE-VOTE.

Lab received 15209 PARTY-VOTES (43.9 %) in Mana in 2008 (just 2508 votes ahead of the Nats - with 36.7 % of the PARTY-VOTE); while Laban took 18070 CANDIDATE-VOTES (53.1 %), giving her a majority of 6155 over Nat's Parata (35 %).

So, Laban received 2861 more CANDIDATE-VOTES than Labour received PARTY-VOTES in Mana.

Quin argues that the 2008 PARTY-VOTE in Mana is the more accurate indicator of political sentiment because of Laban's unusual popularity (enhanced, he suggests, by a sympathy-vote given the circumstances of her health).

But I'd suggest the importance/relevance has more to do with the fact that voters only have one vote in a by-election. Of Laban's 6155 majority, 4452 votes came from people who split their vote (casting their PARTY-VOTE for parties other than Lab). 1757 from Greens, 1091 from Nats, 695 from NZ First supporters and 909 from minor-party voters.

With the luxury of two votes at 2008 General Election, these non-Labour people could cast their CANDIDATE-VOTE for Laban safe in the knowledge that they'd already expressed their core political allegiance with the crucial PARTY-VOTE. The question is: what will they do in a by-election where they only have a CANDIDATE-VOTE ?

Assuming these 4452 people are not simply floating-voters/undecideds/softly-aligned, it's quite possible that - like most Mana voters - they'll treat the by-election like a pre-1996 General Election = voting for the candidate of their preferred Party/the Party they're aligned to/the Party they want to see in Government (more akin to a PARTY-VOTE under MMP than a CANDIDATE-VOTE).

Meaning, the 1757 Greens potentially voting for the Green candidate rather than Fa'afoi, the 1091 Nats going for Parata and so on.

Which is why I at least partially agree with Phil Quin to the extent that this could be a closer by-election than many are predicting. It's crucial for Labour activists to not only ensure a healthy turn-out of Lab voters (particularly in its Eastern Porirua and Titahi Bay heartland), but also to convince as many of these 4452 voters to back Fa'afoi. The Green and NZ First voters are particularly important here. Encouraging them to vote strategically will certainly help. So will Goff's new stance on foreign ownership.

Victor said...

Land ownership is an emotive issue and, perhaps, rightly so. Overseas ownership of any resource is likely to result in a net economic loss over time.

But I have to agree with Adolf that there are additional reasons for fearing a vertical integration strategy backed by Chinese interests.

We sell land-based produce overseas on the basis of our clean, green image. Tied up with that are notions of sustainable land use and the humane and responsible treatment of animals.

Whether or not this image is justified is a separate question. Whatever its accuracy, it still means money in the bank for New Zealand

However, sustainability and animal welfare are not issues that currently count for much in China. We should therefore be particularly wary of Chinese ownership of the paddock-to-plate chain, which has huge potential for damaging our brand in other markets.

Of course, New Zealand landowners are also undermining our brand when they overstock, fail to have sufficient emergency feed, plan for lambing too early in the year or induce calf births to ensure their cows are ready for commercial milking as soon as possible.