28 Nov 2023

Lawyer expects support for plan to rein in ministerial powers on foreign investments

7:05 pm on 28 November 2023
Plantation pines in Tararua district

Plantation pines in the Tararua district. Photo: RNZ / Kate Newton

A corporate lawyer believes foreign investors will be pleased to see a proposal to limit ministerial decision-making powers for overseas investment decisions.

Embedded within the coalition government agreements is a plan to amend the Overseas Investment Act, confining ministerial decision-making powers solely to national security concerns.

It also proposes to make decision making more timely.

According to senior partner at Chapman Tripp Roger Wallis, the changes would introduce an added layer of certainty to the decision making process, although he noted decision making officials could still be susceptible to influence.

"There's still quite a bit of scope within the legislation for the governing parties and the administration of the regime to be influenced by government policies.

"So in the same way that in the resource management area, the government can give directions to councils on matters that should be given more emphasis - there are still tools built into the legislation that would enable ministers to give decision makers within the Overseas Investment Office direction on how decisions should be made."

Wallis said the evaluation of land could be among the areas where changes could be seen.

"The title to the Act says that it's a privilege to own land in New Zealand. A lot of the complexity comes from that concept and if that concept is unchanged, then there would still need to be careful representations made by acquirers on how they will safeguard, for example, public access to parts of the New Zealand land.

"In the 2017 Labour-NZ First-Greens government, there was more of a bias towards opening up forestry investment that possibly went too far."

Wallis said in recent times there had been a tightening up of forestry land approvals.

There remained sectors within the economy that were more difficult to obtain overseas investment approval than others.

"That will remain the case even with a change in decision maker and shorter timeframes."

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