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The Recolonisation of New Zealand

The Recolonisation of New Zealand By Transnational Corporations

Waitangi Day is the appropriate date to reflect on colonisation. Because, although we are no longer formally a colony, New Zealand is being relentlessly recolonised. Not by any nation state but by the modern colonisers, transnational corporations (TNCs), many of which are bigger than the Gross Domestic Product of NZ and exercise much more power in this country than the elected government.

Within the past few days we have had further reminders of this colonisation by company. Firstly, there were the Costello/Cullen trans-Tasman talks on setting up a “single economic market”. Peter Costello, the Australian Treasurer, made it clear that the Howard government wants a “relaxation of New Zealand’s investment rules”. If they were any more relaxed, they’d be catatonic. It was only in 2005 that the Overseas Investment Act was further substantially liberalised in the interests of the TNCs.

Australian TNCs are the ones who have benefited most from the come on in and help yourselves policy towards foreign “investment” practised by both Labour and National governments. Australia is the single biggest source of the foreign Big Business takeover of NZ. The latest available Statistics NZ figures (as of March 06) show Australian investment at $68 billion, 29% of the total foreign investment (the US is second, on 17%).

And four Australians TNCs comprise the clear majority of the seven finalists for the 2006 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The winner wil be announced at an event in Wellington on March 21. Toll, ANZ, Progressive Enterprises, and Contact Energy are all fully or partly Australian-owned.

Secondly, today’s New Zealand Herald reveals that the Overseas Investment Office approved foreign takeovers totalling $20 billion in 2006 (its first full year of operation), up from $14 billion in 05. Remember that the 2005 Overseas Investment Act does not require Overseas Investment Office approval for any takeovers of less than $100 million (it used to be $10m as recently as 1999), so that $20 billion figure is a conservative estimate only of how much of NZ was sold overseas in 2006.

TNCs make massive profits out of New Zealand. These can truly be called New Zealand's biggest invisible export. In the decade 1997-2006, TNCs made $50.3 billion profits. Only 32% was reinvested, and in some years more was sent overseas than was earned or the reinvestment was significantly offset by capital being taken out of the country. Foreign investors are not great for employment - they only employ 19% of the workforce, despite owning a huge proportion of the economy. Foreign ownership does not guarantee more jobs. In fact, it quite often adds to unemployment. TNCs have made tens of thousands jobless and that is an ongoing process.

Ask the 99 workers at Otautau’s Bright Wood NZ mill if they think foreign investment is a good thing. This US TNC has pulled the plug because the Southland mill is no longer convenient for it, and tossed fully one seventh of the tiny town’s total population out of work – with four weeks’ notice and no redundancy payments. We can only agree with the Engineers Union which said: “The company has no community stakeholding or responsibilities, they’ve basically plundered and bailed” (Press, 31/1/07).

National leader John Key has suddenly discovered “the underclass”. He might care to investigate the cause and effect role of foreign ownership with unemployment and poverty. He might like to revisit the policies of his party and Labour which have put “making New Zealand attractive to foreign investment” as their highest priority, leading to a race to the bottom, a low wage, poor conditions economy, with countless hundreds of thousands trapped in the ranks of the working poor. We look forward to both National and Labour admitting their grievous errors in actively collaborating with this transnational corporate recolonisation.

And if you want any further proof that the Overseas Investment Office is asleep at the wheel, then check out its Website at www.oio.linz.govt.nz. As of today (February 5) the Homepage tells you that it’s closed for Christmas and will reopen on January 8th! Don’t knock too loudly, you might wake up the rubber stampers.


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