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No Substantial Benefits From Lochinver Sale: Minister

No Substantial And Identifiable Benefits From Sale of Lochinver Station: Minister

Land information minister Louise Upston has defended the Government’s veto on the sale of Lochinver Station in the Taupo region to Shanghai Pengxin.

Ms Upston and Associate Finance minister Paula Bennett last week blocked the $88 million dollar bid for the prime farmland, with Ms Upston telling Michael Parkin on Q+A this morning that there weren’t enough benefits for New Zealand from the deal.

Ms Upston rejected the suggestion the veto was a ‘political decision’.

“The law is really clear, and the objective is that it is a privilege to own sensitive New Zealand land and assets,” she said.

“So there is a criteria that the Overseas Investment Office have to apply, and then as ministers, we apply the same criteria. But actually, at the end of the day, for a piece of land that was nearly 14,000ha, the benefits were not substantial and identifiable, and that’s why we declined it.”

The Minister said if Shanghai Pengxin came back with a plan to provide more jobs, the application to buy would have to be looked at again – but declined to be drawn on how many jobs would need to be created for the sale to be given the green light.

Here’s the link to the full interview: http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/privilege-own-sensitive-nz-land-minister-video-6394129

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz

Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter,http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA

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Q + A
Episode 31
LOUISE UPSTON
Interviewed by MICHAEL PARKIN

MICHAEL The Government's been accused of being lax on foreign land sales, so there was some surprise when last week it announced it would block the sale of Lochinver Station. Two ministers were assigned the decision, Associate Finance Minister Paula Bennett and Land Information Minister Louise Upston, who also happens to be the National MP for Taupo, where the farm is located. I asked her whether it was a political decision.

LOUISE Definitely not. The law is really clear, and the objective is that it is a privilege to own sensitive New Zealand land and assets. So there is a criteria that the Overseas Investment Office have to apply, and then as ministers, we apply the same criteria. But actually, at the end of the day, for a piece of land that was nearly 14,000ha, the benefits were not substantial and identifiable, and that’s why we declined it.

MICHAEL Is it not coincidence, though, that this is the first item that since 2012 has been blocked my ministers, and, lo and behold, it’s the one that’s got a bit of public scrutiny around it?

LOUISE No, definitely not, because what has changed since 2012 is actually the court ruling after the Crafer case, which really meant that the counterfactual has to show that if there is, in this case, an alternative New Zealand purchaser, then the test is that the applicant has to prove benefits over and above that alternative.

MICHAEL Lochinver is in your electorate; how has the decision gone down there?

LOUISE Fair to say, it’s been mixed – on both sides – but, actually, at the end of the day, as the minister for land information, I make decisions on behalf of all New Zealanders.

MICHAEL Do you think you’re more or less popular there as a result?

LOUISE Where it’s located is irrelevant, and as I said, the response was very mixed.

MICHAEL Were you getting lobbied from people in your electorate?

LOUISE No, because the law is really clear. So any constituent cases or any queries from constituents, I referred to Hon Todd McClay so that there was no conflict of interest, and that’s what you do as a minister in this instance.

MICHAEL Stevensons obviously said they were going to be able to create thousands of jobs with the capital that they would’ve got out of this sale. Why weren’t you able to take that into account? Shouldn’t it be given some weight in this situation?

LOUISE No, because it is the counterfactual. So if the counterfactual is that there is an alternative New Zealand purchaser, then you have to apply that, and the only difference…what The Overseas Investment Office determined.. there was 379ha of land that was in pine pasture and wilding pines that would be treated differently by the overseas applicant than the New Zealand purchaser.

MICHAEL But there was no New Zealand purchaser, was there? They were millions and millions of dollars behind the only two that were even in the ball park.

LOUISE But the way the counterfactual works, and we did test this, actually, with the independent advice we received, because we sought more information, and that confirmed that the counterfactual was an alternative New Zealand purchaser. So we’ve just got to line up, and in our decision, the benefits were not substantial and identifiable.

MICHAEL Should that be changed, the regulatory framework around it? Should you be able to take that into account, do you think, those follow-on jobs from what people can do with that money?

LOUISE No, because the reality is we’re talking about the 379 hectares of land and the benefits from that, so you’re talking a couple of jobs, some contracting work and a small amount of investment.

MICHAEL So—

LOUISE Now, there’s no way that I’m going to sign off an approval for 14,000 hectares of New Zealand land for that small amount of benefit.

MICHAEL How greater would that benefit need to be for you to sign it off if Shanghai Pengxin come back and say, ‘Look, we can provide X amount of jobs’? What would you need to see?

LOUISE Well, we’d just need to look at the application if they were to present it again.

MICHAEL But you already know. How many jobs is enough jobs for you to be interested?

LOUISE I can’t give you a figure on that, Michael, but if they bring an application back, it will be considered afresh based on that information.

MICHAEL If we could move on to your other role as Minister for Women?

LOUISE Absolutely.

MICHAEL When you were given that job, you really rejected the term feminist. You didn’t want to be labelled with that. Why is that a word you don’t like associated with your role?

LOUISE So, it’s not that it’s a term I don’t like. It’s just that I’ve never called myself a feminist, and I didn’t believe that if I changed job I should refer to myself in a different way.

MICHAEL Isn’t that what you should be, though, advocating for women?

LOUISE Absolutely I do, so when the Prime Minister asked me to be the Minister for Women, I was absolutely delighted because I get to represent 51% of the New Zealand population, and I think it is the best job on the planet. But, actually, I didn’t want to change the way that I refer to myself or be someone different because I’ve got a change of job.

MICHAEL You copped a bit of flak at the time as well for saying beauty pageants were a confidence booster for women. Do they not also have a part to play in creating issues of self-consciousness and queries about one’s body?

LOUISE Yeah, so the point with that was actually I’m in favour of anything where girls’ skills and confidence are supported and developed to prepare them for the workplace.

MICHAEL But you’ve also got women that would go, ‘I can’t look like that. I must keep trying to do so,’ don’t you?

LOUISE No, no. It wasn’t about the beauty pageant side of it. It was about what are the skills and what are the opportunities for young girls to get themselves ready for the workplace. At the end of the day, I want every single young New Zealander to have an equal opportunity to enter work in whatever field that is. It’s not my job to judge what career options. For me it’s about making sure that girls have equal opportunity and equal choice and having the skills and training and education that prepares them to do that.

MICHAEL Let’s talk about the workforce, then, because you’ve got a 14% on average pay gap when it comes to men and women, so what have you done to close that gap in your year in this job?

LOUISE Yeah, so firstly I want to use the Statistics New Zealand measure, which is 9.9% for full-time employment, and that’s the measure we use. And so it’s a really complex issue.

MICHAEL But what have you done?

LOUISE Yeah, sure. So there’s a couple of things. An example – one is to ensure that girls are attracted to industries where there is high growth, high demand and high wages, and a classic example of that is Canterbury and the rebuild. So as a result of the earthquakes, women were losing jobs in some areas and there were employment opportunities in the trades and construction.

MICHAEL And so how many women have gone into that industry?

LOUISE We’ve over doubled the number in the last two years, so that’s an additional 5000 women who are in trades and construction and loving it. And I think that’s a really important project that the Ministry for Women led with local employers, the Chamber of Commerce, SCIRT and also the local CPIT.

MICHAEL If we can look at the women who go on to become mothers and do come out of the workforce, you spoke to the UN Commission on the status of women earlier this year, and you said, ‘Our government is focused on supporting families through promoting family-friendly and flexible workplaces.’ Does that mean you support 26 weeks’ paid parental leave?

LOUISE No, what it does mean, and I’m really proud of the fact that our government introduced in past legislation that gives every single worker the right to request flexible work. So in terms of a very practical thing that supports families, and I’m talking mums and dads, flexible work is a really important part of that.

MICHAEL And so how long did you spend at home when you had your kids?

LOUISE It was different for each of my three children. I was actually a solo mum the first time round, and I knew actually getting off the DPB and into paid work was the best opportunity at a better future.

MICHAEL And so when you had to exit the workforce to have your kids, how long did you have off?

LOUISE For the next one I think it was about three months, and Jessica, I was back probably part-time at about two months, three months because I didn’t get any paid parental leave.

MICHAEL So do you think there are merits in six months’ paid parental leave?

LOUISE Yeah, so I think where we’ve landed it is we’ve increased it to 16 weeks, we’re increasing it to 18 weeks next year, but more importantly there were families that weren’t eligible for any paid parental leave, and we’ve extended it to them, as well as increasing the parental tax credit, which means that families who are really vulnerable get the best level of support in those very early weeks. So I think we’ve landed it right. It’s also great to see that there are some businesses out there who are introducing their own policies to support women in their workplaces, and we should do more of that.

MICHAEL If we can look at some other women in the workplace – you’ve obviously got the carers and the midwives who are taking legal action to try and up their pay because, in the midwives’ case, it’s been 20 years since they’ve really seen any difference. Do you support them in that challenge? Do you want them to win?

LOUISE So, I clearly can’t talk about a case that’s currently before the courts, but what I will say is that it’s really important to me that women are valued equally, and there are some challenges in that. It goes beyond actually what they’re paid, but as I said before, the opportunities and the careers they’re choosing, and also a big barrier is the opportunities to progress and leadership.

MICHAEL But do you— Sorry, do you back the carers? Do you back the midwives in this legal action?

LOUISE Well—

MICHAEL Are they right to take it?

LOUISE Good on them for taking it. Clearly, as I said before, because it’s a matter before the court, I can’t make a comment or give any details about where it might go.

MICHAEL Do you think you’re a bit quiet in the lead-up to that before they took the action, though? Why aren’t you in there rattling the cage, you know, rocking the boat? Because that should be your job, isn’t it, on behalf of these women?

LOUISE Yeah, so there’s lots of work that the Ministry for Women is doing to support women in progressing in the jobs that they are in. It’s about making sure that if women are in a workplace that their skills are fully utilised. So I don’t think that it’s fair if someone’s returning to work part-time that they drop three or four pay grades. Actually, women should return to work, if they’ve taken periods of time in and out through raising children, they should be able to enter at the same place they’ve left, and they should be— Actually, in a business, it’s great for them, because businesses want the best people, the best talented people, and they’re not currently fully utilising those talents and abilities.

MICHAEL Do you think the ministry, which you mentioned there, do you think it has a future? Is there going to come a day where it’s not needed any more?

LOUISE Absolutely, and there’s not a week that goes by that somebody says, ‘Why do we have a ministry for women?’

MICHAEL How far away do you think that day is, then?

LOUISE Well, at the end of the day, we’ve got a gender pay gap of 9.9% and women are twice as likely to be violently abused as men, so until those two issues are resolved, absolutely we’ve got a need for a ministry for women.

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