Auckland Airport Roundup

Lots written on today. I’ll divide it up into the legal, political, and economic. First of all look at this story by Audrey Young:

On Monday night, after the Australian sharemarket closed, the Government changed overseas investment rules ensuring that if even the Overseas Investment Commission approved the sale, the two ministers with the final say, Clayton Cosgrove and David Parker, would be able to say “no” and withstand judicial review.

I would not be so confident about it withstanding judicial review. Despite attempts to isolate the two decision making Ministers, it is obvious that the issue has been pre-determined for them. And as Chris Carter found out with the Whangamata marina, the Courts do not like Ministers pre-determining issues.

On the political side, Vernon Small blogs:

Labour is cock-a-hoop today over the Auckland Airport (we-won’t-let-it-be-bought-by-a-Canadian-pension-fund-but-don’t-want-to-say-it-that-blatantly) regulation change.

Just a day after Prime Minister Helen Clark predicted the ‘fun would begin’ once National started debating policy John Key has looked surprisingly leaden-footed in response to the change – a popular move with the electorate, I would imagine, but one which National would instinctively reject.

National’s response hasn’t been particularly well-targeted it seems to me. The issues I would focus on are:

  • One shouldn’t change the rules at the last second – moves like that destroy investment and jobs and push up interest rates
  • The rules should be clear as to what is and is not allowed, and this change means no one will be sure now what the ground rules are

Tracy Watkins has an article in the Dom Post, with the headline being “Nats will not ban airport sale”. Now please bear in mind Tracy does not write the headline even though it is her story. The headline though is a misleading one as it suggests Labour is banning the sale, and they are not. They are changing the rules, but they are not banning it.

On the economic front economic editor Brian Fallow looks at the dangers:

The Government is running risks with New Zealand’s reputation as an investment destination by suddenly turning Overseas Investment Office approval, long a rubber stamp, into a serious hurdle for the Canadian bid for Auckland Airport.

It has changed the rules in the closing minutes of the game.

And it does this reckless thing at the worst possible time.

The country has for 20 years enthusiastically taken advantage of the opportunities globalisation provides to access foreign capital.

Had we not, had we relied on what we ourselves are prepared to save and invest, the economy would be a lot smaller than it is.

Indeed.

Fran O’Sullivan counts the cost:

Helen Clark’s Government has wiped hundreds of millions of dollars off Auckland Airport’s value in a vainglorious move to exert “local control” over an asset that passed into majority private ownership more than a decade ago. …

The upshot is that New Zealand’s hard-won reputation as a “fair dealer” that welcomes has now been carelessly hammered by a Government which is bent on milking the Auckland International Airport takeover for political advantage.

What Helen Clark and Finance Minister Michael Cullen forget as they blatantly ramp up the foreign investment bogey during election year is that the 50,000 retail shareholders in Auckland Airport also have votes.

The NZ Herald Editorial labels the move xenophobia:

This is populist politicking, pure and simple. An administration reeling in the polls has stooped to courting xenophobia. Only that explains the timing of the intervention. If the Government genuinely viewed this as the right policy, it could have acted when the airport first attracted overseas interest.

Andrew James in the Dom Post reports:

More than $300 million was wiped off Auckland International Airport’s market value after the Government introduced a late rule change …

$300 million wiped out.

And The Press editorial weighs things up:

… But it is doubtful if it is much more amenable to the national interest — whatever that is — under its present ownership than under Canadian ownership. Both owners would be subject to the same laws and regulations, and liable to the same pressures from governments local and national. Both owners would seek to maximise their profits and returns to shareholders. Materially, the only difference to occur under Canadian ownership would be a larger flow of profits offshore.

New Zealand does not have the capital or human resources to fuel its development, but it does not like the large foreign inflow of people and finance that development needs. The way to solve the conundrum is not to pass regulations but to upskill New Zealanders and make them more wealthy. Then they could own and manage their assets.

gets it somewhat wrong with saying more profits would flow overseas. Because the domestic money freed up from any sale could well result in more money flowing to NZ from overseas.

The Visible Hand  in Economics deals with this and other economic issues. Gives a nice list of benefits and costs of foreign investment.

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