The return of Muldoon

Two separate columnists in two separate papers have used the “Muldoonist” tag in relation to Dr Cullen’s overnight secret law change regarding overseas investment in private companies.

Brian Gaynor in the Herald writes:

Finance Minister Dr Michael Cullen’s decision to effectively stymie the partial takeover offer for Auckland International Airport (AIA) is an unwanted reminder of the meddling policies of former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.

Dr Cullen’s edict was so appalling, and so inconsistent with his policies of the previous eight years, that one can only conclude it was strongly influenced by political considerations ahead of this year’s general election. …

Cullen’s decision was announced nearly a decade after the Crown sold its 51.6 per cent controlling interest in the airport and more than seven months after the first offer for AIA was revealed. As a result the offer has been a terrible waste of resources – the airport had already spent $5.8 million on the process by the end of December.

Meanwhile Garry Sheeran in the SST says:

The crudely political nature of the government’s late-night move to block the Canadian bid for 40% of Auckland International Airport is highlighted by a barely cold, two-year review of the Overseas Investment Act.

That review, enacted into law in August 2005, was supported by a government “committed to maintaining a liberal investment regime”.

The legislation’s sponsor, Finance Minister Michael Cullen, said at the time that New Zealand needed foreign capital to develop the economy.

No surprise, then, at the collective gasp which greeted the same minister’s announcement late on Monday that the same act would be amended to send the Canadians packing, once and for all.

Political commentator Chris Trotter said the use of an order-in-council to rewrite the law harked back to the 1980s. “It would have been just another day under Rob Muldoon,” he said, “but using the governor-general and most of the cabinet to rewrite the rules is not something we are used to any more.

Also the NZ Herald Editorial calls on Cullen to name the assets covered by this new law:

Dr Cullen suggests the infrastructure he has in mind comprises only a “narrow” group. The inclusion of Auckland airport means it could be narrower. But, hopefully, dams and ports are the other ingredients. Certainly, there is no need for the likes of Television New Zealand, which can, in an emergency, be easily replicated.

The other factor in this equation is xenophobia. That is the unspoken reason for the obstacles installed by many overseas jurisdictions. It should not be an issue here. Dr Cullen must list what the Government considers strategically important infrastructure. That should be the prelude to a reasoned debate. From that, it should not be difficult to reach bipartisan agreement on strategic assets, and the degree of protection they should be afforded.

Indeed Dr Cullen has resorted to Winston’s old trick of xenophobia. And it is quite unacceptable for people not to know which assets or companies the Government now deems strategic. Why would people spend money investing in a company when the Govt by overnight whim can declare it is strategic and off limits.

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