Thursday 13th June 2019
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The status of split ministerial decisions on land purchases by overseas investors may be considered in the next phase of a review of the Overseas Investment Act, Lands Minister Eugenie Sage says.
The review work, being led by Associate Finance Minister David Parker and Treasury, may touch on split decisions as part of a new national interest test being considered for inclusion in the legislation, Sage told Parliament’s primary production committee today, but offered no further detail.
“The OIA review is quite broad,” she said after testy exchanges with committee chair David Bennett.
Sage last month rejected OceanaGold’s plan to buy farmland near its Waihi mine for a new tailings facility. Her decision, now facing a court challenge, was the first time ministers had ever been split on an OIA request and resulted in OceanaGold’s application being turned down.
Associate Finance Minister David Clark, a Labour MP, had backed the purchase; Green Party MP Sage had seen no economic benefit in a land sale that would extend “inherently unsustainable” gold mining, and the 360 jobs at Waihi, for up to nine years.
Sage was before the committee to outline Budget allocations under the land vote for the agencies she is responsible for.
National’s Bennett had asked whether she had received, or sought, any advice on the potential liability she may face as a result of the judicial review now being sought of the OceanaGold decision.
Amid noisy exchanges between other committee members, Labour’s Kiri Allan, also deputy committee chair, sought guidance from the clerks on how far questioning could go on a topic now before the courts.
Bennett persisted, with questions as to whether Sage had received legal advice on whether she will now need to change her decision-making processes.
Repeatedly challenged by Labour’s Kieran McAnulty, Bennett said he hadn’t asked for detail of the legal advice, nor was he addressing the OceanaGold decision now before the court.
“You can ask all you like, but I think the minister is totally within her rights not to answer,” McAnulty said. “This is not process - this is detail.”
With Sage struggling to hear Bennett over the committee, third-term National MP Ian McKelvie raised a point of order. The minister was quite capable of deciding whether to answer the committee’s questions or not, and it wasn’t for the government members to speak for her, he said.
Sage said she had taken legal advice before the decision and she expected she would in future receive legal advice related to the judicial review.
She had not received any general advice that she would need to change her decision-making process.
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