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Reports that Westland Milk is talking to well-financed potential bidders for the company raise serious questions about the $9.9 million soft loan from Shane Jones’ Regional Slush Fund, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“The confidential talks reportedly include Canadian dairy giant Saputo, which rivals Fonterra in scale and has already made significant dairy acquisitions in Australia.

“New Zealand has always relied on overseas capital but what does it mean for Mr Jones’ taxpayer-funded, subsidised loan if it was to go to an overseas company? The Government has refused to release details of the favourable loan to the struggling dairy group or whether it has even been made.

“Did Shane Jones know Westland Milk was going to seek more capital overseas when he announced the loan as part of the Provincial Growth Fund’s package for the West Coast? Or was he distracted by the pork barrel benefits of distributing funds with little oversight?

“The refusal by the Government and its officials to reveal the size of the hidden subsidy in the cheap loan to Westland Milk makes a mockery of its claim to be the most open and transparent Government. It is not acceptable for the Government to hide this information.

“Officials were happy to rattle off a list of benefits from the loan, but they didn’t include making it more attractive to overseas buyers.”

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