Opinion by Patrick Gower
Justice Forrie Miller has just dropped a bomb with fallout bigger than 7892 hectares of the Crafar farms.
It has really rocked the Beehive and sent serious shockwaves all the way to China.
It’s hard not to see this as anything but a slap in the face for the OIO and by extension the Key Government.
It is a continuation of a rocky start to the year.
Selling the Crafar farms to the Chinese was one of the most sensitive decisions the John Key Government has made and Justice Miller has simply said: "you got it wrong".
He has swept aside the Overseas Investment Office's nine months of consideration, and the sign off of Ministers Jonathan Coleman and Maurice Williamson.
When nobody ever thought Sir Michael Fay's legal challenge had a chance, Justice Miller has let off a beauty.
John Key has just said the Overseas Investment Office will have to go back to the drawing board, reconsider the decision - and under the new interpretation of the law could come back with a totally new decision against - yes against - the Chinese corporation Shanghai Pengxin.
Key and company bit the bullet and thought the deal had gone through.
Now it’s back to square one - but the heat around this has been turned up and the new decision will now be made amid a political firestorm about foreign land sales.
The Crafar farms could yet stay in New Zealand hands.
Indeed Key has gone even further and said other farm sales could be overturned if challenged.
Justice Miller's ruling says the OIO got it totally wrong - in his words, "the error was not a mere technicality".
In a nutshell, he says the economic benefits of the Chinese bid were overstated - and any solvent purchaser could have improved the Crafar farms.
Justice Miller effectively sets a new rule here to my mind.
If there is a foreign buyer and a rival New Zealand buyer bidding less, then as long as the Kiwi buyer can bring the same economic benefits - they win.
Now that could shut out a whole lot of foreign investment.
We've all heard John Key say ad nauseum that his Ministers acted within the law - well, Justice Miller says they and the department got the law wrong.
We've all heard ad nauseum the Government saying the economic benefits of the Pengxin bid were one of the main reasons for the deal - well, Justice Miller says that was cooked up.
But why is Key indicating there will be no appeal?
If they were so sure of the OIO and the Ministers why not back themselves against Justice Miller?
If there haven't been already, there will be top-level talks between the New Zealand and Chinese government, with the Chinese end of the phone line saying "please explain?"
The political questions will now concentrate on whether the Government had a one-track mind on selling to the Chinese and why Coleman and Williamson were just "rubber-stamping".
But one last mischievous thought - if the Crafar deal is as unpopular as everyone says it is, then has Justice Miller given John Key an escape route?
If the new OIO decision goes the other way, and the Crafar farms stay in New Zealand hands Key avoids the unpopular sale.
And Key will have done nothing but followed the law as he has done all along