Being lectured on divisiveness and racism by the National Party is like taking fire safety tops from an arsonist.
National has such a long and shameful history of racism that when a National minister accuses someone of playing the race card then we know the government is deeply embarrassed about whatever issue is being discussed.
Housing Minister Nick Smith has made the accusation against Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford who has released figures showing that despite Chinese residents making up 9% of the Auckland population, house buyers with Chinese surnames bought 39.5% of the houses sold in Auckland in a three month period earlier this year via one of our major real estate agencies.
Twyford’s argument is that most of these purchases will be from offshore Chinese buyers which highlights the extent to which foreign speculators are driving up the price of housing in Auckland well beyond the reach of middle-class first home buyers.
Labour’s figures are necessarily crude and focused in this case on the likely nationality of the foreign purchasers. This is unfortunate because it runs the risk of burying the critically important issue that off shore buying of New Zealand housing are driving up house prices (and therefore rents also) at an alarming rate.
National knows this is happening but is so desperate to keep house prices artificially large (the growth of house prices makes home-owning middle class families feel wealthier and more supportive towards National) that it refuses to collect the data that would reveal the extent of the problem.
Also of importance to National is the close and growing symbiotic relationship between the National Party leadership and wealthy foreign investors. These are National’s kith and kin who rate far higher than New Zealanders on low-incomes struggling for decent life opportunities.
Twyford is right that the government is in denial.
What we need is an outright ban on foreigners owning land or houses in New Zealand, a tough capital gains tax to drive local speculators and investors out of the housing market and a massive state house building programme to meet the housing quality and affordability crisis where it’s having its most devastating impact – on low income New Zealand tenants and families.
Labour has left itself open to criticism of racism because it has no credible record of restricting foreign investment during its nine years in government when foreign investment – mainly from Australia – was rampant. These were the years when a busload of Australian women came to New Zealand on a house-buying spree and when Asian newspapers began advertising property investment in New Zealand with the advantage of choosing New Zealand being the absence of a capital gains tax.
Similarly in earlier decades Labour supported an Australian buyout of our big banks and massive amounts of lucrative commercial property.
The appalling state of our current account deficit – which in major part measures the amount of money going offshore to foreign owners of New Zealand-based companies – shows just how foreign investors are milking this country at the expense of most of us. In housing it’s no different.