Polity by Rob Salmond


A week on from the housing controversy

Last week, Labour released figures indicating ethnic Chinese recently purchased 39.5% of Auckland homes, while the Auckland population is only 9% ethnically Chinese.

Not surprisingly, there was much scrutiny of this decision, and the analysis that lay behind it.

I did the data work for this story, and I stand by both the analysis and by Labour’s decision to raise this issue of offshore real estate investment in Auckland .

Labour cares about this because the Kiwi dream of home ownership is rapidly slipping away from young New Zealanders of all ethnicities. Labour wants more restrictions on offshore real estate investment, in order to protect that part of the Kiwi lifestyle.

So far, the Government’s inaction and half-measures are only making the problem worse.

If releasing these data gets us any closer to protecting that dream for all New Zealanders, it did a good thing.

The Financial Times recently reported a rapidly rising tide of investment capital from China flooding cities like New York, London, Sydney, and Vancouver. We believe we’re seeing the same in Auckland. Labour’s data adds more evidence for that conclusion.

Some suggested the analysis was basically Phil Twyford and me sitting in a room asking: “who sounds Chinese?”

Of course, that’s not what we did.

After I published Labour’s method online, Keith Ng, Tze Ming Mok, and Chuan-Zheng Lee - all skilled analysts, all otherwise critical on this topic - all agreed the name-based ethnicity analysis was statistically sound, robust, and accurate.

Of course, they and others retained other criticisms of our work, relating to the steps after the main data analysis. I’ve engaged with them online through the last week, addressing their concerns and presenting additional data to support Labour’s conclusions.

Other commentators, however, have demeaned themselves with cartoonish hyperbole. Phil Quin resigned his role as Labour’s resident fly-in-its-own-ointment while comparing the data release to the Rwandan genocide. That’s obviously absurd. Anyone repeating his claim showed the same lack of perspective.

Their overreaction was mirrored, in less extreme forms, by others on the left of New Zealand politics.

Many were quick to accuse Labour of overt racism, despite Labour’s proud record on race relations in New Zealand.

Labour’s intention was always to talk about offshore money, and never to conflate ethnicity with nationality, or to make life more fraught for any group of New Zealanders.

In some of the reaction, self-appointed experts decided Labour had lost all its principles entirely, and instantly transformed itself into a pack of nihilist, racist, poll-driven Machiavellis. Those same activists decried those same Labour MPs in 2014 for being too PC, and too consumed with identity politics.

The kneejerk, instant 180-degree shift in their long-held assessment betrays how little thought went into it.

For some of those activists, I’ve come to the disappointing view that the only thing they enjoy more than progressive change is criticizing the pragmatic agents of that change.

If they sat in Goldilocks’ chair, they would rubbish the porridge as both too hot and too cold.

Here’s my challenge my fellow travellers on the New Zealand left: just once, let’s have a discussion about a sensitive issue without eating ourselves in the process.

Having said that, one group I think did not overreact – despite their strongly critical stance - was the New Zealand Chinese community, including Keith, Tze Ming, and Chuan-Zheng. Their criticism was less about Labour’s intentions, and more about the impact of these revelations on ethnically Chinese New Zealanders.

I want to be clear on this: Nobody should read anything in our data analysis as being critical of Kiwis who happen to have Chinese ethnicity. I do not see them as part of the offshore real estate speculation issue. Far from it. They are among its victims, along with every other family trying to buy the roof over their head in Auckland.


This column was originally published in the Sunday Star Times. It has been republished here for discussion.

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