Labour: Housing issue contentious, not racist

  • 14/07/2015
Labour's David Parker (Simon Wong)
Labour's David Parker (Simon Wong)

Labour has hit back at Race Relations commissioner Dame Susan Devoy after she joined a chorus of voices criticising the party's release of data about Chinese home buyers in Auckland.

Dame Susan on Monday attacked Labour's release of the data, which the party says shows a problem with Chinese foreign investment in Auckland, saying it over-simplified the problem and singled out Chinese buyers.

"Dumbing down complex economic woes and blaming them on an ethnic community whose members are already feeling under pressure is neither new nor unique, but it's always disappointing," she said.

But Labour's David Parker said Dame Susan's comments undermined her role.

"She should re-read the Human Rights Act because there is nothing in the act that says contentious issues ought not to be discussed," he said.

The data was the best available on the issue and Dame Susan had not supplied any alternative, he said.

"There is nothing racist in what has been said," Mr Parker said. "Labour's policy is that if you have the right to live here you have the right to buy here, whatever your ethnicity."

Labour on Saturday released data from an unnamed real estate agent suggesting people of Chinese descent accounted for 39.5 percent of property transactions in Auckland between February and April, while their share of the city's population was 9 percent.

Labour's housing spokesman, Phil Twyford, said it pointed to offshore Chinese investors grabbing up Auckland land.

Parties on both ends of the spectrum have criticised the release, with both ACT and the Greens saying they didn't want to focus on ethnicity.

Labour leader Andrew Little defended the research while the Government accused the party of "playing the race card" in a crude attempt to win votes.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says Labour will pay for its claim at the polling booth.

"We've got no idea about foreign-based buyers with non-Chinese sounding names. They've just picked on people with Chinese sounding names," he told Radio New Zealand.

"I think they'll pay for it electorally from ethnic communities, not just Chinese communities, around New Zealand for years and years in the future."

Economists and commentators have called the findings half-baked because it determined which buyers were Chinese based on names.

But the analyst who crunched the numbers for Labour, Rob Salmond, defended the research in a blog post, saying the discrepancy between the numbers and incomes of people of Chinese decent and the overall investment proved that money had to be coming from overseas.

New Zealand's largest private real estate firm, Barfoot & Thompson, has said it will investigate whether it was the source of the leaked data to Labour.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand figures released on Monday showed Auckland's median house price had risen a record 26 percent to $755,000 over the past year, while the rest of the country's median price was steady at $340,000.