Mark Sainsbury: Peter Thiel's made NZ a haven for sale

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: What is it worth to be a New Zealand citizen?  If you've ever gone to a citizenship ceremony there's something intoxicating about the mood in the room - the sheer, unmitigated joy new Kiwis feel when they become part of us.

Citizenship rightly should be prized and earned. It is not a commodity to be traded.

Which brings us to the curious case of Peter Thiel, the controversial American billionaire whose "exceptional circumstances" somehow allowed him to become a citizen of this fine country.

Apparently the attraction for New Zealand was his skill as an entrepreneur and his philanthropy. In other words, he's a big wheel who gives away a lot of dough.

It appears Mr Thiel did kick in a million dollars to the Christchurch Earthquake Fund, a donation facilitated by former NZX boss Mark Weldon on behalf of the Prime Minister.

So we have wealth, connections and generosity. And an Internal Affairs Minister who recommended citizenship be given.

But the question still remains: Why? If Mr Thiel could have conducted all his business, maintained a right to come and operate and live here with residency rather than citizenship, why did he want it so badly?

He apparently had a strong desire to be a citizen of a country he hardly visited - certainly not enough to qualify for an application in normal circumstances.

So was it the fact that citizenship enabled him to bypass the Overseas Investment Office's scrutiny when he bought his Wanaka property? You'd have to say given all his amazing qualities, that shouldn't have been a problem anyway.

I listened to Xero boss Rod Dury - a strong supporter of Mr Thiel's application - not surprising given Mr Thiel made a significant investment in Xero. Mr Drury accepted that many successful people like Peter Thiel want a bolt hole in case it all goes pear-shaped in the Northern Hemisphere.  And if you could afford it, why wouldn’t you?

But is that what it really comes down to?  That we are a convenience, a Hobbit-themed panic room for the super rich?

Let's just call it for what it is: We are a haven for sale.

The great irony, of course, is that any implosion in the Northern Hemisphere could likely be triggered by another of his influential friends; the man he backed for the US presidency: Donald J Trump.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.