Lisa Owen: Labour has released leaked real estate data showing that almost 40 percent of homes sold in Auckland between February and April this year were to people with Chinese surnames. The Nation can reveal that of suburbs of more than a hundred house sales, the three most popular amongst those with Chinese surnames were Albany, Epsom and Milford. And ACT leader David Seymour is the MP for Epsom. His party eagerly courted the Chinese New Zealand vote last year, and he's with me now. What do you make of those numbers, Mr Seymour?
David Seymour: Oh, I don't think they're hugely surprising, actually. Anecdotally, all the time you hear about people going to auctions which have a large number of people who are appear to be Chinese, and also there's a lot of tension around housing. There's a whole generation who are concerned that house prices which were maybe three years' income in the '80s and '90s, now houses cost eight or nine times the average household income, so none—
So do you—?
So none of that's surprising.
So do you think that data is actually a real representation of how many foreign buyers are purchasing in the Auckland market?
Well, I think it's plausible based on the anecdotes that you hear.
Okay, well, is presenting it in that way – is it simple facts that are being laid out, or is it racism?
I think the real statistic that matters here is that Labour are peeling off votes to New Zealand First and they see an opportunity, much as National did in 2004, to find a big divisive wedge issue that might get them some votes. They're shaking the race tree for votes because they can't find them anywhere else. And if you doubt that, you just have to ask yourself of the European surnames in that list, how many did they test are New Zealanders or British or other Europeans? They're not really interested in foreign ownership; they're interested in targeting Chinese, and that is racist.
They did test all the names for probabilities, but obviously they're singling out a certain sector.
So O'Brien? You know, were there any O'Briens there? Were they New Zealanders?
So do you think—? They're further down on the list, and you can see the names. There's British names and other names further down on the list – Smith, for example. But you regard it as racism, you've just said?
Yeah, I do, because, look, we have a problem with housing affordability in Auckland, no question. If you want to get to the bottom of that problem, here's what Phil Twyford could have said and what I think what he actually believe is that in the 1990s Auckland consented 4000, 5000 houses a year – 5000 in the 1990s. In the last 10 years, we consented an average of 4000 houses per year. Now, over that time, the price of housing's increased almost six times over, the population's gone up 30 percent, and yet every year for the last decade, we've consented a thousand fewer houses than we did in the 1990s.
So are you saying—?
That's the problem.
Are you saying supply's a problem and we shouldn't worry about who's buying the houses?
I think if we sort the supply problem, we won't have to worry, and that's the dilemma. Either we can get into what really is quite embarrassing to watch the interview that just took place, not on your part, but when you have to ask questions about whether or not there are too many Chinese surnames, that is not a country that's looking to the future. That is a country that is busy with itself and looking to the past. The real issue is that there's simply not enough supply of housing, and I lay that squarely at the door of the Auckland Council and its planning ethos that says, 'You must all live in an apartment over a train station. The city cannot expand,' and there is ample evidence that is the cause.
Well, in essence, what Labour is saying, isn't it, is that Kiwi homes should be for Kiwi citizens and taxpayers. What's wrong with that sentiment?
Well, the fact is that they can still live in them, and the other fact is that, okay, that sentiment—
But not own them?
That rhetoric is fine, but then the onus goes back on to Phil Twyford to say, 'What are you going to do? Are we going to have a rule like in Sydney, where foreign buyers can buy new homes but not old ones?' Well, there's two problems with that. First of all, it's very difficult to identify them legally, and the Labour members on select committee just last week were pointing out these problems as we examined the Government's new initiative to register foreign home buyers. But second of all, Sydney has a housing market and affordability problem that makes Auckland look like a picnic. It hasn't worked in Vancouver either.
So are you happy for the Kiwi masses to be tenants in their own country?
No, I'm not, but I'm not happy with having a race-based debate that actually will not confront the real problem. That is fiddling while Rome burns. What we need to do is make our housing market function and produce the houses that all New Zealanders require.
We're running out of time, but I do want to take a look at one other aspect of this data, which is Epsom is one of the suburbs which is a top choice for Chinese buyers, according to Labour. And if we look at a graphic here, they are paying 140,000 more on average than the next group, so Chinese Asian buyers, well, with those names, are spending 140 grand more. So they're not only buying up significant numbers, arguably, they're pushing the price up too, so how can that be good for anyone?
Well, what I say to people in Epsom and I hear a lot about the problems with people crowding auctions and pushing what you might regard as Kiwi buyers out of the market is that, yes, that is an issue you can focus on or we can focus on the broader problem – is our housing market actively supplying the housing that Aucklanders need? If you want to focus on the first problem, that's fine, but we're going to get far better results in the long term by getting our own policy settings in order.
All right, thank you very much for joining me this morning.
ACT Epsom MP David Seymour.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz