The forgotten political issue of the week is the Labour Party’s bold and highly controversial new policy of banning non-residents from buying houses in New Zealand. This major policy announcement was quickly overshadowed by more sensational stories about state surveillance of the media, the Government’s GCSB reforms, and claims of terrorists in New Zealand. But the housing announcement by David Shearer is, nonetheless, incredibly polarising and has the potential to impact on debate right up until the next election. [Read more below]
A big part of the debate has been over whether Labour’s policy is ‘racist’ or ‘xenophobic’. Unfortunately for Labour, one of the first headlines published online was, David Shearer tells Pakistani taxi driver that he can’t buy home. Of course, it was pure satire – by Ben Uffindell on his increasingly influential website, The Civilian. Despite being fictional, this story cleverly summed up what many were thinking.
But is Labour’s policy really ‘racist’ or ‘xenophobic’? A number of housing experts, commentators and journalists have certainly seen it as such. Patrick Gower has framed it that way in his TV3 item: Labour housing restrictions a last-ditch effort? suggesting that the policy feeds off and feeds into racist prejudices, which are explicitly seen in opinion polls.
A number of economists have also been troubled by the reactionary nature of Labour’s policy. For example Shamubeel Eaqub has labeled the policy a ‘populist knee-jerk reaction’ saying ‘It's very easy to try and point the finger at ‘other people'… It reeks of xenophobia’ – see James Weir’s House policy 'reeks of xenophobia'. Similarly, David Hargreaves has pointed out that Labour’s proposal to exempt Australians from the ban is particularly problematic: ‘Any exemptions we did allow from the ban would obviously leave us open to accusations of racism or racial favouritism’ – see: The housing market seems set to be a big election issue. He also says that perceptions of racism could ultimately harm New Zealand’s economy: ‘Don't let us kid ourselves that we could apply a policy that might be seen as anti-Chinese without there being ramifications. Meat stuck on a wharf in China? Sound familiar? Perhaps some previously unidentified problem may manifest itself with our milk powder? The obstacles that could be placed in the way of our burgeoning trade relationship with China are innumerable’.
Unsurprisingly, John Key and other politicians of the right have condemned Labour in strong terms – see Peter Wilson and Laura McQuillan’s Labour's new policy 'dog-whistle claptrap'. But perhaps more interestingly, the policy has had a major serve on the Labour-leaning blogsite, The Standard, where it is criticised as being as xenophobic as the opposition to the Chinese purchase of the Crafar farms last year – see: Speculation. The writer makes the point that many on the left wish to discriminate in favour of ‘good ol’ NZ property speculators’. And, of course, the domestic property investors include a fair number of New Zealand MPs – a point well made by Cameron Slater in his post, Labour’s policy to attack evil property speculators like these ones.
There have also been numerous commentators defending the policy as perfectly innocent. For example, Colin Espiner has given the policy his strong endorsement, and describes its political character instead as ‘nationalistic, New Zealand-first’ – see: Labour housing plan is clever politics. Espiner also says, ‘I don't agree that Labour is being xenophobic with this policy, though I accept it will appeal to rednecks. Protecting a country's housing stock from foreign investors looking for a quick buck isn't racist - it's common sense’.
Damian Christie also provides a strong defence of Labour’s policy in Johnny Foreigner & the Auckland Property Market. He makes the very logical point that the housing ban can also be seen as xenophobic ‘in the same sense that all our border controls, immigration policy are xenophobic. Being a New Zealand resident or citizen gives you benefits in New Zealand over people who aren’t. That’s pretty much standard practice in every country in the world. And until we have a completely borderless world society, I’m okay with that’.
My own opinion is that the policy cannot be viewed in isolation from the political climate it’s being used in – and that’s a climate in which there is obvious xenophobia and racism about immigrants and foreign investors. The policy is very much in tune with efforts by the Greens and NZ First to stoke up resentment about certain ‘foreigners’ taking over the country – see for example Newswire’s Chinese get cheap loans, Peters says.
So when the policy was first announced on Sunday’s Q+A programme, my immediate reaction on the show was: ‘This will put Labour up in the polls, but it's kind of desperate, and it will be seen as that because it's essentially playing the race card. Let's face it, the elephant in the room is Asian buyers, and so it's xenophobic. In some ways, it could be seen in a minor way like Don Brash's Orewa moment. He'll get the boost, but he'll have to get used to being accused of being racist, the Greens and NZ First are when they push these policies. And Labour really are pushing the xenophobic policies on land sales, on foreign investment, and we're seeing race being a big part of what this debate is. It's dog whistle politics’ – watch TVNZ’s The Q+A Panel on Labour's Housing Policy.
A major reason why the policy can be seen as reactionary is that it appears to be designed simply for populist electoral gain rather than actually solving a problem. This gives it the appearance of scapegoating ‘outsiders’ (of various ethnicities). For arguments about the policy being ‘populist’ you can read Gordon Campbell’s new column, Labour turns to housing again, which raises whether Labour is ‘pandering to anti-Asian sentiments’, and suggests that ‘With his leadership once more on the ropes, Shearer has again reached for housing policy as a lifeline’. Campbell says ‘the darker aspect of the policy announcement is that many voters might not make any distinction between overseas buyers - who would be outlawed - and immigrants, who would presumably still be able to bid and buy’. John Armstrong also thinks the policy will be a winner, and describes it as a highly pragmatic, albeit flawed, policy – see: Shearer sets agenda with foreign sales ban.
So would the foreigner housing ban actually work? Brian Rudman says ‘no’ – see his very good column, Foreigner ban won't build one new home. (Rudman is also critical of the Government’s recent housing policies – see: Bullying won't bring cheap homes).
But even bigger questions have been raised by Stephen Franks, who says that the policy could be in breach of New Zealand’s trade agreements because it unjustifiably discriminates between different countries – see: House buying ban blocked by China FTA?
David Farrar also looks at some of the available statistics on housing purchases, and on that basis suggests the policy is simply ‘a snake oil solution’ – noting especially that many of the sellers of houses are also overseas-based – see: How many foreign buyers are there? But for a bigger clue as to why Labour might be resorting to such policies, see Farrar’s blogpost about the most recent opinion poll, which put Labour on 29% and National up to 51% - see: Latest poll.
Finally, there’s been a huge amount of debate on Twitter about Labour’s new policy – to read some of this, see my blogpost, Top tweets about Labour’s housing ‘foreigner ban’.
Other recent important or interesting items include the following:
Is John Key scaremongering about New Zealand-related terrorism in order to convince the public about the GCSB reforms? Certainly the Prime Minister’s claims are being challenged by a number of academics – see: PM justifies spy bill: Kiwis trained by al-Qaeda. Controversial investigative journalist Jon Stephenson is also dismissing Key’s claims – see Dan Satherley’s Al-Qaida claim a GCSB 'sales job' – Stephenson.
Another academic, Associate Professor Grant Duncan, says that recent revelations about international spying operations should be enough to kill off the Government’s proposed bill – see: OK. Let's kill that GCSB Bill! And for information on the claims about how New Zealand is integrated into the US-led world spying network, see Michael Field’s NZ part of NSA surveillance – Snowden. Leftwing activist Mike Treen also has a very interesting blogpost, in which he details his own dealings with state spying and argues for radical measures – see: Close Waihopai! Abolish the SIS!
The Andrea Vance media spying scandal has claimed a second scalp, but now the focus has shifted to John Key’s head of staff, Wayne Eagleson – see: Key backs top adviser over phone records scandal. But has the media brought the problem on itself? See Tim Watkin’s blogpost, Who's to blame for the abuse on Andrea Vance? Certainly today’s Press editorial thinks that those in authority have gone too far on the matter – see: Release of journalist's records crosses line. And there are further revelations about state surveillance of the media in David Fisher’s NZSIS has special protocol for spying on journalists.
David Fisher also reports on new information about the New Zealand military’s role in Afghanistan – see: Families paid after SAS killings, film says.
Nicky Hager’s claims about the New Zealand Defence Force spying on John Stephenson are yet to be proven or disproven. But Stephenson’s US bosses are certainly taking the allegations very seriously – see: Editors want answers in Kiwi spying claims. And with the Defence Force issuing denials of the story, Chris Trotter says, the Media misses the real story.
The latest news about religious education in state schools is examined by Nicholas Jones in his article, Revealed: Hand of God in schools and Passions high over Bible in schools. Meanwhile, Kate Shuttleworth has the details of who might end up running experimental new schools – see: Charter schools: Govt negotiates with final four.
The Labour-Green proposal to establish NZ Power gets a major critique from an academic whose research the proposal was partly based upon – see Patrick Smellie’s Labour-Green electricity poster-child won't play ball.
Mana leader Hone Harawira is a big spender of taxpayer funds on his travel and accommodation, despite – or, perhaps, because of – not being in Parliament much – see Isaac Davison’s Harawira still top spender. Of course, the MP has also recently been convicted in court, and he’s seeking help with paying the fine – see Matthew Theunissen’s Harawira to seek cash from MPs.
The Greens voted along with the rest of the Parliament – apart from John Banks – to introduce the new drug laws which will require new recreational drugs to be tested on animals. But now MP Mojo Mathers is drafting a bill to stop the animal testing – see Newswire’s Greens continue to fight animal testing of party pills.
Finally, Chris Trotter writes a fictional account of how David Shearer came to be a superb political communicator – see: Something In The Coffee: A Satire.
GCSB and national security
Dan Satherley (TV3): Al-Qaida claim a GCSB 'sales job' - Stephenson
Tahu Potiki (Stuff): Let our spies do their job
Peter Aranyi (The Paepae): John Key’s changing narrative on al-Qaeda threat in NZ
No Right Turn: John Key’s changing narrative on al-Qaeda threat in NZ
Anthony Robins (The Standard): 88 flavours of bullshit
Mark Hubbard (Life Behind the Iron Drape): Media Watch: Evidence of Media Squeamishness At Surveillance State: NBR?
Anthony Robins (The Standard): Spy scandals – today’s required reading
Peter Cresswell (Not PC): #SurveillanceState: When acts of honour are made illegal
No Right Turn: Look! Terrorists!
Keith Locke (Daily Blog): Is the GCSB using the NSA’s XKeyscore data search to spy on our phone calls, emails and internet use?
No Right Turn:Key on Al Qaeda
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): GCSB bill back in Parliament today
Kim Choe (TV3): GCSB Bill needed to watch al-Qaida – Key
Michael Field (Stuff): NZ part of NSA surveillance – Snowden
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Minister slams spy bill opposition
Rebecca Quilliam, Claire Trevett and Matthew Martin (Herald): PM justifies spy bill: Kiwis trained by al-Qaeda
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): No change of mind from Dunne over GCSB
Grant Duncan (Policy Matters): OK. Let's kill that GCSB Bill!
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Abuse flows over GCSB legislation
Tracy Watkins and Michael Fox (Stuff): People smugglers, terrorists make GCSB list
Rotorua Daily Post, NZ Herald, APNZ: PM admits Govt spies on Kiwis in Yemen
Simon Wong (TV3): GCSB Bill passes second reading
Tom Peters (WSW): New Zealand: Thousands protest domestic spying laws
Claire Trevett (Herald): Key terror claims under fire
Mike Treen (Daily Blog): Close Waihopai! Abolish the SIS!
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): With all due respect to ‘Si & Gazza’ in the morning…
Danyl MCLauchlan (Dim-Post): PR dilemma of the day
The Standard: John Key trashes the Constitution
Parliamentary press gallery surveillance
Vernon Small (Stuff): Thorn's silence will be broken at inquiry
Kirsty Johnston and Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Key backs top adviser over phone records scandal
Tim Watkin (Pundit): Who's to blame for the abuse on Andrea Vance?
Kate Shuttleworth (Herald): Parliamentary Service head Geoff Thorn resigns
Vernon Small (Stuff): Parliamentary Service boss resigns
Ben Uffindell (The Civilian): Key to confiscate nation’s phones for bad behaviour
No Right Turn: Head on a spike
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): A bit of rewriting history
Alasdair Thompson (Fair Point): Select Committee; Andrea Vance et al
Vernon Small (Stuff): Parliamentary Service boss resigns
David Kennedy (Local bodies): John Key Blame Shifter
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Head of parliamentary services resigns
Peter O’Neill (Timaru Herald): Editorial: We should be worried
The Standard: Key throws Thorn to the wolves
Keeping Stock: But what about the e-mails they wanted seized?
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Claims the former head of Parliamentary Service is a fall guy
Pete George (Your NZ): Thorn’s resignation – more revelations to come?
Peter Wilson and Laura McQuillan (Newswire): Parliamentary Service boss 'shafted' by PM
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Sights set on PM's top adviser
Pete George (Your NZ): Peters claims Fairfax and Beehive leaks
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): What no one gives a sh*t about press gallery journalists phone records except them
Military surveillance of media
Chris Trotter (Stuff): Media misses the real story
No Right Turn: SIS spies on journalists
No Right Turn: Keeping up with the Joneses
David Fisher (Herald): NZSIS has special protocol for spying on journalists
David Fisher (Herald): Families paid after SAS killings, film says
The Jackal (Daily Blog): Paintergate and other trivial matters
Labour and National housing policy
Gordon Campbell (Stuff): Labour turns to housing again
Brian Rudman (Herald): Bullying won't bring cheap homes
Traci Craig (Stuff): Labour 'threatens' Kiwi expat community
Paul Walker (Anti Dismal): And Econ 101 Dies
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): What about Kiwi property speculators?
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Will Labour demand James Cameron hand back his land?
Richard Meadows (Stuff): Jilted homebuyers will find a way
Sam Thompson (Newstalk ZB): Government copping flack over housing policies
Michael Fox (Stuff): Big increase in vacant state houses
Nelson Mail: Editorial: Foreign fishing bill needs overhaul
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): No exemptions for Maori quota
Michael Field (Stuff): Sealord faces $40m loss from failed firm
Peter Wilson and Laura McQuillan (Newswire): Minister blamed for meat blunder
Radio NZ: Ministry admits blame for meat hold-up
Pete George (Your NZ): Harawira – we pay $495 per day expenses
Isaac Davison (Herald): Harawira still top spender
Isobel Ewing (Stuff): Iwi opens arms on Treaty claims
Kate Shuttleworth (Herald): Treaty of Waitangi bills pass first reading
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Treaty settlements proceeding at Parliament
Brian Fallow (Herald): Attention on boosting services sector
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Attention on boosting services sector
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Something In The Coffee: A Satire
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Labour faction fight spills into mayoral campaign
Inequality, poverty, unemployment
Matthew Dallas (Manawatu Standard): Social services are running on empty
Ben Heather (Stuff): Taking the pulse of Kiwi teens
Andrew Geddes (Pundit): I'm not surprised at all and really, why should I be?
Pattrick Smellie (Stuff): Labour-Green electricity poster-child won't play ball
Keeping Stock: Poor Aaron
Johnny Moore (The Press): Time for us to demand return of democracy
Matthew Dallas (Stuff): Teaching should include all faiths
John Drinnan (Herald): Film benefits drift off plot
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): While the media were busy ‘being’ the story