Cries of "racism" have surrounded Labour's release of data on the impact of foreign buyers on the Auckland property market. But what's really upsetting people?

When are numbers racist?

That's a question I've been pondering for more than a week now, since I first saw Labour's data on people buying houses in Auckland, leaked to them by someone at the city's largest real estate firm (given it accounted for 45% of the sales in a three month period, I can I can safely assume there is none bigger). House sales information records name, address, price, date and, well, not much more. Yet that sparse data set has sparked huge debate since Saturday, because of Labour's choice to breakdown the information by surname.

The data was three months of house sales in Auckland by a single firm – from February to April this year. It totalled 3922 sales, of which 39.5 percent were estimated to have been to people with ethnically Chinese names. The census shows Chinese New Zealanders make up nine percent of Auckland's population, so the key question out of all this is where that other 30 percent of sales comes from.

Could it be immigrants or multiple house-buyers? That could certainly account for some... but how much? Or is it mostly buyers living offshore?

The real politik is that any politician who releases 'race-based' information can expect to generate controversy; it's kicking a political wasps' nest. Labour knew perfectly well that, however they spun the message that they are concerned about all foreign buyers, this would be viewed by many as an attack on Chinese.

Yet it's been fascinating to watch this story unfold. Having spent some time looking hard at the data, it's been interesting to hear ill-informed comments from people who have obviously barely looked past the headlines and see the story spin and distort away from where it began.

Such is politics. Sigh.

So is this data racist? Those such as Keith Ng are taking issue with the numbers themselves as unreliable. Which they are, up to a point. Ethnicity and residency are, of course, totally different. But then he's attacking a strawman when he makes that case because no-one has said otherwise.

My response to that is that it's good to debate and question the data (and Keith's made a couple of very salient points), but the fact is this is as useful a bunch of numbers of foreign buyers as we have in this country, given that nothing else is collected. Given that it's a topic of significant public interest, surely even this snapshot is useful to throw more light on the issue, even if it turns out not to be indicative of the bigger picture.

Reportage of many public issues is done with a piece of imperfect information here and a fragment of the puzzle there; over time a picture builds up.

I don't think it's racist to ask those questions about why there's such a big gap between the ethnic Chinese population and this snapshot of house buying. So are people, instead, really criticising Labour's choice to release the information?

Because some are just throwing the "racist" label around – saying Labour is "making it about race" or "picking on the Chinese" – without seemingly knowing exactly what they are criticising, what the numbers show or how they were processed.

[Update: The Maori Party has put out a statement this afternoon in which co-leader Marama Fox says, "These types of campaigns are exactly what Māori communities have been faced with for decades.  It is never ok to discriminate against any person because of their race”. What is she talking about? Campaigns? Who's discriminating by race? Does she even know what the data shows?]

So let's break this down by asking a few questions.

Was it racist when, in 2013, Tony Alexander from BNZ released his estimate of foreign buyers in the Auckland market? He reckoned about 11 percent of sales were to foreign buyers and broke it down further according to country.

Is it racist to acknowledge that China is a country with a vast population and a rapidly growing investor class which has only recently been allowed to start investing significant amounts of money overseas? And one where you can't own land yourself? Because there are solid reasons why your analysis of China and its citizens' interest in New Zealand property could be quite different from any other country.

Is it racist to acknowledge that it is easier for foreigners to buy houses in New Zealand than many other countries, given we have no land tax, no stamp duty, no requirement to 'build to buy', and only a little bit of a capital gains tax?

Surely not.

So the question comes down merely to the choice to break that data down by surname... and to release it. The surname breakdown is undoubtedly provocative and questionable. For me, it's useful information; still I understand why people say they can hear the dog whistle. But equally, the analysis of surnames is not as hit and miss as many have tried to make it out.

Many are lazily saying Lees, for example, come from all sorts of backgrounds and how ridiculous is it to assume they're Chinese. Except that's not how the calculations work. The surname part of the equation was based on probability.

As it was explained to me, Lees were weighted as 48 percent likely to be European, 40 percent Chinese, 0.3 percent Maori and 0.9 percent Other. By contrast Lis were 96 percent likely to be ethnically Chinese. Different again, Hoteres were 89 percent probably Maori. And so on. Chinese names weren't singled out; it was just that surprisingly high 39.5 percent figure that stood out and was thus focused on.

Those percentages were based on the electoral roll.

Someone may be able to tell me how that is statistically unsound, but it doesn't sound irrational to me. And it certainly wasn't just a matter of looking at Chinese-ish surnames and saying "that's probably one". And it wasn't about picking out those who look different or aren't 'one of us'.

As for the conclusion that someone, least alone a political party, would receive this leaked information and not release it, well, that seem farcical. Some seem to be implying that because the data is only a snapshot, Labour should have binned it.

Let's be real: No party would do that, and neither should they. While far from perfect, these numbers help build a picture of an issue of public interest. Lots of evidence of a problem or issue only comes by piecing together pieces of partial information so you can get a sense of the whole.

So what I'm left with is the impression that people seem to be more offended by the size of the key 39.5 percent number than anything else.

If you don't believe me, as yourself this: If the percentage of buyers had been 10 percent or 20 percent, would we have seen the same commotion? Would this have been labelled racist in the same way?

Further, if an official foreign buyers register one days finds the same, or a similar, result, would that be considered racist?

Answer that question and I think we get closer to the truth.

Some, it seems, just don't like the result or the tension this issue – and now this data – creates. I agree that Labour opened the door to racial stereotyping, but I also think some of the strongest critics of the release have been doing the most stereotyping.

A debate about people's ethnicity and involving nationalism comes with risks and has to be had carefully, but that's no reason not to have it.

Comments (55)

by Tim Watkin on July 14, 2015
Tim Watkin

And interestingly the release already seems to have moved things along, as for the first time I'm aware the government is talking today about releasing the data on overseas buyers of rental properties that IRD will start collecting in October.

by Liam Hehir on July 14, 2015
Liam Hehir

Serious question: Say National engaged in this kind of racial profiling on a matter of controversey involving a historically persecuted New Zealand minority, do you think you could look your readers in the eye and say you would give that the same meandering justifications as we see here? Or would you be more likely to go striaght into "this is a dog whistle" mode.

There's also the hypocrisy issue. We crucify philandering social conservatives on the basis that they do not practice what they preach. Fair enough - but Leftwingers are very quick to accuse racially neutral statements of containing hidden racism. If the hypocrisy standard means anything, it means that the Left must be held to a higher standard when it comes to how its words and actions have the potential to offend minorities.

 

by Ben Curran on July 14, 2015
Ben Curran

As Liam points out - the left decrying the use of the race card by the right means that the left have a responsibility not to go there. Even, Labour opening the door to racial stereotyping, is ... exasperating. There's been talk of foreign buyers for ages now - the choice was either to wait until the data was gathered and then make legitimate statements about foreign buyers or launch themselves out of the gate with a bunch of statements that aren't neccesarily supported by the rather poor quality data they do have [let's wave our hands and say it's only approximate, that'll make it alright!],  so that they can grab a headline. They obviously went for the second option, which to my mind is not just opening the door to racial stereotyping, it's inviting it in for a cup of tea and a sit down. 

I'd begun to think that Little might actually turn Labour around, but if this is the direction it's going in ...

After all the shit we've had to put up with from Labour over the last several years, now this. It's all rather pathetic really. 

by Alan Johnstone on July 14, 2015
Alan Johnstone

Ethnic profiling is crude, the data may not be entirely robust, but that doesn't mean the conclusions from it are wrong. In fact, the overwhelming probability is that the conclusions are correct. 

Whilst you can't point at any individual sale and draw a conclusion from it, in meta terms you can pick out broad trends and extrapolate cause.

 

by Ben Curran on July 14, 2015
Ben Curran

Sure you can pick out a broad trend. Out this data though, extrapolating a cause is blowing hot air. Combine that with ethnic profiling (not just crude, wrong - if the Nat's did it, we'd be all over them, doesn't give the left the right to do it) and it's crude, offensive race baiting. 

by Keith Ng on July 15, 2015
Keith Ng

Further, if an official foreign buyers register one days finds the same, or a similar, result, would that be considered racist?

Answer that question and I think we get closer to the truth.

No, it's not racist, because an official register would count all offshore buyers - Chinese and non-Chinese alike - and it would not count any local buyers - even if they are New Zealanders with Chinese-sounding names.

Labour's 39.5% figure includes *ALL* local buyers with Chinese-sounding names, and includes *ONLY* offshore buyers with Chinese-sounding names.

I'm not sure how I can make my objections any clearer.

by Rob Salmond on July 15, 2015
Rob Salmond

@Keith. As you well know, the 39.5% figure is not presented - anywhere - as a measure of foreign ownership. Doesn't that make your critique of the figure kinda empty? 

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Rob, you might be able to clear this up for us, but I thought you ran all 3922 names through your algorithm, including the Jones and Hoteres and all. Or did you just pick out the Chinese sounding names?

by Eddie C on July 15, 2015
Eddie C

I watch in amusement as the white guys patiently lecture the Asian-NZer on What's Really Racist.

by Keith Ng on July 15, 2015
Keith Ng

What *is* the level of foreign ownership, Rob? 

You've presented this whole thing as an analysis on foreign ownership, but the only number you've produced is 39.5%. Isn't it Labour that's trying to pass off that Chinese sounding names figure as being a meaningful measure of foreign ownership? 

by Liam Hehir on July 15, 2015
Liam Hehir

Imagine if the US Republican Party analysed all felony indictments in California over a three-month period by reference to how many of the accused had "Latino" looking names. Let's say the data showed that a higher proportion of people with those names had been indicted that those with Northern European names and the GOP said that this pointed to a need to step of deportations.

How would bien pensant New Zealanders react to that news? Would they deny it was racial profiling?

by Rob Salmond on July 15, 2015
Rob Salmond

@Tim: I ran all surnames for all sales, and estimated eleven ethnicities for each name. The *data* showed ethnic Chinese purchasers as the demographic outlier, not me.

 

by Rob Salmond on July 15, 2015
Rob Salmond

@Keith: No, to my knowledge Labour has never tried to pass off the 39.5% number as a measure of foreign ownership. Never. Can you show me where we did that?

What is the true level of foreign ownership? I do not know, and have never claimed to have known. What I can say from the data is that the level of house buying by ethnic Chinese in Auckland is around four times as high as the level of living in Auckland by ethnic Chinese.

What explains that disconnect? I looked for wealth / income effects. I looked for immigration-absed effects. I looked for firm-specific effects. From the data I saw, I qualitatively conclude that those explanations are unlikely to explain this disconnect. I do not think the "coincidence theory," under which resident Chinese just happened to go on a house-buying bender for these three months from this one firm, to be persuasive. Which leads to the conclusion - consistent with a lot of the other evidence presented in other forums over a period of months - that there is significant foreign investment in Auckland real estate, including significant volumes from China.

In Bayesian trams, if my prior was there is pr(X) that there's lots of this investment coming out of China then, after seeing these data, my posterior is now pr(>X). That's all I've ever claimed, and I think that's all others in Labour have claimed, too.

by Keith Ng on July 15, 2015
Keith Ng

Really? What wealth data did you use? How you look for firm specific effects if you only had one firms data? 

by Rob Salmond on July 15, 2015
Rob Salmond

@Keith:

I address firm-specific effects in my PA post over the weekend.

I had better data on income than on wealth, to be sure. Income information was from 2013 census. One of the nuggets of wealth information I consulted was  from a slightly old study (2007) from StatsNZ showing the median asset base of ethnically European NZers was four times the median asset base of ethnically Asian NZers writ-large. (Yes, I know this is more than just ethnically Chinese. Happy to explain thinking more here if you like.) That level of disparity is most unlikely to disappear within a decade, meaning "greater wealth by ethnically Chinese residents than other ethnic groups" would really struggle to explain the observed house-buying patterns. 

by Frank Macskasy on July 15, 2015
Frank Macskasy

The real point here - and one that seems to have been glossed over - is that this government refuses point blank to implement a Foreign Buyers' Register.

It's not the first time they've refused to collect data - Paula Bennett's steadfast refusal to collect data on child poverty should still be fresh in our minds.

The reason for these refusals is fairly clearly; National knows that to collect data runs the risk of quantifying and acknowledging that a problem (I refuse to call it an "issue") exists.

That leaves a vacuum.

And as we all know, nature and politics abhor a vacuum.

In the absence of hard, verifiable, universal data, Labour's use of Real Estate information is about as good as it gets.

Is it racist/"racist"? That's not how I saw it. But then, context is everything. As is the agenda of use of this kind of information.

Is the agenda to smear an ethnic group (in this case Chinese)? Hmmm, that doesn't strike me as Labour's style. (NZ First or National - yes.)

Is the agenda to bring to the public attention a lack of official data on this problem and to attack the government for it's inaction? That seems more likely.

 

As for racial profiling, I refer folk to this very interesting item on Radio NZ this morning. It is extremely apropos, and may cast  the matter in new light; http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ntn/ntn-20150715-0921-straight_conversation...

 

Personally speaking, whilst the data released by Labour makes us uncomfortable, I doubt their agenda is a racist attack on Chinese. Their stategy is to  bring to the public attention the very real problem of foreign ownership of this country's finite resources. Whether they emanate from Boston, Beijing, or Berlin, is irrelevent.

 

Our focus should be on National and it's avoidance of setting up a Foreign Buyers' Register. What is their motivation? What are they hiding?

 

Finally, there are those  individuals who maintain that a property owner  has a freedom to sell to whomever s/he wants.

To which I reply;

(a) no such freedom exists. Freedom is not without boundaries, otherwise a cohesive society and commerce cease to exist.

(b) As i wrote on The Daily Blog *plug,plug*; This is about not allowing an older generation of home-owners flogging their houses off to the highest bidders from Beijing, Boston, or Berlin, at the expense of a younger generation who cannot hope to compete with millionaire investors from overseas.

Our parents and grandparents never had to compete with buyers from Berlin, Beijing, or Boston. So it baffles me why we have saddled our children with this colossal hurdle...

Our parents and grandparents never had to compete with buyers from Berlin, Beijing, or Boston. So it baffles me why we have saddled our children with this colossal hurdle. The only reasons that come to mind is greed and a misguided ideolological view of an unfettered right to sell to whomever.

- See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2015/07/11/why-labour-should-never-play-the-race-card/#sthash.pn5LPuoX.dpuf
by Frank Macskasy on July 15, 2015
Frank Macskasy

Hmmm, that link at the end of my post shouldn't be there. Came with a cut & paste . (Feel free to remove it, Tim.)

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

So Keith, official data would collect someone's nationality/residency, which this data doesn't. I get that and it's been absolutely clear that was its imperfection from its release. But I still don't understand which bit you think is racist? The imperfection of the data or the way Labour presented it?

Tell me if I'm wrong, but it still feels that you're angry about the result and the reaction to it, as much as the other points. Would you feel the same way if there had been a different result, such as many more European names?

And, you my have addressed this elsewhere, but are you saying because of the flaws you see in the data, should it not have been made public at all?

 

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Liam, as a journalist I tend to think the release of information is a good thing. This is limited, as I noted, but it's better than what we've had so far.

Ben, if Labour has made "a bunch of statements" that aren't supported by the data, I'd agree. But I haven't seen those. Show me what you mean and I might change my view.

They certainly risked some stereotyping as I acknowledged in the post, but I still don't see how the data is racist. And you say 'wait for the information to be gathered'. What information?

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Eddie, I think people of all ethnicities are allowed views on racism, even if they disagree. Your judgment would invalidate Susan Devoy's opinion, for example.

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Weird, Frank. Those final two pars don't exist when I try to edit. So sorry, can't tidy up. But the link may be interesting to folk, so all fine.

by Anne on July 15, 2015
Anne

Reas this and replace "Vancouver" with "Auckland"

http://www.factsandopinions.com/galleries/opinion-columns/jonathan-manth...

Note: Vancouver is being flooded with illegal money from China and the local media have been too afraid to report it. Why?  Read and find out.

 

by Anne on July 15, 2015
Anne

Oops... Read not Reas. An edit ability would be nice. :)

by Keith Ng on July 15, 2015
Keith Ng

Tim. They are not "flaws" or "imperfections". You keep using these words as if the data had a few errors. No.

It's fundamentally a dataset about race, and it's being used as a proxy for foreign ownership. That's what's racist about it.

by Ben Curran on July 15, 2015
Ben Curran

@tim The information that you pointed out that National has said it will be collecting as of sometime shortly. Surely waiting for actual data is better than waffling around with the data they have now. As for the statements from Labour, I'm referring to what I have seen as quoted from Labour on Scoop, the interview on the Nation, Stuff etc. I'm sorry, but yes I am conflating statements from Twyford with statements from Labour. The repetition of pointing disparity in the flakey statistics, whilst claiming it's not racist because statistics, as if that's a get out of jail free card.

You're obviously reading the same things as I am differently. If nothing else, our interpretations of what Keith's written over the past couple of days is wildly different - at no time have I been under the impression that he's been angry with the actual statistics (or if he is, it's the statistician part of him). I'm very much reading his work as anger at the use of, at best, preliminary, exploratory data being used in political discussions around race - an area the left at least, should know is a delicate area at the best of times. 

Fine, Labour have some statistics. Those statistics can be used well ['hey everybody, we've got some preliminary data which indicates there might a disparity between foreign and domestic buyers in the property market, can we have someone collecting proper data please'] or they can be used ... poorly ['look everybody, it's those rich Chinese people]. 

 

@Rob - asking Keith to show where the 39.5% was presented as a figure of foreign ownership for one when he'd made no such claim -

"Labour's 39.5% figure includes *ALL* local buyers with Chinese-sounding names, and includes *ONLY* offshore buyers with Chinese-sounding names."

I'm going presume that wasn't a wilful misreading on your part. It does make that response to his critique look ... weak at best. 

 

@Frank - it's not the real point. It's one of the points. There are two points in this whole debacle. One is that we're not collecting data on foreign ownership as you say. I think I tend to agree with you regarding the competition form overseas. Though from what I understood from Tim's fist comment, was that the information is going to be collected.   The other point, is Labour's use of it. Some of us, appear to be a long, long way past giving them the benefit of the doubt as you have. 

 

Pretty much every defence that I see of Labour using this dataset in the way have feels very much like it could be boiled down to "What, us? Say something racist, no, we it couldn't be, we're the good guys. It must be okay because y'know, statistics" alongside what appears to be an aversion to examining ones own behaviour and the effect it has on other parts of society. 

 

by Alan Johnstone on July 15, 2015
Alan Johnstone

@Rob, Can you please publish your full data set for all 11 ethnic groups ?

An excel file would be great if possible.

Thanks

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Keith, how about "incomplete" then? But seriously I say "imperfect" because I think it's useful as far as it goes, but obviously doesn't go terribly far. What I've said a lot is that it's a snapshot. But it's also you're saying that the doesn't contain errors or is wrong, you just disagree with Labour matching it against the electoral roll on the basis of ethnicity, right? I get that, but still think it's a piece of information worth chewing over.

I think what you're saying is that Labour was racist to do that analysis and to release it. But I still think the analysis tells us something useful. And I'm a bit frustrated by those (I don't think you) who seem to be saying you can only release perfect, fully realised data and information that doesn't upset people. Getting a full picture often involves reporting on bits of the puzzle at a time. Crikey, Dirty Politics didn't tell the whole story, vilified some people without getting their side of the story and was based on fragments of information. But it's still useful to help understand the wider issue.

I know it's a loose comparison, but it's an example of how reportage is based on imperfect pieces.

Oh, and I'd say it's fundamentally a dataset about house sales, being used as a proxy for foreign ownership. So agree with half your point there.

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Hi Ben. Yes we're reading the same things differently, then.

I see the reaction has been about 'Look it's rich Chinese people", but that's not what Labour are saying. But hey, I quite agree that Labour knew what it was doing and that we'd get to the 'Look it's the rich Chinese people' place. I just still think it's important to figure out why Auckland house prices are what they are, and be willing to look honestly.

I mean, if the official data shows "it's the rich Chinese people", we're going to have to figure out what to do with that information without descending into a race debate.

As for the information, IRD will be collecting some data as of October. National's been opposed to that and you could argue it's only due to campaigning from NZF and Labour with stories such as these that has prompted that. But thing is, there's no clarity whether the data will be made public or not. So there's no guarantee there will be anything to wait for.

Still, a register has become a holy grail. But the real thing is what to do with the info once we get it.

by Lee Churchman on July 15, 2015
Lee Churchman

We crucify philandering social conservatives on the basis that they do not practice what they preach. Fair enough - but Leftwingers are very quick to accuse racially neutral statements of containing hidden racism

This statement appears to be confusing "the left" with the sort of identity politics wowsers who post on Public Address. I agree with that they always make these accusations, and I can't stand that (or their sanctimonious attitudes) myself.

Part of it is, I think, the postmodern view that there are no facts, only perceptions. The adoption of this view by certain, highly audible sectors of the left would explain the abandonment of realism in favour of worrying endlessly about words and perceptions. I mean, let's not worry if people can actually afford a house when we can worry about what people might think about people not being able to avoid a house... ugh..

by Lee Churchman on July 15, 2015
Lee Churchman

@Keith

It's fundamentally a dataset about race, and it's being used as a proxy for foreign ownership. That's what's racist about it.

It's not racist to do that. I could run the same kind of analysis on the university records of engineering students to see how Chinese student achievement compared to that of other students. Or I could use the same sort of analysis to estimate how many foreign Chinese students are enrolled at New Zealand universities. 

As has been pointed out, there is no other data, and this is something we need to know about. For the record, I suspect that there is a hefty amount of property investment from the UK and Australia, but there's no way of picking that up using an analysis of names. It would have been preferable to have more data, but we don't have that data. It would be more reasonable to make accusations of racism if much better overall data existed, but the Labour Party had chosen to focus only on Chinese investors. They did so because there was no other option.

by Keith Ng on July 15, 2015
Keith Ng

because I think it's useful as far as it goes, but obviously doesn't go terribly far.

Useful how? What does it tell you?

by Danyl Mclauchlan on July 15, 2015
Danyl Mclauchlan

One of the funny things - for me - about all this talk of statistical analysis, is that Labour's findings are exactly the kind of thing I did during my early years doing computational biology. I'd run up to the head of my research group and say 'I've analysed X. And if you combine it with Y it heavily implies Z!' 

And they'd say, 'Yes. It does. You're probably right. But you could also be totally wrong, and unless you can discount that' - scientists call this a null hypothesis - 'Your work is unpublishable and you've wasted your time.' 

The null hypothsis in this case is that the buyers in Labour's dataset could all be New Zealand citizens who happen to have 'Chinese sounding last names'. Labour can't show that they aren't. All they can say is that they think it's unlikely. That's their gut feeling. But if we're talking about statistics you can't just suddenly switch to your gut feeling when you can't defend your findings. 

Now, political parties don't HAVE to observe scientific standards when they're going public with a story. But maybe they should when the story has a strong racial component, like this one, and when their claim that they're NOT being racist is that they're just being science and using statistics, but they have no actual claim to statistical validity. 

 

by Lee Churchman on July 15, 2015
Lee Churchman

And they'd say, 'Yes. It does. You're probably right. But you could also be totally wrong, and unless you can discount that' - scientists call this a null hypothesis - 'Your work is unpublishable and you've wasted your time.' 

In that sort of case the government isn't actively preventing you from collecting data that would clarify the situation. In cases where better data isn't available, educated guesswork is the norm. e.g. interpreting the fragmentary evidence for the views of presocratic philosophers.

by Lee Churchman on July 15, 2015
Lee Churchman

It would be interesting to know what people's criteria for an utterance being racist are. I suspect many believe something along the lines of "whatever someone who is the subject of the utterance thinks is racist".

by william blake on July 15, 2015
william blake

Lee speaking as an identity politics wowser, I would define a racist is someone who anticipates someone's behaviour by the fact of someone's race, usually in negative terms but sometimes weirdly positively like "all Chinese are good at maths." As in they know with mathematical certainty how much bullshit is going down.

As for your own good self I have come up with a suitable label based on the opinions you have expressed here.

by Liam Hehir on July 15, 2015
Liam Hehir

What data is the government actively preventing people from gathering at present?

by Lee Churchman on July 15, 2015
Lee Churchman

I would define a racist is someone who anticipates someone's behaviour by the fact of someone's race, usually in negative terms but sometimes weirdly positively like "all Chinese are good at maths.

Sigh... Not a good answer. 

by Lee Churchman on July 15, 2015
Lee Churchman

@Liam

What data is the government actively preventing people from gathering at present?

It's been said all over the place on various sites that Labour has been calling for official gathering of such data for ages (Rob Salmond says this somewhere, I think), but that the government won't do so. I accept that this might not be active prevention, although it might still be wilful negligence, so I'll withdraw the "active prevention" claim, although it's still the case that there doesn't seem to be better publicly available data than that Rob used. 

by Katharine Moody on July 15, 2015
Katharine Moody

I also think some of the strongest critics of the release have been doing the most stereotyping.

Indeed this is one of the most odd things about much of the argument - take this for example;

I guess they've decided that Winston really is heading for the exit, and are trying to position themselves to grab his 200,000 dead white racist voters.

http://norightturn.blogspot.co.nz/2015/07/sounds-like-racism.html

It's not only agist and a sweeping generalisation about everyone voting for NZ First being 'white' (WP, the person, did just win Northland as well), but down right mean to the elderly, no matter what their political preferences.

If this type of comment reflects some particular faction of 'the left' in NZ - they are better off without them.

by barry on July 15, 2015
barry

I think the Analysis of the data is sound.  It doesn't prove anything and it only points to the need for better data to prove something.  Which is about all that Rob has claimed for it.

The problem is that data doesn't exist in a vacuum.  In this case we are talking about an identifiable ethnic group which is already the subject of much muttering.  A lot of talk-back callers can't distinguish between resident and non-resident Chinese (or Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, ....) and they express resentment about apparent wealth.

The actual data analysis is lost in the background.  People see in the reportage what they want to see.

On one hand people are saying "see! it is them that mean we can't buy houses"

On the other hand people say "cheap use of the race card".

Logic can't win in situations like this.

by Liam Hehir on July 15, 2015
Liam Hehir

@Lee:

The government hasn't prohibited anyone from collecting the data. instead, the data has been impossible to collect. How would it be collected?

Because of new tax reforms, the government should be able to compile the data in the future. 

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Lee, I think you make some good points, especially about perception and reality. Several people on Twitter today have called about the "collateral damage" suffered by Chinese New Zealanders. I'm not exactly sure who these damaged people are. If there are examples of Chinese New Zealanders being damaged because of this data, I'll withdraw and apologise. But I'm not hearing examples of anyone being abused or of any protests or of any hate speech or this giving permissions for racists to be more racist or any negative generalisations about Chinese New Zealanders from anyone.

This isn't Orewa, when negative generalisations were made based on race. There have been no Lockwood Smith type generalised slurs about "little hands". There's nothing in this data that says "Chinese are all X or Y" or that there's anything pejorative about being ethnically Chinese. All it's saying is that offshore Chinese people may be buying quite a lot of New Zealand houses and that's hurting the NZ economy. That's not a racist analysis.

Some have been genuinely offended and that's never good. Some people make generalisations about "the Chinese" and may misuse this data. (But then some people may have heard the clear distinction made between NZers of all ethnicities and offshore buyers made in the reportage and be educated). But I'm yet to be convinced this has harmed race relations in this country in any tangible way.

There are legitimate questions about the quality of the data. But anger at the perception seems to have overwhelmed the reality that nothing damaging has actually happened. If it has or does, I stand to be corrected.

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Liam, "impossible to collect"? Other countries have foreign buyers registers. Even Nick Smith has never said it's impossible, just that it would cost "mega millions" and would be a waste of time and money.

by william blake on July 15, 2015
william blake

Ok Lee, how do you define racism.

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2015
Tim Watkin

Keith, the headline for me from the start was that while the ethnically Chinese population of Auckland is 9%, in three months this year and covering a significant 45% of all Auckland sales, 39.5% of those who bought houses could be estimated to be of Chinese descent. Roughly 40% of the buyers had European surnames, yet they are a much higher proportion of the Auckland population.

It made me ask – why the big gap between the 9 and the 39.5? And I had the privilege of asking that on TV, as you know, pushing hard on whether this could be explained by multiple buyers, by immigrants and more. At the end of it, I felt those explanations diminished the numbers, but by no means blew them out of the water and the gap was still concerning and worthy of further reportage. Sadly little further reportage on the substance of just who is buying has occurred, because this has been distorted into a race row, often by people (unlike you) who hadn't looked at the data and seen where the European and Indian and other names ranked on the lists and who accepted at face value the claims for other politicians who said the numbers came from 'picking on people with Chinese sounding names', which does Rob, the two Herald statisticians and the journalists involved a disservice.

It is only a snapshot of three months and one firm, and that snapshot may not match the picture over the long-term. It is an estimate based on an imperfect, but not irrational, proxy of surnames. It adds to another, existing data set based on ethnicity produced two years ago by a bank economist. It contradicts a long-held government line about house buying in Auckland that has increasingly seemed to be at odds with anecdotal evidence. And so it raises questions about how many offshore buyers really are buying in Auckland, something that is having a practical and serious impact on the New Zealand economy and people's ability to be part of something important – a home-owning democracy. Only questions and only one piece of a puzzle. But important questions.

But the data does not demean any ethnicity. It makes no sweeping generalisations about people's characteristics according to their ethnicity. The numbers were not invented or crafted by a spin doctor (although they were exploited by some).

I have always accepted that it was a provocative act by Labour and was certain to stir a backlash. But I now finding myself defending it more than I ever expected or intended to because the irrationality and over-reaction of the response makes no sense to me and seems a distortion of where this began. And because I think it's very dangerous to say that information shouldn't be released and rigorous debates shouldn't be had because some people are offended.

Ultimately, it tells me a little more than saying nothing would have.

by DeepRed on July 16, 2015
DeepRed

Here's a more personal viewpoint from a 6th-gen Canto.

A long-time family friend of mine - who's a bit of a hunting-fishing-shooting 'Waitakere Man' type - moved to Auckland several years back after graduating with a post-grad science degree, since it was the only place he could get work with it. At the time he split his votes between Labour & Greens, but several years of the Auckland rat race have made him somewhat bitter and cynical, and I don't blame him.

He now votes for Winston Peters, and whenever we meet up, the Auckland rat race thing often enters the conversation, including the housing bubble and immigration levels. From such conversations, he's very much the target market for Phil Twyford's numbers game.

by Lee Churchman on July 16, 2015
Lee Churchman

@Tim.

I pretty much agree with everything you say. Seems to me that most bigotry in NZ is angry people who are all talk. I've found that when people say dumb, mean things about gays, it's worth asking them what they think the criminal penalty for homosexuality should be. They inevitably recoil at the suggestion that it should be officially punished. Similarly, even people who moan about Chinese people buying too many houses would almost certainly balk at the suggestion of racially targeted laws aimed specifically at those of Chinese ethnicity. It's still unacceptable prejudice, but it's not the sort of deep seated racism you find in some other countries. 

I personally have no problem with foreigners buying NZ houses, as long as they up sticks and become NZ citizens or permanent residents. They are most welcome here in that case. Besides, it would be hypocritical of me to complain anyway, given that my parents were immigrants.

by Lee Churchman on July 16, 2015
Lee Churchman

Ok Lee, how do you define racism.

I would worry about yours, as it would appear to class things like philhellenism and philosemitism as racism, which, even if we think are odd attitudes, don't really seem to be racist. 

Offhand, I'd say that racist beliefs are beliefs that treat race as a morally relevant difference where doing so is both unwarranted and has detrimental results for the people identified as belonging to that race. That seems general enough to cover most cases, whilst allowing for treating people differently when justified (such as Tay Sachs screening for Ashkenazi Jews).

by Liam Hehir on July 16, 2015
Liam Hehir

@Tim

You misunderstand. Based on how the land transfer system has worked in this country since forever, how would the government instantly tabulate the proportion of land owned by foreigners? Answer: it's impossible (short of undertaking some kinds of Doomsday Book exercise). To blame National for not having set up a register of foreign owners instantly just because this is the latest shiny object to capture the media's attention is pretty lame.

by Tim Watkin on July 16, 2015
Tim Watkin

Liam, I didn't realise you were talking about past sales. Yes, short of a Domesday book (sorry, I'm a sub at heart) it would be hard to get that past data. Though hardly impossible.

But assuming you haven't had your head down a rabbit hole for the past decade (using your image there for a cheap gag!) you must realise this is hardly "the latest shiny object". It has been debated for the past two elections at least and Winston's been banging in about it for ages. I did research for an ABC (Australia) programme on foreign land buying in NZ, oh, maybe six years ago. It was more about productive land than houses, but govt agencies back then told me they didn't keep a record of land sales, but some were suggesting that they should. And there were stories at the time suggesting around 2% of NZ's productive land was being bought by foreigners each year, though those really were guesses.

So let's not pretend this is a new issue; the govt could have at least five years of data to report by now and there's nothing stopping them starting one now.

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