21 Jul 2015

Labour housing campaign raised on China trip

2:07 pm on 21 July 2015

The Finance Minister says Labour's use of real estate data to highlight the impact of Chinese buyers on the Auckland housing market was raised with him during his trip to China last week.

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Finance Minister Bill English Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

However, Labour leader Andrew Little was making no apology for the way his party has handled the issue, saying sometimes politicians have to make tough decisions.

Labour has used a list of surnames leaked from a real estate company to assert foreign Chinese buyers have a significant presence in the Auckland market and are driving up prices.

Finance Minister Bill English said though the matter was not raised by the Chinese during official meetings, it was brought up informally.

"There was a bit of background comment, not so much about whether it's an issue because all around the world there's issues about the rise in prices of housing in our big cities, in a number of places and discussion about the role of Chinese buyers in that, so that's not new.

"There were a few comments about the tone a bit that it seemed pretty, more hard edged than in most places."

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Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Andrew Little said he had a responsibility to release the sales figures

"And yeah, the easiest thing would have been to say, gee, I don't want to be embarrassed by some nasty criticisms about this.

"It's a compelling story and yep we'll just carry on receiving the messages and the emails from the parents and the young aspiring home buyers who cannot get into their own home who know they've been outbid by people on the end of the phone in foreign countries.

"And yep we'll just ignore all that because I'd rather just have a comfortable life."

Mr Little said he was aware of the reaction the story might provoke, when Labour decided to release the figures and the surnames, and that he would be concerned if individual Chinese in New Zealand felt they have been singled out because of their ethnicity.

He also said he was not going to withhold important information to avoid annoying the Chinese government.

Mr Little said he has had some feedback from Chinese members of the Labour Party, concerned about the way the debate has unfolded.

"They've expressed concern about the way the debate has been conducted - it wasn't about what we have done or said or the way we've conducted the debate.

"They've expressed concern about the way the debate has been conducted in other quarters and some, because of their own self interest and their political ambitions and leanings and what have you, have stirred up the element of race.

"And that's what happens in New Zealand, that's the way some debates get conducted."

Mr Little is due to meet with the Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand soon and says he does expect the matter to be raised in that meeting.

And he has a trip planned to China later this year where he said he would test what Mr English has been saying.