The race for Auckland's ethnic communities

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 26 September 2016

Housing, immigration, homelessness, employment, public safety for new migrant Chinese and Indians living in the region ... just some of the pressing issues that Auckland's ethnic communities want answers to. Around two-thirds of new migrant, ethnic New Zealanders live in the Auckland region and the race for votes is on, but how much thought have mayoral candidates given to the needs of their ethnic communities?

Vic Crone and Phil Goff

Auckland mayoral candidates Vic Crone and Phil Goff Photo: RNZ

On a door knock campaign in the heart of Mt Roskill, Phil Goff is doing what he's done for three decades: Retail politics. As MP for New Zealand's most ethnically diverse electorate and a former Foreign Minister, he has a fearsome reputation for connecting with the country's new ethnic communities. 

And there's one issue that's as big with them, as it is with every other Aucklander: Houses and how much they cost.

"The Kiwi dream is to own a home. A young couple wanting to pay their mortgage will be paying ten times their household income to pay their mortgage off. For people at the bottom, they have nowhere to go at all. [Homelessness] is a disgrace for New Zealand."

"There needs to be a strong working relationship between local and central government to solve this housing crisis. Auckland City brought in the unitary plan changes so we can both move up and out. Central government has to come to the party; 60 percent of the price of the house is in the land. So what can council do? Make sure zoning is right, that we've got plenty of land to build on, that we take some of that pressure out of it, that we get building consents and resource consents processed quickly and efficiently, and hopefully more cheaply."

"The government's got to take some pressure off demand. It should stop foreign investment buying existing homes and forcing the prices up. You want to invest in a house from overseas? Build a new one, at least you're adding something to the community more than inflation." Phil Goff

At a cafe on the waterfront of the CBD, newcomer Vic Crone meets with RNZ's Tim Watkin. She's not phased by her seasoned opponent's Goff deep track record with ethnic communities, having worked across Asia and with many new arrivals to New Zealand in her management role at Xero.

"I come at it from a different angle, I've been working with ethnic communities more from the business perspective  for ten years now. I have a good feel for the New Zealand view but also a good feel for actually how vibrant these countries are internationally and how far they're progressing." Vic Crone

Vic Crone

Vic Crone Photo: RNZ/ Todd Niall

On the possibility of Auckland house prices falling; "It's a moot point. The only way they're going to fall is if there some sort of a global crisis which collapses the economy. We're 30,000 homes short and adding to that shortage by 5000 every year. We need to be focused on how to build more homes and more affordable homes. We need to open up more land, we need to abolish the urban limit that's artificially increasing the price of land, and we've got to get consenting moving a heck of a lot faster and we need to signal to the market we don't need big homes, the market needs more apartments, more town houses."

Crone says its back to the lack of supply that drives up the prices in Auckland and has promised to take on land bankers should she win, forcing them to 'use it or lose it'.

"Developers are being caught between land bankers and an extremely expensive trades market. It's about understanding each part."

She sees issues around foreign buyers as a necessary conversation with central government . "But we shouldn't lose sight of the primary way we fix housing. We need to get more houses built, we need to look at every single lever; look at empty homes, look at land banking, how to incentivize investors, working with central government."

"Given that I think that the government is looking at that, its more appropriate for them to keep doing that. Council has a lot to do in the housing space, lets get that underway and focus on that."

When asked whether some public sentiment blaming buyers from Asia for rising house prices is xenophobic, Crone says that Auckland has elements of racism:

"There are undertones of prejudice and bordering on racism in Auckland. Employers sometimes judging by the surnames, it's disappointing to see some of that behavior from our political leaders ... such as the comments by the Labour Party [by] picking peoples names as foreign buyers,  singling out Indian and Chinese chefs for example. That does not help towards a city that is inclusive of everybody. As leaders we need to do more, we need to build bridges." Vic Crone

But Goff is adamant that challenging issues with foreign buyers is not racist; "You shouldn't point the finger at any community. It doesn't matter whether the money comes from Chicago or Beijing. I'm not going to single out any ethnic community and blame them, [but] it doesn't make sense for us to allow existing homes to be sold to international investors that push up the price of the property but add not a single extra dwelling."

"You can't go to Shanghai or Singapore and buy a property if you don't live in that place. This is not about xenophobia at all, it's about common sense." Phil Goff

Our country has the highest inflow of workers and new residents of any OECD country. Is that wise? Or should we be turning down the tap? Crone's response: "Immigration is a cycle. We don't like it when [people leave] and we don't like it when there are too many people coming here. It's hard to get the balance right."

"I feel really strongly that we can't blame Auckland's lack of  infrastructure on new migrants. We've been under-investing in Auckland for decades and decades, so you can't blame immigrants." Vic Crone

"My focus would be on recognising that immigration is a cycle, how does Auckland council work with government to stand up the infrastructure that we need? We need to take accountability."

Goff's response is to urge the government to ease up on the inflow for the sake of sustainability.

"Immigration is good for a country, people that come here, come here to make a contribution, but you have to pace the rate at which immigration is happening." Phil Goff

"In the last year we've given out 207,000 temporary work visas for people to come here and work. I think we have to refocus the people we're giving temporary visas to and in terms of permanent residents, we ease the tap down a little bit, so it's sustainable. That's not xenophobic, that's what the Reserve Bank is calling for."

One area both contenders agree on; with a little over half of migrants who arrive in New Zealand staying on in Auckland, should more be done to urge people to move on? If so, what?

Crone says we are in danger of making many migrants feel unwelcome. "We're in danger of making many people who feel like Kiwis, who have been here for 5 to 15 years, feel part of a problem they haven't created themselves. I think its worth talking to the government about, but how much would we cut immigration by? Who are we going to cut?"

Goff reckons the government's attitude is contradictory. 

"The government's paying people in state housing $5000 to move out of the region and through another department they're paying them $3000 to move back to Auckland because that's where the jobs are. You can't have an artificial form of regional development, if the government could bring in a good form of regional development that was sustainable in the regions, I would be the first to say "Go to it!" We would be happy to share Auckland's growth with the rest of the country. That's why people want to live here. If you're a member of a smallish ethnic community, you're coming here to be a Kiwi but you're wanting to keep your culture and heritage alive. That's natural for any migrant group."

"You don't want to be the only person from a small ethnic group living in a town with no temple or mosque to go to, or with no cultural celebration that's important to you. So people naturally congregate where their cultures are, and that's more likely to be Auckland than not." Phil Goff

And as for the recent scandal over the $150,000 donation from Chinese Aucklanders at one of Goff's campaign events, Crone accuses him of hypocrisy; he's opposed to foreign buyers, but is happy to take money from new migrants.

But Goff won't have a bar of Crone's accusations, pointing out that the donation was from Chinese New Zealanders and that the money is being used appropriately.

"If people are trying to influence you they probably would not have done it live streamed with social media. Anything we raise for the campaign, we raise openly in the public eye, and we will meet all of the disclosure requirements of the electoral commission." Phil Goff

And when challenged like-wise, Crone says she too will meet the disclosure requirements of the electoral commission.