Horrified and shocked-she isn’t the only one

Horrified and shocked….and she isn’t the only one…

This isn’t the New Zealand our parents and grandparents lived in *– and we’re certainly not the better for it. So isn’t it high time we started holding to account the politicians who’ve been so very largely responsible for this, and for the fact that many New Zealanders are now finding it difficult to afford living here in what is – (or was?)  – our own country? It’s not a good sign when those returning from the UK, for example, comment on how much more expensive everything is now – food, electricity, very basic living costs. Even more crucially, we now have the least affordable houses of any country in the world in relation to income – although we all remember Prime Minister John Key blatantly denying there was even a housing shortage in Auckland. How could he have not known?http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11622932

So perhaps it’s not surprising that PM John Key has been so very keen to get rid of the flag that they* and we have long lived under…the one flying over us all. John Key wanted the Union Jack removed, and apparently, the politicized Chinese with whom he gets on so very well agreed with him. Of course. But not Hong Kong Chinese, fighting for basic freedoms against their predatory neighbour. Hong Kong Chinese apparently value the Union Jack, saying it represents the freedoms they had under the British and no longer have, and that it expresses the difference in values between Hong Kong and its over-authoritarian Communist government. All the nonsense talked by Key and parroted by the inner circles of government about New Zealanders “needing to discover our national identity” and “our own place in the world” is basically manipulation. How many of us go to sleep fretting about our national identity?

 Mind you, as it’s increasingly not being seen as our own country any more, this question is going to be raised – but not as the PM apparently wants. We pretty well knew our own place in the world – in fact we owned our own place. But do we now? Increasingly New Zealanders feel that we don’t.  Nor will many of us have been impressed by learning that Key also sent a text to former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw (whom we’ve recently seen in an advertisement  for an Australian-owned bank) and his team-mate, Dan Carter, asking them to watch his video promoting a flag change. Whether this is appropriate behaviour for a Prime Minister, and whether sporting figures would be wiser to refrain from being lured into looking too close to powerful politicians is another issue.

The PM, of course, has his devoted cheerleaders among the media, so perhaps it’s not so extraordinary as it would otherwise be that we can guarantee many of them are managing not to look too closely at the essentially vulgar antics which have been his trademark at a personal level.  However,  more worryingly, what should be a proudly independent fourth estate manages to pretty well look the other way and to barely, if at all, mention  happenings which are so extraordinary that they should have us all shocked and horrified – not just the individual who heard, second-hand, of the one below. It has been, culpably, so little reported that we should be doubly grateful to Senior Herald reporter, David Fisher, for making us aware that the Prime Minister was the guest of honour at a private fundraising lunch held at an Auckland Chinese restaurant. The point is that it was hosted by the Change the Flag lobby group to raise cash from wealthy Chinese donors who supported the flag change. A small handful of National’s MPs were there, too.

 It was all to fund a last-minute push for votes, including a pamphlet to send out just days before the voting started. This small, exclusive lunch was not publicly advertised, and the Change the Flag chairman, Lewis Holden, confirmed not the names of the donors, but that over $100,000 was raised for the entire campaign. He admitted that some was donated by the Chinese donors who wanted the Union Jack gone from the New Zealand ensign.  “We knew there was support in the Chinese community because of the Union Jack, “Mr Holden commented – naively, some would say.

In January,  Taiwan elected its first female president after a furore just before Election Day when a 16 year old Taiwanese singer for a girl band was forced to give a forlorn apology for holding a Taiwanese flag on a TV show. China has refused to allow the 7.2 million people of Hong Kong a free vote next year on deciding who will lead the city. And reportedly,  an uproar in Hong Kong over the disappearance of five dissident booksellers believed to be in the hands of the Chinese security services has also understandably a had huge impact on public opinion in Taiwan.

This of course, is typical behaviour from a brutal Communist régime which imprisons, tortures and even executes dissidents (let alone its continued opposition to Chinese Christians, and its appalling record of “farming” the Falun Gong to forcibly remove their organs for live transplants organs. Not that New Zealand ever officially and publicly protests – any more than many countries similarly turned a blind eye to the appalling and barbarous treatment that Nazi Germany showed to its Jewish population, in World War 11. And yet, does or does not a country have a moral responsibility to make its views publicly known about a trade partner’s oppression of its own people? Is it okay to just look away, to pretend it isn’t happening or doesn’t really count?

My Holden should have specified that he was referring only to the increasingly large Communist Chinese community in this country. Other long-settled Chinese in New Zealand would not only disagree (including a highly respected academic  who protested in his youth at the butchery of Tiananmen Square) but are deeply concerned at the influence that Communist Chinese interests are apparently having on our National Party government, dominated by its acknowledged authoritarian leader. In fact, Mr Holden admitted he was pretty surprised that John Key agreed to come. Concerned New Zealanders who have been asking what is happening to this country, and why we have the state we are now in, are not all surprised. After all, the buck stops at the top.

Interestingly enough, too, back in November, 2015,  a Facebook user John Miller spotted another flag design – one of those proposed – appearing on the labelling for New Zealand apples in Shanghai. He asked, “Do the Chinese know something about the outcome of our flag referendum that we don’t know yet? http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11550261 The same flag was reported as being flown at a butcher’s shop in the United Arab Emirates. Somebody must have been pretty certain that the flag change was a done deal.

Three cheers for the New Zealanders who got the whiff, from somewhere, of a decaying rat, and put a stop to this attack on a heritage we can be proud of, in spite of all the unfair, and highly suspect, disparaging of colonialism.  As Hong Kong can testify, and as other African nations show us, it’s a wise observation that there are far worse things than colonisation, and that post-colonisation is apparently one of them.

Similar to the Prime Minister’s former denial of any problem with the Auckland current housing market has been his repudiating any connection with the uncontrolled immigration flooding the country. The migration influx is breaking all records with, as reporter Hamish Rutherford informs us, the net gain last year being equivalent to a city the size of Nelson. In one year alone…

John Key’s simplistic assertion that unrestricted immigration is of economic benefit to the country has long been disproved. So why does he keep repeating it? As Westpac senior economist Anne Boniface says, record immigration “is helping to maintain a semblance of strong economic growth but the preponderance of people in the labour market is keeping wage growth lower than would otherwise be”. And of course it is the unprecedented demand for housing from those flooding into the country, plus the ability of far more wealthy immigrants to outbid New Zealanders for our own houses, which has us at crisis point – although the government of course is not acknowledging this. Nor is the building of new houses anywhere near able to compensate for the extraordinary demand, not with virtually 68,000 in the year ended in February this year.

The result is not only a dramatic shortage of houses but of decent jobs (some now observably preferentially offered to Chinese workers paid less by Chinese business owners and employers). The flow-on effect includes shortages not only of housing – and of wealthy property investors outbidding New Zealanders to rent back what should be their own houses to them. There’s now an unprecedented exodus to the provinces with a leap of house-buying driving house prices outside Auckland up beyond the reach of local residents.  Pressure has increased on land, on hospitals and all other social services

So the questions are being asked: Why is National, under its leader, John Key, more interested in protecting the interests of potential NZ migrants and offshore investors – over and above the large and growing number of Kiwis priced out of the market?  The comments keep coming…that  National has been in Government for 9 years and it has the power to effect change, but that it wilfully does not because John Key thinks that rising house prices are good politics. But if it isn’t being brought home to more and more New Zealanders that it is shameful for our government to protect the interests of people who don’t even live here – above those of New Zealanders themselves -then it should be.

But is there more to all this than a seemingly naïve National Party leader having his own way?  In the real world, where the uber-wealthy are looking for bolt-holes to escape the increasing scrutiny of their governments, New Zealand has long been viewed as a ripe plum ready for the picking. Super-rich overseas owners, with obliging specialists lawyers to hand,  have already hoovered up our high country sheep stations and farms, some owning multiple properties, including our scenic assets and, seemingly whatever takes their fancy  (in spite of the OIO’s supposed scrutiny of the value of these land grabs to New Zealanders).

It doesn’t take anything more than commonsense to take on board the fact as more and more of our farms, our land and our houses are bought up by immigrants or pass into overseas ownership, more and more New Zealanders are being squeezed out of owning these. It’s a depressing scenario for the dairy sector as banks face possible billions in write-offs. John Key admits that low dairy prices may see banks facing losses with farmers forced to sell, but, in a cavalier fashion dismisses the prospect  – “as normal for businesses”.

This sort of pragmatism, an indifferent approach to those facing the devastating prospect of losing their family farms and homes, walks past the point of who is going to be in a position to actually buy the land – particularly when the Reserve Bank states that under its severe scenario it is unclear whether there would be sufficient cash among buyers to absorb the added number of farms which would inevitably be put up for sale. Unclear in relation to New Zealand buyers, perhaps, but there is no shortage of finance from Chinese sources. 

While a number of foreign nationals have been busy acquiring what they can, more or less under the radar, it is the very real threat to our sovereignty from Communist Chinese interests underpinning Chinese investment which is most ominous.

A  Financial Times article of March 2016 by Lucy Hornsby – The Great Land Rush: China’s Pengxin hits overseas hurdles – points to the marketing of “Theland” with “where cows gaze on emerald grass below white clouds shaped like New Zealand”.  It makes the point that Pengxin, “a little-known Shanghai real estate developer that owns Theland, will become the world’s largest private landowner if Australia’s authorities clear its most ambitious bid yet, to gain control of the grazing lands of the S Kidman & Co cattle empire. That, plus holdings in New Zealand, makes Pengxin the boldest of Chinese corporations investing in land, and has helped trigger a backlash.

It continues: “The financial Times, in a series of reports, is examining governments’ and private investors’ increasing interest in grand scale land deals. With the commodity supercycle ending, land – the ultimate resource – could either become the next big thing or the source of cross-border disputes… In November, Australia blocked the A$350 million sale on security grounds”. But there are further complications.

“Pengxin’s bid for Kidman draws on its experience as China’s largest land investor in New Zealand.” However, (reportedly) “its expansion there has reached a limit only months after it announced plans to double its Kiwi assets to NZ$1bn, or 50 farms. In reply to written questions from the FT, Terry Lee, the president of overseas investment for Pengxin, wrote that “investing in New Zealand farmland…has been more challenging than we thought. “

This is excellent news and is no doubt due to those very few reporters and columnists to whom New Zealanders owe a  great deal for their spotlighting  of these issues –  as well as to those  who have been asking the questions that our government would apparently prefer not to answer.

What the Financial Times also noted was the understandable rising resentment in this country “after property documents, leaked to New Zealand media, showed buyers with Chinese surnames accounted for half the purchases of Auckland homes worth more than NZ$1m.” Meanwhile, in Australia. Canberra is reviewing foreign investment rules, and has cut the threshold for approval of foreign acquisitions of rural land from A$252m to A$15m. Moreover, a new registry of foreign-owned agricultural land goes public this year. Already, in Australia, there is much more scrutiny of foreign investors wanting to buy Australian housing stock, and each application must undergo appropriate review.

The paper further states that “as China’s urban sprawl consumes and pollutes farmland, Beijing has given tacit blessing to agricultural investment overseas.” This is a considerable understatement. As a 60 Minutes programme pointed out, Chinese investors are being financially equipped by the Chinese government to buy up as much in the way of productive farmland, stock, and business fed by this industry – as well as means of transport, including shipping – for the benefit of China alone.  “Australia and New Zealand are top destinations because foreigners can own land outright, but resentment over Chinese investors buying residential property has curdled the political environment.”

In the eyes of New Zealanders it hasn’t curdled it enough, given that the government has not moved to protect New Zealanders from being disadvantaged in our own land. Moreover, as one of the three primary obligations of government is the defence of the realm, it can be legitimately argued that the government is failing in its responsibility to defend New Zealanders from these takeovers. Why, it is increasingly asked, can foreigner still buy up own land outright? Why is it is still being allowed to happen? Reportedly, wooing Maori sellers and flying well-heeled Chinese tourists around New Zealand has paid well for those promoting sales of our assets.

 It can also be legitimately argued that enthusiastically promoting Chinese tourism may be working to our own disadvantage, for obvious reasons. The fact, too, that Pengxin is reportedly building its own integrated dairy business,  is a direct challenge to our already struggling Fonterra, our major dairy exporter upon whom thousands of New Zealand farmers depend. No wonder that global market forces are coming into conflict with local populations, given the fact that nobody is making more land (except, in fact, the Communist Chinese, arousing disquiet through their aggressive military expansions – as well as through attempts to circumvent  legal requirements within a host country) .

Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese studies at King’s College London, points out that China is a real problem for Australia and New Zealand – with its huge markets growth potential and very real needs. His warning is timely, namely, that underneath “China remains alien in terms of fundamental values and political beliefs”.

The implications are  clear, and as has been well stated, those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. The lesson of the Trojan horse  – Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentesI fear the Greeks,  especially when they are bringing gifts  is to all intents and purposes ignored by the John Key government enthusing over a damaging flood of  immigration and a level of foreign investment which threatens our own productive economy.

 A recent National Business Review editorial points out Chinese companies have so far this year bought more foreign companies than during the whole of last year. “In the past few years, most of the interest has been in agri-business. Recent deals in New Zealand have included dairy farms and factories, meat companies and horticultural ventures as well as companies such as PGG Wrightson…The Chinese are also seeking high technology companies but this is proving difficult…the wave of purchases has spread to the hospitality sector and entertainment.”

An additional NBR editorial, discussing the revelations of the Panama Papers, notes that a third of the business of a law firm involved has been in helping Chinese clients ship their money overseas and out of reach of the Communist regime.  A BBC report “How China’s wealth is sneaked abroad”, implicates New Zealand “as a major target for a property-buying spree totalling US$ 32 billion around the world last year. “ A featured comment will have resonated with many: “The government should be embarrassed by this – not only have they turned a blind eye to the Communist Chinese money coming into NZ (despite the anti-money laundering rules), they have allowed the Auckland property market to be grossly inflated by a Chinese investors.”

Where to from here? The lesson from all this is that China is trouble. Not only are its Communist values in direct contrast to those of the democratic West, it is notorious for its electronic spying, including attempting to hack into government and defence security systems. This of course, will predictably, include our own – a fact which raises the question: What was former left-leaning Prime Minister Helen Clark thinking when she allowed, in fact welcomed  a procession of top-ranking Chinese military officials coming to be shown around New Zealand – inspecting our military bases, our equipment and familiarising themselves with our obvious inability to defend this small country?  Does anyone really believe she was simply ignorant of Communist China’s ambition in this area? If not, what was her motive in doing so?

And now, at the very time when concern about Chinese military aggression in the Pacific has America considering setting up military bases in Australia, it needs to be far more widely known that that late in 2015, National ’s Defence Minister, Gerry Brownlee, farcically lectured our giant, predatory neighbour, exhorting it to behave “like a big country” in the South China sea (where it is causing tension with other regional powers, and with the USA.)  Sent of course by our Prime Minister, he  thought it fit to sign a five-year military defence alliance with this Communist country, while clumsily stating “that New Zealand’s relationships with Chinese and US defence forces are not mutually exclusive.”

But in fact they are. It’s almost incomprehensible that we should have signed such a military defence pact with this aggressively confrontational country. China’s Communist leadership, with its  natural affinity for North Korea, is, for all its trade alliances,  no friend to the West – a fact that most New Zealanders perceive – even though Key’s National  government is apparently determinedly avoiding facing  this fact. As a consequence, and given the weakness of what should be our major Opposition party, New Zealanders are well and truly on the way to becoming tenants in our own country.

For this reason, even those who do not support the left-wing Chris Trotter’s political views, may  well agree with his statement that New Zealanders’ disengagement from the political process  (“in which we were once among the world’s most enthusiastic participants”) has been accompanied, and justified, by the widely held belief that “politics has become an almost entirely disreputable  profession.” His vague assertion that – “the answer lies with, and in us – the New Zealand electorate” suggests no concrete solution.

But there is one. It does not matter that it would be a most unwelcome one to by far the majority of our politicians, and to those with the money and influence “to assist” the government in its decision-making.  And here I recall former Finance Minister Ruth Richardson thanking millionaire Doug Myers, then Chairman of the New Zealand Business Roundtable for his valuable help to her in her portfolio…)

We all know that we have moved a long way from being a far more democratic country that we once were. The loss of our freedoms has been  gathering pace – even freedom of speech – let alone the ability to be genuinely involved in the decision-making of our governments –  although this  very much affects us. Reforms are undertaken from time to time – as with the now signalled, but well overdue simplification of our tax system. Too little, too late for so many. But apart from our ability to routinely throw out governments which have caused perceivable damage to our country, in the interval between our elections the government elected as the lesser of two evils inevitably claims a mandate for actions for which it has no genuine mandate at all.

The solution? It is what the highly intelligent Swiss have long insisted on – the reform of our political system so that any legislation passed by Parliament, no  matter what party is in power, nor what deal-making has gone on behind the scenes, has to wait for 100 Days.

 This mandatory stop on all proposed laws gives the people of the country time to examine it for fishhooks. If satisfied, they allow it to pass. If they are not, it takes a very small proportion of their electorate (50,000 in a county with double our population) to call for a special kind of referendum, the results of which are binding on their government. The fact that this provision is there puts a stop to constant trade-offs, in contrast to the never-ending passing of legislation which pours forth from our own government  – whereas Swiss parliamentarians meet only once a week, and are able to hold down day jobs.

For more information on how the Swiss govern themselves, visit our website at www. 100days.co.nz 

Above all, we need to  remember that there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come – and there is nothing more effective than individuals joining together to achieve a tipping point to insist on being genuinely part of our country’s decision-making. Controlling our politicians though the eminently achievable 100 days initiative, now well under way, is available to each of us.

Each of us – not everybody else. If you are concerned about what is happening to our country, please support us!  We need you all.

Visit us to see how you can help – www.100days.co.nz and SHARE on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/100daystodemocracy?ref=br_tf

© Amy Brooke, Convener. See my book “100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand …what has gone wrong, and how we can control our politicians.” Available through www.copypress.co.nz or HATM Publishers.