It’s not just the James Cameron buy-up…. Is this still our country?
The contrast between two types of immigrants hit me recently – in relation to what is happening to us as a people.
In much of Europe, so-called ordinary citizens have no hope at all of ever owning their own homes, let alone a little bit of land. So one can empathise with the very real pleasure two Swiss immigrants, Theres and Hannes Krummenacher, are now feeling. Their beaming faces in the local paper, as they held up the wild mushrooms (those with great flavour and texture) which they are now growing and selling commercially, tell of hands-on hard work, and success.
In their home country of Switzerland, foraging for wild mushrooms in autumn is traditional. As it was one of the things they most missed, they set up growing their own, planting a small forest with specific trees selected, because different fungi grow on the roots of different trees. It’s a great story, and their deserved pride in what they have achieved reflects in their faces.
There’s a highly relevant lesson for New Zealanders here, in the fact that they tell how in Switzerland “it was a dream and a privilege to own a house, let alone some land. Most people live in apartments, so being able to buy 50 hectares and work toward a living from that land is a dream come true.”
When, not long ago, I was admiring the beautiful Swiss countryside, an expat friend living in Zürich pointed out that the farmland passes down from generation to generation within the families. The Swiss people themselves are happy to subsidise farmers to ensure the survival of small farms, and the well-being of the small herds of cows – regarded as a considerable asset – from the point of view of respecting the tradition of Switzerland, and assisting with the attraction the countryside has for tourists.
The notion of today allowing a wholesale wave of immigrants, such as the multi -millionaires to whom we are giving virtual carte blanche to enter New Zealand – and to buy up our farmlands and assets – would be considered unthinkable in Switzerland. In this small mountainous country at the crossroads of centuries of immigration from other countries pressing its borders, most people can only dream of owning their own house… As Hanne pointed out, most people have to rent apartments for themselves and their families for life. It is the same in Germany and elsewhere in continental Europe, where people are resigned to never being able to own their own house.
Aren’t we being pushed in the same direction? Our government, which is supposed to look after the interests of New Zealanders and is spectacularly failing to do so, has, through the OIO (Overseas Investment Office), set virtually no barriers at all to any multi-millionaire (without a criminal record – and some have still slipped through) entering this country and buying up whatever he or she pleases. Apparently they simply need to hire a skilled PR person to ensure that their application falls within the feel-good guidelines, promising this or that – although there is little evidence of the OIO ever following up on these undertakings.
We know, for example, that very wealthy Americans have, as individuals, been able to cherry-pick our scenic assets, with a single individual alone having hoovered up more than one iconic South Island high-country sheep station, plus a gathering of farms as well, and several houses. And what do New Zealanders feel about the film director James Cameron being able, since 2012, to buy at least 13 parcels of land worth tens of millions of dollars and totalling more than 15,000 hectares – according to a recent report in the Dominion Post?
Among his purchases – more recently a 129-year-old building in a heritage precinct which he has had converted into an organic food store – are included a Carterton walnut orchard, South Wairarapa’s Lake Pounui and a hemp plantation. Although his blockbuster film Avatar has reportedly strong themes of resistance to private ownership, like other multimillionaires, James Cameron is able to outbid most New Zealanders any day for their own land – having entered the country under the Immigration NZ’s Investment Plus category which offers prior entry to the super-rich…those investing more than $10 million.
But the question how much this prioritising of the enormously wealthy from overseas can very much disadvantage New Zealanders is conveniently ignored by our government. Moreover, the criteria for New Zealand residency, requiring those like Cameron to spend only 88 days in the country over two years, is extraordinarily generous. Some would regard it as merely equivalent to a long holiday, annually.
Many reasonable New Zealanders, seeing their own children saddled with student loans ; unable to afford their own home any reasonable time in the future; worrying about being able to afford to have a family – or about mothers with a baby or young children being forced out into the workforce far too soon, are asking what is happening to this country. And although Prime Minister John Key, apparently living in some fantasy land of his own, is actually denying there is a housing shortage in Auckland, the situation has become for many almost intolerable.
Factor in the growing exodus from Communist China, and super-wealthy Chinese in a far better position than New Zealanders themselves to outbid them for any available housing stock. Many now desperate New Zealanders, being consistently outbid at auctions by the Chinese super-wealthy (now targeted from overseas by NZ real estate agents) know that things are very wrong. Moreover, not only are these millionaire newcomers now buying themselves separatist settlements, but Chinese investors are forcing New Zealanders out of the buying market, by successfully bidding not for ownership of one, but of multiple properties…Some reportedly owning dozens of houses – and renting them to New Zealanders.
Neither John Key nor his Finance Minister Bill English wants to know about this. But we need to seriously take on board the fact that as with the Germans and Swiss, for example, who end up renting apartments – rather than owning a house – we’re heading in exactly the same direction.
Many New Zealanders who cannot afford houses are now in this position because of the culpable failure of this government to act to protect its own people – and because it is refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of this problem. We should be asking why this is the case.
Releasing more land for housing is not going to be nearly enough. The new waves of immigration which are now damaging the socio-economic fabric of this country are not only pricing our people out of owning our houses, but our farmland, our scenic and economic assets, our businesses – with the profits going overseas – not to New Zealanders themselves.
We have become more than a ripe plum ready for the picking. We have become like a tree whose roots in the land are being progressively severed.
Given that the Key government has no discernible intent to protect the interests of New Zealanders themselves… we are without any real limits to the sell-out of New Zealand.
And this will remain the case, until New Zealanders start demanding action from all our politicians, including, primarily, John Key’s government.
© Amy Brooke – Convener – The 100Days – Claiming Back New Zealand. http://www.100days.co.nz