The editor of an Auckland Chinese newspaper has labelled Labour's claims Chinese buyers are responsible for the spike in real estate prices "racist".
The accusation emerged yesterday amid fallout over the release of leaked real estate sales figures suggesting foreign-based Chinese investors were aggressively targeting Auckland's housing market.
Chinese daily Mandarin Pages ran a front-page editorial accusing Labour of having "a Winston Peters" and saying there were 99 other reasons for the city's high property prices.
Editor David Soh said: "Labour has every right, as the main opposition party, to question the Government's housing policy. But to single out a particular ethnicity or nationality is quite irresponsible and racist."
The editorial, penned by Chinese journalist Kevin Yeung, said reasons for record high property prices included a supply shortage, high material costs and migration.
Mortgage rates were also at near-record lows, and Auckland was a preferred migration destination, not just for overseas-born migrants but also New Zealanders.
Mr Soh said while local buyers did not like bidding against the Chinese, sellers loved having them at their auctions because of the perception they would drive up prices.
Labour released figures on Saturday showing nearly 40 per cent of homes sold at auction in Auckland between February and April went to people with Chinese surnames, despite people of Chinese ethnicity making up just 9 per cent of the city's population.
The data did not show if the buyers were based here or overseas.
The tenor of many online responses on forums such as Skykiwi said Chinese people worked and saved hard to buy Auckland residential property, while New Zealanders spent up.
Skykiwi, which introduces New Zealand culture and lifestyle to the Chinese community, has 750,000 page views a day.
A spokesman said many people went on Skykiwi to defend their buying habits.
"People are saying they're working very hard and earning money and getting the reward and they have a different consumer behaviour to people who were born in New Zealand. It's because of Chinese tradition and cultural - they're quite happy to save the money," the spokesman said.
However, he also attributed differing attitudes to a cultural divide. "It's the difference between east and west cultures. So they say, 'Okay, we're working very hard and we're happy to put money into Auckland'."
The spokesman said he could not ascertain if respondents were based in China or New Zealand.
BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander joined the debate yesterday, calling on New Zealand leaders to require foreigners to build new places rather than buy existing Auckland houses. It comes amid warnings that rich Chinese investors will be looking to take their money out of China's turbulent stock market and invest in property overseas.
"We should as soon as possible adopt Australia's rules restricting foreign buying of anything other than new housing unless resident for 12 months," Alexander wrote.
A property insider, who did not want to be identified, said the issue was much bigger than depicted in the Labour figures. He said 80 to 90 per cent of residential properties in parts of Auckland were bought by Chinese money in March.
Meanwhile, Barfoot & Thompson chief executive Wendy Alexander said the company would start its own investigation to identify if it was the source of the leaked data. Barfoot sells one-third of Auckland properties and managing director Peter Thompson said if the data did belong to the firm it had been given illegally.
"We don't know whether it's our information. We're just seeking advice on any steps we need to be taking if it is our data. That's all I'm prepared to say."
Mr Thompson released a detailed memo to all staff yesterday, warning they must not disclose any internal figures and must act in the interest of their vendors.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said people could lodge a complaint to the commission for possible breach of information.
"If the source of the home buying data is established, people who think their personal information has been included can make a complaint to my office and we will look into it."
Buyers with Chinese surname still Kiwis
Two recent sales made by real estate company James Law Realty are to buyers whose surnames are Chen and Zhang.
They may be Chinese, but having been in New Zealand for more than 10 years, neither would have fallen under Labour's classification of "foreign investor".
Principal agent James Law said Labour's leaked figures that showed 40 per cent of homes sold at auction in Auckland over a three-month period went to people with Asian surnames was "about right".
Mr Law said four out of 10 of the 350 who bought real estate through the company last year were of Chinese ethnicity.
"But what we found from our sales record was less than 10 per cent of them are actually overseas-based investors," he said. "Most of them are citizens or residents who have lived here for years."
Mr Law said it was "tradition" for Chinese people to buy real estate, and many made it their "first priority".
Many regarded real estate as a safe investment and one that they could either make a profit on or hand down to their children.
"This explains the high number of Chinese buyers and investors, because many find their security in owning houses," Mr Law said.
"In the same way, data on dairy business sales will show a high number of ethnic Indian buyers."
James Law Realty has more than 50 agents and offices in New Zealand and in Taiwan and Brunei, and it has a mainly Asian client base.
It regularly holds property roadshows in Chinese cities such as Beijing, Fuzhou and Guizhou.
Mr Law said Chinese people were generally quite cautious in parting with their money, and believed those who invested here would have New Zealand links - family or friends.
"The Chinese are not the type who would fly to New Zealand just to bid for houses in a room full of strangers."
•Chinese newspaper editor calls Labour claims "racist".
•Barfoot & Thompson launches investigation into leaked data.
•Privacy Commissioner says outcome can result in complaints.
•Property insider says Chinese bought up to 90 per cent of residential properties in parts of Auckland in March.
•BNZ chief economist says foreigners should build, not buy.
Click here to read the original article and a version in Mandarin
Hundreds of Chinese take their responses online.