Officials have been quietly working on a register of foreign buyers of New Zealand real estate even as the Government shrugged off the need for such information, it emerged today.

Earlier this year the Government indicated it was cold on the idea of a register of foreign buyers amid growing concern about offshore investors' role in driving up property prices, particularly in Auckland.

Last week however, Finance Minister Bill English and Prime Minister John Key said officials were keeping an eye on Australia's work towards a register of foreign buyers and wouldn't rule out following suit.

This morning Mr English said he understood some work was already underway amongst New Zealand officials on the issue.

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"I gather there's some going on. This issue's been around for a couple of years, there's nothing new about it."

Mr Key, on the other hand, said he wasn't aware of any work being done on a register of foreign buyers.

"According to the advice I've had this afternoon Land Information might be looking at the broader issue but as far as I'm aware they're not working on a register and I've always said and maintained, we could always introduce a register but the real issue here is building new houses."

Land Information Minister Louise Upston said she didn't have details on the work being done by officials.

"They're just doing some preliminary investigation about what it might look like, what data they might need, those sorts of things.

"There's been a number of questions I've asked over the last couple of months so they've just been doing some preliminary work to see where it goes.

Those questions were around the type of data being collected.

"I'll be interested to see what they come back with but as I say it's not a priority.

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"I think it's important the department keeps an eye on what's going on overseas. I'd expect them to keep up with what's happening in other countries and if they have any suggestions about how we can do things differently I'm interested to know what that advice is."

Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford said news of officials' "secret" work on the register came as a surprise.

"It wasn't very long ago that the Government was saying it was racist or xenophobic to even propose such a thing, now we find out they've actually been developing a register for foreign buyers.

"It's just another example of the Government not being upfront with New Zealanders.

"Clearly this register was a policy they were planning to launch as a big start to next year. Too bad their secret register has been discovered."