The Weekend Herald

's report 'We've got Chinese buyers' certainly sparked debate.

As Labour's housing spokesperson I've had a swag of messages in response to my comments that the leaked real estate sales data showing buyers of Chinese descent purchased almost 40 per cent of houses in a three-month period strongly suggests offshore Chinese investors have a big presence, given the local Chinese community is only 9 per cent of Auckland's population.

Aucklanders from all walks of life have offered their views. Many have welcomed what they see as a long overdue debate. Others, notably in the Twittersphere, have been quick to accuse me of racism because I have talked about a particular ethnic group.

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But here's the thing. We do need to have a mature public debate about Chinese foreign investment in New Zealand real estate. Especially when the Government has refused to set up a register of foreign ownership and make it public.

Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and other nations have enacted restrictions on foreign buyers in recent years.

When the sales data also pointed to a big presence of offshore Chinese investors, Labour decided it was time to talk about this. However uncomfortable it may be, the sales data reinforces what so many Aucklanders have thought is going on.

It is simply not good enough to try to shut down an important public debate with allegations of racism.

The other criticism we've copped is that analysing the surnames of house purchasers doesn't tell us whether they are local or foreign, and that you cannot logically infer from the numbers anything about the presence of offshore speculators.

We stand by the surname analysis. It draws on data from the Census and the electoral roll and predicts with about 95 per cent accuracy ethnic origin based on surname.

Surnames of course don't tell us anything about citizenship or residency. But no one has yet suggested a plausible alternative to how come the 9 per cent of the population who are Chinese New Zealanders could be responsible for 40 per cent of the house purchases. Did the other 91 per cent of the population stay out of the market? Given all the other information at hand, we continue to think it strongly suggests overseas speculators are a big presence.

Labour's policy is to ban all foreign buyers. We don't see any benefit to Kiwis of allowing speculators on the other side of the world to trade our houses for capital gain.

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We would not be arguing over the leaked real estate sales data if the Government had agreed to set up a register of foreign ownership and make it public.

The recent announcement that foreign buyers will have to register with IRD will generate the information but the Government still won't agree to a register open to public scrutiny.

The Government doesn't believe the sales data. I say it is time to put up or shut up.

Phil Twyford is Labour's housing spokesperson and the MP for Te Atatu.
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