In the departure hall of Auckland Airport on a quiet Saturday morning two weeks after the election, a wizened little customs officer barked at the couple in front of us, "Can't you read, the sign says Chinese passports over there".

The couple looked surprised, so were we. Too surprised to be shocked for a moment. New Zealand's customs and immigration staff have been shining advertisements for this country for so long. I wish I'd written about them years ago.

Immigration desk officers of most countries are a surly breed. If they speak at all it's a gruff monosyllable. If you get a nod of the head when they've done with your passport you're lucky. But New Zealand border officials have been so different. I don't think it was just to fellow Kiwis, as far as I could tell foreigners were getting a pleasant reception too.

It is one of the many little things about our modern, worldly little country that has made me immensely proud.


I shouldn't be writing in the past tense on the evidence of one momentary lapse. But it was two weeks after the election, all attention was on Winston Peters. Larger party leaders were practically prostrating themselves for his favour. I couldn't help wondering whether that embarrassing little fellow in a New Zealand uniform was feeling enormously affirmed by it all.

Many with his attitude would have been happy this week. We're closing some doors to the world. We're getting New Zealand First restrictions on foreign investment in housing and farmland. On Monday the Cabinet decided a sale of any land larger than 5ha would need clearance from the Overseas Investment Office. Buyers will have to come and live here if they want to own it.

David Parker, a thinking person and Labour's most experienced minister, said he hoped the farm sales restrictions would mollify the sort of concerns that produced Trump and Brexit. "The middle class in New Zealand is uncomfortable that their prospects in life are being to some extent hampered by the influence of the 1 per centers from overseas who can outbid them for assets that they would otherwise be the buyers of," he said.

Really? I'm probably "middle class", my bank balance won't buy me the properties the 1 per centers enjoy in New Zealand and I don't mind in the slightest. In fact I'm rather proud to see rock stars and internet billionaires buying breathtakingly beautiful landscape in remote parts of my country. It is not as if we don't have vast tracts of land in national parks and the conservation estate. Does it matter whether high country grazing blocks are owned by a foreigner or the local landed gentry?

Closing the land to foreigners, said Parker, "sends a message that the New Zealand Government is at the forefront of trying to deal with some of the excesses of globalised capital." What does that mean? Foreign investment hasn't damaged land as far as I'm aware. Some of those rock stars and global capitalists have cared for the land so much they have put parts of it under covenant with the Queen Elizabeth II Trust.

US TV host Matt Lauer may be the latest celebrity to be exposed as a sexual creep but according to TVNZ's report this week, Lauer didn't close the road through his property on Lake Hawea, his tenant did. Keeping these high country stations for Kiwi farmers will not make them more public, probably less.

Shutting foreign buyers out of the market will also lower their value and take this country out of the conversation of the Learjet set.

I suppose people who use phrases like "globalised capital" will be glad of that, as will be those who want to keep this country small and closed for folk like themselves. Parker said, "We want to avoid the backlash that has occurred with the election of President Trump, Brexit and the rise of fringe parties in Europe."


You don't avoid a backlash by giving in to it. We should never forget Trump and Brexit did not win the New Zealand election. The modern, open worldly New Zealand of John Key was supported by enough voters for National to have been comfortably returned under the electoral systems of the UK and the US.

Labour is not a backward party at heart. When it comes to the crunch, as it did on TPP, it wants the country open to the global economy. It has not yet cut immigration. But if it adopts the language of New Zealand First, it will give the opposite impression to other countries.

Worse, much worse, this country would come to believe the election really was a triumph for the narrow, foolish, fearful, jealous and nasty little New Zealand we thought we had left so far behind.