If you went for a walk down Haining St in Wellington today, you'd never guess at the reputation it had a century ago.
Nowadays, it's a rarely walked central city street full of mechanics and apartment blocks. But back in 1905, Haining St was in the heart of the capital's Chinese district. There were rumours of opium dens and gambling houses.
In early spring that year a white supremacist called Lionel Terry walked into the street with a revolver. No one had listened when he'd said time and again New Zealand needed to get rid of the Chinese. So he shot a man.
Joe Kum Yung died because he was Chinese.
With blemishes like that in our record books it's no wonder we're quick to avoid anything that looks like racism towards folks of Asian descent. But this time, we're being too sensitive.
Labour isn't racist. It isn't xenophobic. Given its concern for minorities, it's probably the last political party — aside from the Greens — you could accuse of racial hatred.
Simply saying a particular group of people is doing a particular thing is not racism. If I said most prison inmates are Maori or that Auckland's Browns Bay is full of South Africans, I wouldn't be accused of racism.
Those are facts.
We're not talking about all Chinese buyers. That group includes people who live and work in this country and belong here because they want to be here. The people we're talking about are foreign buyers who are buying in New Zealand but living in China.
We're talking about all foreign buyers. We are focusing on Chinese foreign buyers because — though there are almost certainly Europeans, Americans and other Asians dipping their toes into our property market — everything suggests that Chinese are buying up large right now.
We know there are bank accounts full of cash in China, ready to be invested in something.
We know the Chinese Government is making it easier for the people who hold those bank accounts to put that cash in offshore investments. We know those people are already pouring their money into property in the US, the UK and Australia.
So when Labour looked at a list of buyers and saw more Chinese names than you would see on your average Auckland school roll, can you blame it for putting two and two together and getting "foreign buyers from China"?
Well, maybe you can. Labour's way of reaching its conclusions was pretty crude. It's not courtroom-strength evidence, but it's the only evidence we have seen.
John Key's Government has done everything to avoid collecting data on foreigners buying our houses. Even now it has agreed to rake it all together I wouldn't be getting too excited. It sounds like it's going to be a bit of a half-arsed job.
It hasn't even told us when we're going to see the figures.
Meanwhile, Auckland's house prices are climbing faster than the Sky Tower's elevator.
We should be talking about whether foreign investment is making that worse. We should be debating whether we make like Australia and tell foreign investors they can't buy a house, they have to build one. Or maybe we should make like China and say yes to foreigners buying buildings but no to them buying land.
But, we're not talking about that. Instead, we're talking about whether it's racist to talk about it.
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