xenophobia?

June 4th, 2014

*note: This was written yesterday, but my connection to Blogtown crapped out so I couldn’t post it, so I posted it over here instead. Now that Blogtown is accessible again, I’ll post it up here where it belongs:

Xenophobia of many kinds seems to be a fairly common weapon in politics, and New Zealand is no exception. But what’s got me interested is the talk of foreigners in NZ politics this year, what with the election coming up. You’d think it’d be the same old Winston Peters hating on Asians, but no.

First up is National’s apparent inability to stop its ministers from having their relationships with Chinese business people revealed. Potentially dodgy relationships, like Judith Collins and Oravida, or relationships with possibly dodgy people, like Maurice Williamson with Donghua Liu. And apart from bashing his partner and apparently using his political connections to ease the residency and citizenship process, it turns out Liu was involved in a corruption case back in Chongqing. He wasn’t charged, it seems, but gave evidence as a witness. But look at this:

According to a court judgment obtained and translated by theHerald, Liu – as general manager of real estate development company Chongqing Tianlong – sold real estate to the political leader and his wife at heavily discounted prices, purchased some back at inflated rates and waived debt to a total benefit of $375,000 to the couple.

In return, the Chinese politician used his position to support Liu’s construction and cement businesses by approving projects as well as land permits and mining licences.

[……]

“Although Liu didn’t make a specific request in exchange for the gift, the intention was clear that as a county party secretary Ping Ma would have the power to benefit the companies in the future,” said the verdict of the Intermediate People’s Court of Chongqing.

[……]

“Although the behaviour is different compared to directly receiving properties, it is only a different method of covering their criminal acts of bribery.”

Aha. And:

Liu’s Auckland-based lawyer, Todd Simmonds, said that neither Liu nor his company was charged with any alleged offending.

“The involvement of Mr Liu in these proceedings was simply that of a witness,” Mr Simmonds said.

“Mr Liu does not wish to make any further comment in relation to this matter.”

It would be useful if he did make further comment. Because it certainly seems as if even if his business practices were legal, they certainly seem to have been unethical. Otherwise why would he have been a witness in a trial whose decision mentions his business practices in such an unfavourable light? “Although Liu didn’t make a specific request in exchange for the gift, the intention was clear that as a county party secretary Ping Ma would have the power to benefit the companies in the future” certainly seems to make it clear the judges considered Liu’s behaviour to be something other than squeaky clean.

And somehow Liu was granted first residency then citizenship against official advice. How and why? And what was that official advice? What were the reasons given recommending his applications be declined?

Of course, a major problem for Labour in all of this is that some of those dodgy decisions made against official advice were made under Labour’s watch. But those two big questions remain: Why did the relevant officials recommend Liu not be granted residency then citizenship? And why were so many Labour and National politicians so keen to help him out despite the advice of their own officials?

And what does this have to do with xenophobia? Well, nothing, directly. Whether it’s Oravida or Donghua Liu, it’s business people apparently getting favours from politicians. That reeks of corruption. Trouble is, they all involve Chinese business people, which would seem to play right into the hands of those crying Yellow Peril from whatever soapbox they can find.

But then there’s the fuss over Labour’s new questioning of immigration and threats to limit the number of immigrants. There’s good discussion, as always, over here at Public Address, and as Russell says, there are real issues that need discussion without people immediately reaching for the xenophobia card. But something is bugging me about all this. Maybe I’m reading too much into it all. Maybe it really is just an odd series of coincidences. Maybe I have too much invested in all these issues to see it clearly. But I’m just not comfortable with Labour’s questioning of immigration. But, there are, as noted, real issues to be discussed, and the case of Donghua Liu seems to highlight one of them, which apparently Labour wants to look at:

Labour is looking “very closely” at changing the rules for foreign investors who can get residency in New Zealand by paying $10 million.

[……]

Immigration spokesman Trevor Mallard said yesterday that one of the categories Labour would consider changing was business migrant schemes, introduced by National in 2009.

[……]

The Investor Plus scheme allowed an applicant to get residency if they invested $10 million in New Zealand and committed to living in the country for 44 days a year, even if they spoke little English and had no business experience. The Investor scheme required a $1.5 million investment but had stricter language, age and travel tests.

Now, this does not seem to be a very smart way to dish out visas, not to me. So they’ve got money. So they might agree to spend a tiny fraction of each year in New Zealand. Woopdedoo. Start a token business and fly in either for a Northern Summer ski holiday each Southern Winter, or flee the Northern Winter to enjoy Christmas and New Year at a more civilised time of the year. But of course, going to the Immigration website and finding out the actual rules is the smart option. Now look at that table. Yes, indeed, as the Herald article states, for an Investor Plus visa you only need to invest NZ$10 million for three years and spend at least 44 days of each of the last two years of that investment period in New Zealand. That’s it. You don’t even need any business experience. Contrast that for the requirements for the regular Investor visa, which are not especially stringent – overall band 3 in IELTS, wow, so you need to be competent enough to handle buying your own groceries – but do at least include some minimal business experience, and therefore proof that you may have actually earned your money and might know one or two things about investing and doing business.

Of course, there are health and character requirements for both Investor visas. But check out character. Based on the little publicly known about Donghua Liu, it’s only on that last bullet point that Immigration would’ve had grounds to recommend he not be granted residence. And that is a rather vague bullet point.

Tangent: This Entrepreneur Work Visa seems much more robust. I’d much rather be working for or with somebody who’d entered NZ under those requirements.

But this brings us to some numbers from that article on Labour’s rethink of the Investor and Investor Plus visas:

Immigration New Zealand data showed the number of successful Investor Plus applicants jumped from nine to 21 between 2010 and 2013, and from 30 to 99 people in the Investor category over the same period.

So we’re not talking a large number of people, which is strange because in all articles I’ve seen so far on Labour’s thinking on immigration, we see this, from earlier in this particular article:

The party has said it would place further controls on immigration after Treasury predicted net migration would soon increase to almost 40,000 a year, but it has not given details about cuts.

Uh huh. So how, precisely, is a review of two visa categories that apparently allowed a grand total of 120 people into New Zealand in 2013 going to have any affect on this predicted spike in net migration to forty something thousand? And if, as the government claims, a large part of the predicted net migration spike is due to Kiwis not jumping on planes to Australia and Kiwis facing an economic downturn in Australia jumping on planes home, then how is tinkering with immigration policy going to realistically affect anything?

So yeah, I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that at least some in Labour are cashing in on the happy confluence of National’s apparent ([ahem] Chinese) corruption problem, stubbornly skyrocketing housing prices and this predicted spike in net migration to try and drum up a little more support. “Oooh, look at the people National’s letting in! And they‘re buying up all our houses, driving the prices up so real Kiwis are priced out of the market! We’ll crack down on them!”

And then I read things like this piece by Lew over at Kiwi Politico, and Labour’s new focus on immigration just rings even less true.

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