With one eye on NZ First voters, Ardern avoids apology for ‘Chinese-sounding names’ survey

Labour leader shows her cynical side.
Jacinda Ardern on Morning Report earlier today

Jacinda Ardern was given the chance to apologise for her party’s infamous 2015 ‘Chinese-sounding names’ home-buyer survey this morning.

Instead, the new Labour leader implied no one found it racist by saying “If anyone felt that it was, then, of course we would apologise.”

People did feel it was, including New Zealand-born NBR reporter Victoria Young (and her response “Do we dare show our yellow faces at auctions or open homes?” still stings).

If she was of a mind, Ms Ardern could also apologise to data journalist Keith Ng, who at the time accused Labour of “fuelling racial division” with an analysis of leaked real estate sales data that did not come close to statistically valid survey.*

This afternoon, he did not use the "r" word, but was still caustic, telling NBR, "The problem with that analysis is that it didn't distinguish between Chinese New Zealanders and overseas Chinese buyers. That a massive hole that they papered over with incredible loose guesswork, which made it analytically worthless. But it also dragged Chinese New Zealanders into the firing line. I wouldn't say it's racist but it was real callous disregard for the collateral damage it caused to real New Zealanders."

Buck each way
Ms Ardern had a buck each way this morning on RNZ's Morning Report, saying the survey made her feel “uncomfortable” but not condemning its instigator, Phil Twyford, and talking around the issue when asked if she would have authorised it as leader.

Going by angry posts on social media, her more liberal supporters would have preferred her to have stomped on Mr Twyford.

But, perhaps with one eye on the need to peel away NZ First supporters, she did not.

Some will find that cynical, not to mention morally dodgy.

Yet that's what it takes to win elections; an area where Labour's new leader seems to have sharp instincts — though if she does win on September 23, it might not be with Victoria's support.

"I was listening to the interview this morning and was glad when Suzie Ferguson brought it up," the NBR reporter says.

"I wanted Jacinda to say she thought it was wrong and it wouldn't have happened under her leadership. She didn't go far enough. Bottom line: I'm still pissed off."

* To the degree it had any methodology that could be analysed. By looking at a real estate agency's list of recent sales in part of Auckland, it found 39.5% had Chinese-sounding names, with an insinuation that many would be offshore buyers. National, sensitive to the issue, did introduce registration criteria, collected via LINZ. The latest LINZ data, for the three months to June 2017, found 2% of transactions involved a non-NZ citizen or non-NZ resident buyer.

RAW DATA: Jacinda Ardern talking to Susie Ferguson on Morning Report

SF: Something else about immigration that a lot of people were uncomfortable about – a few months ago it came out, the Chinese-sounding names release regarding housing. I’m sure you remember this one. Is that something you would have been comfortable seeing on your watch?

JA: The impact of that was not something I was comfortable with. The point we were trying to make was, at that time, was that the government hadn’t acted on the issue of overseas speculators. We thought that was wrong. We maintained that was wrong. We have a policy on that. We certainly did not want to see any of our community here in New Zealand feeling targeted as a consequence of raising that issue.

JA: The numbers were shonky. The data was pretty wobbly on that one. Was it also racist?

JA I certainly wouldn’t have said that it was. If anyone felt that it was, then of course we would apologise for that, but that was not our intent.

SF: Not your intent – but nonetheless, you’d  have been happy as leader to put that out?

JA: On the issue of whether or not we should have overseas buyers in New Zealand, I absolutely maintain it’s the right thing to do to stamp down on that.

SF: But in exactly that way?

JA: I have discomfort from the way it’s played out, absolutely. But I maintain the principle of what we’ve argued.

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