Nice money for your political activism

Duncan Grieve writes:

“There’s been about a trillion dollars that has left China in the last year or so,” intones the voiceover ominously, over flowing strings while spreadsheets roll past. We see images of hanzi characters flash up in cutaways to real estate signs, to bank signs, to shopping districts. There’s talk of “Chinese investors”, “trade missions to China”, “Chinese buyers”, “multi-millionaires” from China.

All in service to a question: Who owns New Zealand now? The hour-long documentary, which screened on Three last night, positions itself as a sober attempt to find an answer, to have a “grown-up” conversation about our housing crisis.

This is clearly a laudable goal, and one many journalists have been grappling with these past few years: The Nation’s reporting on families living in cars. The Hui on the work of Te Puea marae. The Spinoff’s own Unsettled.

Unfortunately, along with neoliberalism, which functions as origin story, the answer to the titular question appears to be China and the Chinese. This would be tense enough even if he had perfect data, able to prove convincingly that our rampant house price inflation was unequivocally attributable to Chinese capital.


Only, as Bryan Bruce rightly points out, our data collection has long been awful. One of this Government’s many failings on housing has been a stunning lack of curiosity – we know far too little about what has been driving the precipitous inflation of house prices.

Yet, absent knowledge, Bruce persistently infers that it is speculative Chinese money. This makes Who Owns New Zealand Now? functionally a deeply unpleasant echo of Labour’s “Chinese-sounding names” fiasco of 2015.

What a surprise. Bryan Bruce makes another documentary that gets run just before the election.

Who Owns New Zealand Now? was written, directed, produced and line-edited by one man: Bryan Bruce – whose production company Red Sky has been NZ on Air-funded 18 times in 18 years, totalling just shy of $4.5m.

Railing against neoliberalism pays well. What else could earn you almost $5 million?

Among those have been titles of merit and importance – but this is not one of them. Instead it’s an indulgent, cheaply-made and presented travelogue with through lines of old-fashioned nostalgia and scaremongering. It should not have been made.

Yet NZ on Air keep funneling our taxes towards them.

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