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Two Wongs

It really is the silly season here in New Zealand. The election is fast approaching and the political maneuvering gets more entertaining every day. Just today well known investigative journalist Nicky Hager released a book which describes a complex conspiracy between the National government and crazy right-wing blogger Cameron Slater. But that little gem will have to wait for a future blog entry after I have evaluated the credibility of the book better (note that I’m not saying it isn’t credible, just that no one really knows this soon after it was published).

In this post I want to quickly comment on another little piece of political theatre, the “joke” by Winston Peters that ” Two Wongs Dont Make a Wight”. It was made in the context of how both the current National and the previous Labour governments had allowed too much (according to Peters and many others) New Zealand land to be sold to foreigners. The issue has arisen after a Chinese company (hence the “Wong” joke) indicated interest in buying a large New Zealand farm.

Of course many people have been outraged and claimed the joke was racist and that it shows a deeper level of intolerance to foreigners, especially Chinese, by Peters and his followers. But how true is this claim?

Well only Peters really knows, I guess. There are a number of levels this can be evaluated on. First, does it indicate a deep seated xenophobia? If it does then that is bad. But maybe it indicates a cynical manipulation of public opinion and a way to gain extra publicity. If it does then that is really just politics and it isn’t so bad. Or maybe Peters actually has a point. In that case it’s good!

So does he have a point? I think he does. I fully understand that some foreign investment does benefit the country and that every change in ownership or management of any asset will bring both good and bad outcomes, but I think we should be deeply suspicious of any company from any other country (certainly not just China) which wants to invest here.

Why would a company want to invest here? Clearly the most likely reason is that they think they can make more money. That means money which might have stayed here will go back to the home country of the owner instead. This is good for New Zealand how exactly?

Another possible reason for investment is that our labour laws, or business environment in general, is attractive. Again, I have to ask who does that benefit: the big multinational or the average New Zealander?

And a final possibility is that the foreign company just wants to help us out and improve all our lives. But, of course, I’m just joking, because that never happens in business. Most business people would say that attitude is dangerous because the company’s return to investors is all that they should be considering.

A spokesperson for the Chinese community here was (unsurprisingly) very dismissive of Peters saying that many Chinese people already live here and make a big contribution. I totally agree and I think Peters would too. But it’s not the people who make the commitment to live here and run a business that we should be worried about, it’s those who see investing here as simply a way to make more money from a distance.

So what about that joke then? Well it really isn’t all that funny, but I think people who get all offended are being rather petty, and it certainly has brought more attention to the issue than a simple, boring political speech would have. Unfortunately making a claim of racism is an all too common way just to shut the discussion down too.

But people have a choice because it’s fairly clear which way different parties view this controversy. Whether he’s Wight or Wong, good old Winnie has at least made this a real election issue.

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