On refusing to hear from Prof. Brady

[Note that this afternoon Huo backed down and is now inviting Brady to appear.  While welcome, it is pretty chaotic –  the PM’s office supported the ban this morning –  and hard questions should be posed to all the Labour MPs involved, including the PM. If/when she appears it will be extensively covered by domestic and foreign media, with almost every story prefaced by “in the appearance the committee chair tried to prevent happening at all…]

Perhaps it went down well in Beijing, but it is hard to imagine it did so anywhere else. Even China Council Advisory Board member and China Business Summit co-chair Fran O’Sullivan tweeted that it was a mistake.


My own tweet of the Herald’s article on the story, noting that it seemed almost literally unbelievable (but nonetheless true), was retweeted by quite a range of PRC-focused journalists and the like, and many others have drawn attention themselves to this extraordinary mis-step (the most charitable possible interpretation) by our PRC-deferential government.

Yesterday, the four Labour members of Parliament’s Justice select committee voted to block Professor Anne-Marie Brady from appearing in front of the committee as part of its investigation into foreign interference in our election.   That committee is chaired by Raymond Huo, who has close associations with various PRC United Front bodies, and was personally responsible for adopting a slogan of Xi Jinping’s as Labour’s campaign slogan among ethnic Chinese communities in New Zealand.

After each general election, Parliament’s Justice committee undertakes a review.  They invite public submissions, an opportunity for people to raise issues of concern (eg bizarre laws that mean that despite huge volumes of advance voting, you can say anything partisan you like on all those days, but are subject to very tight restrictions on so-called “election day”).  Each time, the committee makes a choice about a particular area to focus on.

This time round public submissions closed last September.  In October –  note that October comes after September –  the Minister of Justice (who is also responsible for the intelligence services) wrote to the committee encouraging it to focus on foreign interference issues.   The committee adopted the Minister’s suggestion.  This was, to repeat, after the opportunity for public submissions had already closed.

According to the media reports, Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University, recently wrote to the committee and asked to be heard as part of its inquiry.    The committee voted yesterday, splitting on party lines, to refuse.    This was, we are told, on “narrow procedural grounds”, or in the words of Mr Huo the chairman


If we don’t tell you (in fact don’t know ourselves) we are looking into the subject until after the normal date for submissions has closed, somehow it is your fault if you didn’t read Andrew Little’s mind and make a submission anyway.   After all, it is such a trivially unimportant issue and your view so lacking in usefulness, that why would we even think about making an exception and taking up your kind offer to come and testify, sharing your professional expertise in the area.

Huo and his Labour colleagues on the committee (Ginny Anderson, Duncan Webb and Greg O’Connor, each of whom one might have expected more from –  one a lawyer, two former Police employees) are acting disgracefully.  They dishonour Parliament and our democracy.

I’ve been a bit sceptical about this inquiry all along.  When National MP Nick Smith suggested a few months ago a foreign donations ban, and noted that the intelligence services would be invited to talk to the Justice Committee inquiry, I wrote this

So a committee chaired by Raymond Huo, he of various United Front bodies, he who chose a slogan of Xi Jinping’s for Labour Chinese-language compaign in 2017, with a senior National MP promoting only the narrowest reform (while [still] providing cover for Jian Yang) will invite the intelligence agencies to provide advice on foreign influence issues, but in secret.   Perhaps –  but only perhaps, because the fact of this hearing might be used to simply play distraction – it is marginally better than nothing, but we don’t need intelligence agencies to tell us there is an issue around the PRC. Both main parties know what they are doing –  who they associate with, who they take money from, who they honour, who they seek closer relations with, and who they refuse ever to criticise, no matter how egregious the regime’s abuses.  All the minor parties keep quiet and go along too.

I’m still more than a little suspicious of National in this area, but credit to them for pushing the Brady (non)appearance to a vote, and championing the importance of outside perspectives –  even awkward ones for them –  being heard.  Next thing you know they’ll be disowning Jian Yang.  But no, silly me….

It seems from the various news articles that Labour MPs only want the intelligence services to testify to the inquiry.

The Committee had asked the Security Intelligence Service, the Government Communications and Security Bureau and the National Assessments Bureau to appear.

“As committee chair, I am satisfied that the correct procedure has been followed and that the agencies will keep the committee well informed about any issues of foreign interference that may arise,” Huo said in a statement.

Of course the intelligence services –  while no doubt exercising some integrity in their comments –  work for (Labour) cabinet ministers.  And many of the sorts of issues Anne-Marie Brady has raised, in particular in her Magic Weapons paper , aren’t primarily matters for the intelligence services at all, but more about political culture and integrity.  For what it is worth, whenever in my career I dealt with the National Assessments Bureau, it further undercut my confidence.

It has always been a slight mystery why the government, in the form of Andrew Little, initiated this foreign interference focus to the post-election inquiry.  After all, very soon after becoming minister for the intelligence services Little was on record as regards the PRC saying words to the effect of “move right along, nothing to see here”.   Like his leader, he’s never expressed any concern about a former PRC military intelligence official sitting in Parliament, actually in the government caucus for six years.

Perhaps all they really wanted was some cyber-focused thing, perhaps building off all the stuff around Russian social media activity in the lead-up to the US election.   Perhaps there is even something useful they can do in that area, but it is like digging in pursuit of hidden treasure while ignoring the issues and risks that are in plain sight.   It was, after all, former diplomat and now lobbyist, Charles Finny who observed on national TV that, in view of their close ties to the PRC Embassy he was always rather guarded in what he said in front of either Raymond Huo or Jian Yang.   Large political donations flow to parties from New Zealand citizens with close PRC regime ties.  The mayor of Auckland was elected with heavy financial support from a large offshore (PRC) donor.  One (now) prominent regime-associated political donor managed to gets a Queen’s Birthday last year, supported by both main parties.   Senior figures in Chatham House fora express open concern about the reliance of the main parties on PRC-sympathetic funding.  PRC interests now dominate the Chinese language media in New Zealand.  Perhaps the public servants have some perspectives on these and other issues, but public service perspectives are not (and never should be) the only ones being heard by MPs.

I initially wondered if this block on Brady was simply Raymond Huo going off reservation. He doesn’t seem to be regarded as the best of the bunch in the Labour caucus.  Nick Smith even suggested the Prime Minister might intervene

Smith said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed to intervene and ask the Labour members of the committee to reconsider their decision.

But, as Newsroom reports, the Labour MPs on the committee appear to have the full backing of the Prime Minister

A spokesman for Ardern echoed Huo’s comments, saying: “Our position would be that this is a procedural matter for the committee and that the various agencies presenting are well placed to provide information on foreign interference and the threat of it.”

Simply extraordinary.  Either captured by the public service and/or by those trying to tap the PRC-related markets (deals or donations).  Someone still not interested in serious and open examination of the issues.  Another Prime Minister more interested in deferring to Beijing, never ever saying anything upsetting if it can possibly be avoided, than in shedding light on the issues in New Zealand, and advancing the decency and integrity of our political system.  The same Prime Minister who has never made a robust defence of Anne-Marie Brady, facing physical attempts to intimidate her for doing her job.  Pretty shameful really, if perhaps now par for the prime ministerial course.

Labour will take, and have already taken, quite a bit of flak over this blatant refusal to hear from Professor Brady.  Invited to testify to the Australian Parliament, our own main governing party (party of the Prime Minister, party of the minister for the intelligence services) is apparently too scared to openly face her in our own Parliament.  What an extraordinary situation.  One wonders what the Minister of Foreign Affairs –  in fine voice often in opposition, silent as a lamb in government –  makes of this choice by his senior coalition partner?

If the Prime Minister or Andrew Little really are behind this ban, they must be very worried about Professor Brady might say, and the coverage it might get.  Why otherwise would you block her?  If her arguments and evidence were so easy to dismiss and rebut, where better than at a parliamentary inquiry (with all the resources of the public service to support the government).  They’re clearly scared.

Professor Brady’s paper isn’t primarily, or even largely, about Raymond Huo. In many respects, he is a bit player.  But here for ease of reference is what Brady wrote about the chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee, appointed by our Prime Minister.

National’s ethnic Chinese MP Yang Jian, Labour’s Raymond Huo, and ACT’s Kenneth Wang have had varying degrees of relations with united front organizations in New Zealand and the PRC embassy.


Even more so than Yang Jian, who until the recent controversy, was not often quoted in the New Zealand non-Chinese language media, the Labour Party’s ethnic Chinese MP, Raymond Huo霍建强 works very publicly with China’s united front organizations in New Zealand and promotes their policies in English and Chinese. Huo was a Member of Parliament from 2008 to 2014, then returned to Parliament again in 2017 when a list position became vacant. In 2009, at a meeting organized by the Peaceful Reunification of China Association of New Zealand to celebrate Tibetan Serf Liberation Day, Huo said that as a “person from China” (中国人) he would promote China’s Tibet policies to the New Zealand Parliament.

Huo works very closely with the PRC representatives in New Zealand.  In 2014, at a meeting to discuss promotion of New Zealand’s Chinese Language Week (led by Huo and Johanna Coughlan) Huo said that “Advisors from Chinese communities will be duly appointed with close consultation with the Chinese diplomats and community leaders.” Huo also has close contacts with the Zhi Gong Party 致公党 (one of the eight minor parties under the control of the United Front Work Department). The Zhi Gong Party is a united front link to liaise with overseas Chinese communities, as demonstrated in a meeting between Zhi Gong Party leaders and Huo to promote the New Zealand OBOR Foundation and Think Tank.

It was Huo who made the decision to translate Labour’s 2017 election campaign slogan “Let’s do it” into a quote from Xi Jinping (撸起袖子加油干, which literally means “roll up your sleeves and work hard”). Huo told journalists at the Labour campaign launch that the Chinese translation “auspiciously equates to a New Year’s message from President Xi Jinping encouraging China to ‘roll its sleeves up’.” However, inauspiciously, in colloquial Chinese, Xi’s phrase can also be read as “roll up your sleeves and f..k hard” and the verb (撸) has connotations of masturbation. Xi’s catchphrase has been widely satirized in Chinese social media.  Nonetheless, the phrase is now the politically correct slogan for promoting OBOR, both in China and abroad. The use of Xi’s political catchphrase in the Labour campaign, indicates how tone deaf Huo and those in the Chinese community he works with are to how the phrase would be received in the New Zealand political environment. In 2014, when asked about the issue of Chinese political influence in New Zealand, Huo told RNZ National, “Generally the Chinese community is excited about the prospect of China having more influence in New Zealand” and added, “many Chinese community members told him a powerful China meant a backer, either psychologically or in the real sense.”


During his successful campaign for the Auckland mayoralty, in 2016, former Labour leader and MP, Phil Goff received $366,115 from a charity auction and dinner for the Chinese community.  The event was organized by Labour MP Raymond Huo. Tables sold for $1680 each. Because it was a charity auction Goff was not required to state who had given him donations, but one item hit the headlines. A signed copy of the Selected Works of Xi Jinping was sold to a bidder from China for $150,000. A participant at the fundraiser said the reason why so many people attended and had bid strongly for items was because they believed Goff would be the next mayor.  In individual donations, Goff’s largest donor, giving $50,000, was Fuwah New Zealand Ltd, a Chinese-owned company building a 5-star hotel on Auckland’s waterfront and working closely with the New Zealand One Belt One Road Promotion Council.


In June 2017, at the Langley Hotel in Auckland, the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office hosted an update meeting to discuss the integration of the overseas Chinese media with the domestic Chinese media. In attendance was Li Guohong, Vice Director of the Propaganda Department of the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, and other senior CCP media management officials, representatives of the ethnic Chinese media in New Zealand, representatives of ethnic Chinese community groups, and Labour MP Raymond Huo.  Update meetings (通气会) are one of the main ways the CCP relays instructions to the domestic Chinese media, in order to avoid a paper trail. Party directives are accorded a higher status than national law.

For someone who claims that his activities and involvements are all fair and proper and just the sort of thing one expects MPs to do, he and his masters certainly act –  in the Brady affair –  as if there is something to hide, something that might leave them rather uncomfortable.

That is supposed to be the point of parliamentary scrutiny, parliamentary inquiries.  But not, it appears, in this country, on these issues.  Better to keep Madame Wu happy than bother overly much about our own people, their interests, and their system of government.  It is still an odd call though.  Professor Brady shows no sign of being intimidating or stopping her work. If it refuses to engage and examine the issues she is raising, Parliament reveals itself the problem more than the people we can look to for the solution.  Oh, but I forgot, according to the government there is no problem.


Read this and weep

I’ve never been to Las Vegas, and have no intention of ever doing so.  The idea of living there (desert, casinos etc) mostly seems quite unappealing –  although I can imagine people from Las Vegas may feel the same about living on an earthquake fault line and sending your kid to school in a spot the inevitable Hikurangi trench tsunami will one day sweep through.

But a reader was in Las Vegas earlier this week and left this comment here last night.

I just got off the plane from Las Vegas yesterday. I stayed there with a nice young couple who live in a townhouse about 10 years old. He’s an iPhone repairman and she’s a stay at home mom. He makes enough money to rent their nice, 10 year old, 140sqm 4 bed 2.5 bath townhouse with garage. I viewed an open home of an identical property going for US$275,000. They’re a short 3 [minute] drive from plenty of public amenities and only about 15 minutes from the city center. Driving around I saw a lot of new properties from single family homes to apartment buildings all prices at commensurate levels. Those properties were built en masse, in large developments each about half a square km block at a time. Similar young kiwi couples in their early 20s can only dream of this relatively idyllic lifestyle in cities of anywhere near similar size!

These were the kind of communities that made headlines 10 years ago for plummeting property prices in the subprime mortgage crisis. Now, they’re affordable, new, well-built homes for young families and in spite of the relatively low prices, developers are still hard at work building block after block of new market-rate affordable housing.

A cruel irony of New Zealand is things here cost more, but you still earn less. I thought the example in Las Vegas put to shame supposedly progressive polities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Zealand, all of whose governments virtue signal in favour of “affordable housing” but cannot deal with market realities.

Sure, you always have to be a little careful in cross-country comparisons of individual house prices.  In the United States in particular, properties can come with quite high ongoing obligations to cover infrastructure costs etc (in New Zealand much of that cost falls directly on developers and is embedded in section prices).    But there is no credible way those sorts of charges are going to explain the differences between the prices of those Las Vegas townhouses and what our politicians here inflict on New Zealanders.

If I’m not keen on the idea of Las Vegas, it seems that many Americans are.  This is the data for the population of the metropolitan statistical area including Las Vegas.

las vegas

Lots of people, rapid population growth (faster than Auckland’s), and (it appears) wholly affordable housing.

As it happens, there is a big (well, by Wellington standards) townhouse development going on 100 yards or so, as the crow flies, from here. I think the individual townhouses have mostly been presold, but I did find one advert still online.  These places are perhaps 3 minutes drive from the park and beach, 15 minutes drive from the centre of town. But they are only two bedrooms, have a carpark rather than a garage, a single bathroom,and are only 76 square metres.  The asking price was $735000.

And this is Wellington, not as bad as Auckland.

You have to wonder why there isn’t more public outrage about a situation that gets worse (more people hooked into debt based on current high prices) with each passing year.

But what of our so-called leaders –  Ardern, Bridges, Twyford, Collins, Goff, Lester (and 30 years of their predecessors) who let this situation develop, know the problem (well, most of them do), and still have done nothing to fix the mess.  Not one of them will even suggest that house prices as cheap as those in Las Vegas is something we can and should aspire too.   What are they, by their indifference, doing to our kids?


I know the distributional challenges of fixing this mess, once National and Labour in turn got us into it, are real.  A couple of years ago, in a post on options a new Labour government could consider if they were serious about reform, I proposed a compensation scheme.  If it helped overcome the obstacles to the sort of reform Phil Twyford and Judith Collins both talk about wanting, I’d support something like this.

No one will much care about rental property owners who might lose in this transition –  they bought a business, took a risk, and it didn’t pay off.  That is what happens when regulated industries are reformed and freed up.    It isn’t credible –  and arguably isn’t fair –  that existing owner-occupiers (especially those who just happened to buy in the last five years) should bear all the losses.   Compensation isn’t ideal but even the libertarians at the New Zealand Initiative recognise that sometimes it can be the path to enabling vital reforms to occur.  So promise a scheme in which, say, owner-occupiers selling within 10 years of purchase at less than, say, 75 per cent of what they paid for a house, could claim half of any additional losses back from the government (up to a maximum of say $100000).  It would be expensive but (a) the costs would spread over multiple years, and (b) who wants to pretend that the current disastrous housing market isn’t costly in all sorts of fiscal (accommodation supplements) and non-fiscal ways.