Nathan Guy's decision in 2011 to grant New Zealand citizenship to U.S. tech billionaire Peter Thiel "in the public interest due to exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature" is starting to look awkward for the Government.
Citizenship is usually only granted after five years to residents who have spent 70% of their time in New Zealand, which appears unlikely in Thiel's case, given his status as one Silicon Valley's highest profile and most active venture capitalists. There is therefore intense interest in what those "exceptional circumstances" might be, particularly given Thiel's prominence as an adviser to Donald Trump -- who has pledged to put America First.
However Nathan Guy couldn't shed any light on it this morning, telling RNZ he simply followed departmental advice and could not recall the reasons for granting citizenship. The Department of Internal Affairs said it would respond to questions within 20 working days, leaving the issue to fester until more detail emerges.
The Government's hesitant early response to Matt Nippert's revelation yesterday of Thiel's citizenship left questions unanswered and opened it up to accusations of favouritism to billionaires buying bolt-holes in New Zealand.
Iain Lees Galloway yesterday lodged a Parliamentary question with current DIA minister Peter Dunne in the wake of Matt Nippert's report.
"There is no evidence of impropriety in this case, but New Zealanders pride ourselves on being an egalitarian nation where citizenship is not for sale, and that ideal must be upheld," Lees Galloway said.
"There may well be an innocent explanation but the longer the Government stays silent the more it appears they have something to hide," he said.
Thiel was a prominent supporter and funder of Donald Trump before his nomination as the Republican candidate for President and has been a close adviser to Trump on technology and business issues. Trump may not appreciate the billionaire's decision to put New Zealand first when it comes citizenship, or the impression that Thiel is one of a rootless globalised elite that Trump has railed against.
The issue has taken on extra prominence here and in America after Evan Osnos' report in the New Yorker this week on how super-rich doomsday preppers are buying properties in New Zealand.
Osnos quoted LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman as describing those who buy houses in New Zealand as buying "apocalypse insurance."
“Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more," Hoffman was quoted as saying.
This issue is also likely to take on a higher profile overseas and here given Thiel's controversial views on democracy ( he wrote in 2009 that giving women the vote was a mistake and supports sea-steading ) and his funding of a defamation lawsuit that bankrupted muck-raking website Gawker. This Vanity Fair backgrounder on Thiel vs Gawker is an eye-opening read.
Low-skilled jobs growth strong
In another sign of strong growth in lower-skilled jobs because of the ageing population and the tourism and hospitality booms, MBIE reported job advertisements rose 1.1% in December from November, and were up 13% in December from a year ago.
The fastest growth over the last year has been in the unskilled and lower skilled occupations, which rose 24.7% and 17.8% respectively from a year ago. The highest skilled category of job advertisements rose 6.6% over the last year.
The major contributors by industry in December were hospitality and tourism, which rose 1.8% in the month, and healthcare and medical jobs, which rose 1.2%. Information technology job advertisements fell 2.4%. The fastest growth by occupation was in job advertisements for labourers, which rose 3.3%, and machinery drivers, which rose 2.6%.
In other economic and financial news...
Nick Smith announced the Government was using the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery Act to require building owners in Wellington, Blenheim and Lower Hutt to strengthen masonry facades and parapets within a year to avoid harming pedestrians in an earthquake. Smith said a NZ$3 million fund had been created to help pay building owners up to 50% of the repair costs to a maximum of NZ$15,000 per facade and NZ$10,000 per parapet. Grant Robertson called for more Government support to accelerate quake strengthening work, particularly for apartment owners in Wellington.
In other political news...
National MP for Rangitata Jo Goodhew, who was demoted from a ministry to the back-benches in Bill English's first reshuffle, announced she would not contest the 2017 election. She had said in December she would stand again. Goodhew won Rangitata in 2014 with a majority of 12,044, opening up a safe National seat for somebody.
Tweets of the day:
I'll be annoyed about Thiel in New Zealand IF he starts a political party, records a crap CD and plasters his face over the back of buses
Josh Marshall on Donald Trump's announcement overnight of an investigation into widespread voter fraud, which experts does not happen:
In the tradition of strategic insight and clarity of Sun Tzu & Machiavelli, Donald Trump is contesting the legitimacy of an election he won.
Have a great day