Parting Shot: Hot air on housing, polls and politics


There’s much political bluster about the housing crisis.

Labour’s actually looked like a genuine opposition party this week, sniffing a weakness over housing in the John Key-led government juggernaut.

The media’s been awash with stories about people living in cars in Auckland, and racking up bills of tens of thousands of dollars in emergency housing.

You can argue the toss about bad behaviour by tenants but it just doesn’t seem right.

In Queenstown, Housing New Zealand appalled social groups by selling a state house rather than renting it to hard-up tenants.

Meanwhile people are paying more than $200 a bed in a shared room, in boarding house conditions.

Yet ministers have kept the party line that there is no crisis. This is just semantics.

At least Paula Bennett, who called in to Queenstown last week for a women’s business conference, was bold enough to say it’s a crisis for people without a home.

The real test comes today, when Finance Minister Bill English delivers his eighth Budget.

Gone are the days when everything was announced in one big yawn-fest.

The pollies have cottoned on to short attention spans for political announcements in industrial-sized batches.

Now they tend to drip-feed the “good news” – such as the taxpayer-backed linking of Central Lakes cycle trails.

But given Tuesday night’s Newshub poll result the government appears to be losing the PR battle.

People were asked, is the government doing enough to control the housing market?

A whopping 76 per cent said no (and 20 per cent yes), which is a huge slap for a popular sitting government.

This is the real test of a government. How can they turn it around in today’s Budget?

Key’s mob have been masters at pinching policies and branding them as their own.

That appears likely to happen with an increase in paid parental leave.

The opposition’s ideas for housing, however - capital gains taxes, state-backed home-building and forcing foreign buyers to build new homes - seem unpalatable to such a steady-as-she-goes crop.

It’s dropping the ball and it needs results.

Keen Wakatipu watchers should pick through the announcements and see what’s in it for Queenstown.

We’ve had a procession of ministers in town in recent weeks for various conferences and catch-ups.

Housing Minister Nick Smith made a special visit to Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden, to berate her council for its poor performance in addressing housing issues.

But what is it worth if the government blusters and does nothing?

Putting aside Housing New Zealand’s ridiculous head-in-the-sand sale of its state house, I was particularly disappointed in one aspect of last week’s blow-up.

On the day of the auction, Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay was happy to put out a statement praising the arrival of eGates for Queenstown Airport.

But when I asked his press minder for comment about the state house, the tyro MP said in an emailed statement: “It’s a Housing New Zealand issue and therefore inappropriate for me to comment.”

That’s just bollocks.

An MP is a representative of the people.

Other than making laws and tinkering with budgets – and the Budget - MPs should spend a good deal of their time talking about issues facing people in their electorate.

Barclay’s happy to talk to us about the council being unwilling to bend planning rules for businesses wanting to build in special housing areas.

But when complaints arise involving anonymous constituents paying eye-popping sums to live in cold, mouldy flats, somehow it’s “inappropriate”?

I don’t buy it.

Good politicians, in my view, are those who take the rough with the smooth, those who realise that the media’s angles won’t always go their way but they give an opinion anyway.

It’s not good enough and he needs to lift his game.

(Barclay says fair cop, but adds: “I’m sure you realise that as a member of the government I am restricted in my ability to cast views on operational decisions made by government departments that we as politicians are not legally able to influence.”)

And the government needs to ensure it’s not caught just blustering.

If it’s happy to criticise the council for not doing its job it must be willing to do something about it.