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Christchurch City Council – Having your asset-cake and eating it

28 March 2015 2 comments

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christchurch city council logo

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Prelude

On 29 January 2013, Prime Minister John Key announced that the rebuild of Christchurch would be a Herculean, multi-billion dollar task;

New Zealand also faces a domestic construction boom. That will be centred, of course, on Christchurch, where the total spend is now estimated to be around $30 billion.”

By 15 May 2014, National’s Finance Minister, Bill English delivered his sixth Budget speech to Parliament. The cost of the Christchurch re-build  had escalated by $10 billion;

The total cost of the rebuild has been estimated at $40 billion and the Government’s share will be significant.

On current estimates, the Government’s contribution to the rebuild is expected to be $15.4 billion, of which $7.3 billion will be incurred by the Earthquake Commission, net of reinsurance proceeds.

Despite central government’s massive re-build bill for Christchurch, in his Budget Conclusion, English was at pains to repeat his new mantra;

The Government’s books are on track to surplus next year and are the envy of most developed countries.”

The surplus English referred to was an Operating balance Before Gains and Losses (OBEGAL),  forecast to be a hair-thin  $86 million for 2014/15.

English’s  Budget document pointed out;

Government is still borrowing a net $78 million a week, and in dollar terms, net debt is expected to peak at $64.5 billion in 2015/16...”

Little wonder that English stated, with blinding obviousness four days earlier;

It means we will need to maintain firm expenditure control beyond our return to surplus...”

Which is why an increasingly nervous Finance Minister, conscious of spiralling re-build costs, came down hard and crushed any suggestion that taxpayer’s money be used to subsidise the proposed SkyCity convention centre;

There’s no contingency for that. If the less preferred option ended up being the option then that money would be part of the Budget process.”

Firm expenditure control in this case meant that the government-purse was firmly shut. And padlocked.

National Government’s Predictable Response

In May 2011, barely three months after Christchurch’s devastating earthquake that killed 185 people, there were already suggestions from Gerry Brownlee that the Christchurch Council would have to sell part of their community-owned assets to fund the re-build.

National’s mis-handling of the economy, with two unaffordable tax-cuts,  as well as the Global Financial Crisis and resultant recession,  had left the government’s books deep in the red.

At first, Brownlee was coy at any suggestion of asset sales;

I don’t foresee the council having to sell any assets, though in the end that will be their choice.

But in the next breath, he added;

I would suspect that Treasury have had a look at the city council’s balance sheet, given that we are going to have to take a whole lot of debt onto our [the Government’s] balance sheet.

It’s only natural we would have a look at what the council can stand [to pay].

Yes, there is provision in this legislation for Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] to suggest to council that they might need to sell something.

Brownlee denied that government or Treasury had been scoping CCC assets with a view to partial (or full) privatisation;

The accusation is that Treasury have been looking at council assets with a view to what the council will sell. That is, I think, completely erroneous.

On 9 February 2012, a year after the second earthquake,  Brownlee admitted in Parliament (in response to questioning by the future mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel);

In the days leading up to that particular injudicious comment from me there were numerous discussions going on with the council—between the senior executives, the mayor, me, and the senior executives of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority—over a number of issues that we want the council to take some responsibility, alongside us, for. Although Treasury officials will have talked to the council, I am unaware of exactly what that discussion would have been about. But let me tell you that when the Government is spending $5.5 billion anywhere we expect the recipients of that to have some plan for how they will participate in what will be a very, very expensive recovery, and that plan has to be a lot better than saying “We’re just going to put up the rates, and we’re going to borrow a lot more money”.”

Brownlee would have us believe that he was “unaware of exactly what that discussion would have been about” between Treasury officials and  Christchurch council?  As Minister of Earthquake Recovery of that devastated city, that proposition is simply not credible.

Brownlee was not being truthful.

The Minister’s denial was further shown to be less than truthful with this evasive response in Parliament on 2 August 2012;

I have received advice from Treasury and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority on a range of funding options for the rebuilding of Greater Christchurch, to which the Government has committed $5.5 billion to date. Alongside the Christchurch City Council, I support the regeneration of our city, which will be enhanced by the development of the central city plan, released on Monday. I have publicly acknowledged the funding challenges for both the city council and the Government. Councillors and I have agreed to discuss, alongside our respective organisations, a sensible and achievable time line and funding programme for the delivery of the blueprint. I approach these discussions in good faith, as the thousands of city residents would expect us to do so. I intend to say no further on this matter.

The full text  of a remarkable, and somewhat ‘testy’ exchange between Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, and the then-Speaker of the House, Lockwood Smith, under-scored the sensitivity of any suggestion that central government was putting the “squeeze” on Christchurch to sell community-owned assets and relieve pressure on English’s struggle to balance the books.

By May 2013, all pretences that asset sales were not being discussed were firmly kicked to the side, with John Key entering the political fray (and Gerry Brownlee standing pensively and obediently in the background);

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Christchurch rebuild - Council needs to come to the party - PM

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Key was clear with Christchurch residents in his expectations;

The only other option available to it is that it doesn’t actually embark on some of the projects it might want to embark on. In the end Cantabrians will have to have a say on what they think is the right mix.

I actually personally hold the view that for Canterbury, where you love sport, happen to be pretty darn good at it, and have climatic conditions that argue that a covered stadium might make sense, then actually it could be a really sensible thing to do.

And if it was up to me I would make that choice in a heartbeat if it meant changing the mix of assets, but I understand for lots of other people they might not hold that view.

This is the chance to get it right. I just urge everyone to think that through.  There is the opportunity to have some quite fantastic facilities here.

The Government is quite happy to step up and put $15bn in, and there is a limit as to how much we can put in, and some of it must come from the council.

The threat is obvious; ‘cough up the extra cash by selling some of the family silver, or  no more rugger for you lot’!

Faced with National firmly closing off any options to meet ever-increasing re-build costs, Christchurch was faced with few alternatives and on 1 August last year the Council caved to central government pressure in the form of a report from investment bankers, Cameron Partners. As Mayor Lianne Dalziel admitted;

We’ve got nothing, there isn’t even wriggle room any more, there’s just nothing there, we’re over the line and we have to pull it back before 2017.

Creating financial certainty will attract much needed investment in the rebuild. We want to work alongside the Canterbury earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to scope the possibilities for a one-stop landing point for both local and foreign investors.”

Note the year Dalziel refers to: 2017. An election year.

Dalziel’s reference to “both local and foreign investors” is an oblique acknowledgement that the Christchurch City Council will have to part-privatise community assets to raise money that will not be forthcoming from Key’s government.

She was more forth-coming here, on the same day;

Releasing capital from our balance sheet alongside the other options, (including increased income, reduced operational expenditure and government assistance), is clearly one of the ways we can address the uncertainty around the city’s finances.

Dalziel also hinted at why Christchurch was forced to undertake asset sales;

The purpose of releasing capital would be to generate funds to assist in solving the identified funding shortfall; provide the level of confidence and certainty required to develop a credible long term financial strategy and get on with the rebuild of our community facilities, infrastructure and housing; allow CCC to buffer Christchurch residents and businesses from the exponential rates increases; and allow CCC to align our vision and strategic objectives for the rebuild with our asset portfolio – that is, what we own and operate.

It is simply untenable – both from a commercial perspective, as well as morally – that citizens in one city should be forced to pay for the rebuild of their infra-structure. This was a disaster not of their making.

Any suggestion that the cost should not be spread more evenly around the country would create a precedent that we are each solely responsible for any disaster that might befall our own region. Do New Zealanders really want to go down that road? They should think long and hard if that is the kind of society they want for themselves and their children.

Earthquake Recovery Minister could not endorse the Cameron Partners report fast enough, releasing this statement on the same day – 1 August;

The Cameron Partners report makes it clear some major areas of financial uncertainty are causing headaches for Christchurch City, including the cost of repairing and replacing the city’s essential horizontal infrastructure [pipes, roads, waterways].

When we signed the cost-sharing agreement with the council in June 2013 we foresaw this and undertook to do a thorough review of where the shared costs of the rebuild lay by 1 December this year.

Once we have this information we can consider if any amendments are required to the cost-sharing agreement.

Officials from CERA and the Treasury are working with the council already to ensure the review provides Christchurch City with the clarity it needs to help make some of the big decisions ahead of it.”

National had won.

Brownlee had successfully forced Christchurch Council to adopt unofficial National Party policy; that Council’s were expected to divest themselves of strategic assets if funding for extraordinary projects was required. This was the same policy that Brownlee had forced on Auckland, to fund it’s rail loop, and which he outlined on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, on 30 June 2013;

Rachel Smalley:John Key said on Thursday that Auckland should consider selling its assets in order to meet some of these costs. Should the Council consider that?”

Gerry Brownlee: Well I think it’s one of those things that’s inevitably going to be on the table. Remember that we’ve got a programme that is now set out for the next 10 years, and as we come up to the point where you’re getting the business case together for the city rail link and that huge expense that’s involved in that, and recognise that you’ve got a 2016 Local Body Election as well, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t something that was considered by some people.”

But more was come on 6 December 2014, Brownlee was demanding that Christchurch Council increase the level of asset sales;

So it’s a positive step but it’s not the end yet. I do have some worries that it might be a little timid and particularly if it were to lead to much higher rates there in Christchurch.

Murray Horton, from the lobby group ‘Keep Our Assets Canterbury’, was correct when he warned;

Once a chunk of ownership of those assets, the council’s assets, is gone then it won’t be long before there are calls for more to go.

Horton’s prescience was proved barely three months later.

Costs & Consequences

On 26 February, 2015, four years and four days after the city’s second quake, the Christchurch City Council voted;

“...subject to public consultation, the council will release $750m in capital through the sale or partial sale of assets the council owns through its commercial arm, Christchurch City Holdings, to help plug its $1.2 billion funding shortfall.

By the following day, Brownlee was demanding more asset sales, which he repeated more forthrightly on TVNZ’s Q+A on 

I don’t think you can put a particular price on it. What I think they need to do, and I’m sure that the council will get there. I’ve got to say the council have been edging their way to a position that I think will leave them in a good space progressively. What really is necessary is a sales process that gets you the highest possible price. If you go out and say, ‘Look, I’m just going to sell a little bit of this and a little bit of that,’ then you’re not going to get any premium on it at all. And if you’re going to sell something, you may as well get as much for it as you possibly can. That’s my real point.

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…if you look at something like the airport. It’s essentially a real estate company that just provides parking for planes. You could break it down to being that simple. It’s still going to get used. It’s still going to provide the service the city requires whoever owns it. It is partly price controlled through the Commerce Act, as is Orion. Completely price controlled. So the idea that someone else would buy it and the pricing of your electricity lines are going to become completely out of control is completely wrong. ”

The sale of community assets is a perfect fit with National’s ideological and fiscal needs;

  1. Ideologically, National is as wedded to privatisation as it ever was. It is only held back from a  more radical asset sales programme by public opinion – a point no doubt reinforced through National’s on-going secret polling.
  2. Fiscally, forcing local territorial authorities to finance infra-structure through sales of community-own assets lets central government off the hook, and gives English his desperately needed surplus.

Territorial Authorities have little control over Point 2.

With regards to Point 1, however, Territorial Authorities finding themselves under financial pressure can be more strategic when it comes to finding ways and means to navigate political pressure from the likes of right-wing governments and ministers like Gerry Brownlee.

One such mechanism is found within Christchurch City Council’s own document, “Council decision on proposed Financial Strategy“, where it states;

The sale of 14.3 % of Orion on condition that the shares are only offered to another public entity, such as another TA [Territorial Authority], or an institutional investor such as NZ Super Fund, and that any agreement would be subject to the shares returning to the CCC should the investor wish to sell down its share at a future date.

The same document suggests the sale of 34% of Lyttleton Port Company and 9% of Canterbury International Airport Ltd to “a suitable strategic partner“.

The latter measure opens the proverbial slippery slope to further down-selling of Christchurch Council’s shares in both companies. As such, it would be unacceptable to most Cantabrians (and New Zealanders, who have experienced the down-side of sales of strategic assets).

The NZ Super Fund would be an ideal partner for a Territorial Authoritory such as Christchurch Council. At present the NZSF’s investment in New Zealand amounts to only  13.8% in 2014  (down from 14.2% in 2013).

Not only would the NZSF offer an ideal means by which to keep these assets in New Zealand ownership, but would retain the profits instead of seeing them sent off-shore, worsening our Balance of Payments even further.

It would also fulfil the Super Fund’s  2009 directive from the Minister of Finance “requiring us to, while always investing in a prudent and commercial manner, identify and consider opportunities to increase the allocation to New Zealand assets in the Fund“.

Lastly, the Christchurch Council could eventually re-purchase the shares from the NZSF once the city’s re-build was essentially completed and it’s books were back to some semblance of normality.

The first option should always be that local strategic assets remain in local ownership, so that everyone in the community benefits.

In the face of intransigence from an ideologically-bound, and fiscally inept National Government, the best we can hope for is Plan B.

Plan B: transferring ownership, by temporary sale, to the New Zealand Super Fund. It ticks nearly all the boxes.

Additional – Christchurch City Asset Holdings

  • Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL) is the commercial/investment arm of the Christchurch City Council.
  • CCHL manages the Council (ratepayers’) investment – worth around $2.6 billion – in these seven fully or partly-owned council-controlled trading organisations.
  • CCHL is forecasting to paying $46 million in dividends for 2015/16 period.
  • CCHL Special dividend for 2015/16 period: $549,300,000
  • “The return on our CCHL investment from cash dividends has averaged 3 per cent in the last three years and 4 per cent in the last 10 years. When the appreciation in the capital value of its investments is taken into account, CCHL has achieved an internal rate of return over the past five years of 8.0per cent a year, or 25.9 per cent a year since its inception in 1996.” (Source)

Trading Organisations

Orion New Zealand Ltd: 89.3% shareholding

Christchurch International Airport Ltd: 75%

Lyttelton Port Company Ltd: 78.9%

Christchurch City Networks Ltd (trading as Enable Networks): 100%

Red Bus Ltd: 100%

City Care Ltd: 100%

Selwyn Plantation Board Ltd: 39.3%

[Acknowledgement Fairfax Media]

 

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References

National Party: Prime Minister’s Statement to Parliament

NZ Treasury: 2014 Budget Speech

NZ Treasury: Rebuilding Christchurch

NZ Treasury: Budget Priorities

Beehive.govt.nz: Budget will confirm track to surplus in 2014/15

Interest.co.nz: Finance Minister prefers not to spend taxpayer cash to avoid Sky City ‘eyesore’; no money in Budget 2015 for it

Fairfax media: Christchurch door open for asset sales

TV3 News: Government accounts show $18.4 billion deficit

Scoop media: Parliamentary Questions And Answers Feb 9 2012

Green Party: Eugenie Sage questions the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery on Christchurch asset sales

NZ Herald:  Christchurch rebuild – Council needs to come to the party – PM

Fairfax media: Cameron Partners Review – full report

TV One News: Christchurch facing huge financial black hole

Sharechat.co.nz: Christchurch considers selling strategic assets stake to fund rebuild

The Press: Council asset sales mooted to help raise $900m

Scoop media: Brownlee says its up to Len to sell assets for loop

Radio NZ: Asset sales plan ‘may be too timid’

The Press:  Christchurch City Council votes for $750m asset sales

The Press: Gerry Brownlee says Christchurch rate rise as ‘too much’

Scoop media: TV1 Q+A – Govt will protect identities of NZ troops – Brownlee

NZ Super Fund: 2014 Annual Report

NZ Super Fund: 2009 Ministerial Directive

Statistics NZ: Balance of Payments and International Investment Position – December 2014 quarter

Christchurch City Council: Christchurch City Long Term Plan 2015 – 2025

Christchurch City Council: Council decision on proposed Financial Strategy

Additional

Christchurch City Council: Long Term Plan consultation document adopted

Previous related blogposts

Christchurch, choice, and charter schools

Christchurch – Picking the bones clean?

The “Free Market” is a fair-weather friend


 

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This blogpost was submitted to the Christchurch City Council as a submission to the Long Term Plan, on 22 March 2015.
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 March 2015.

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Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

18 October 2014 17 comments

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1949 state house in Taita

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Continued from: Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

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National’s housing development project: ‘Gateway’ to confusion

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates National’s lack of a coherent housing programme than the ‘circus’ that is their “Gateway” policy. The history of this project has to be seen to be believed. As I reported in November 2012;

October 2010: Gateway Project ON!

On 10 August 2010,  the resignation of  former Labour Pacific Island Affairs Minister, Winnie Laban,  triggered a by-election in the Mana electorate. National stood Hekia Parata, a List MP, as their candidate.

As part of National’s campaign to win Mana from Labour, Housing Minister Phil Heatley announced a new housing programme called the “Gateway Housing Assistance“. According to their press release,

Housing Minister Phil Heatley has today launched a new programme which will make it easier for first-time buyers and those on lower incomes to build or purchase their own homes.

Gateway Housing Assistance allows purchasers to build or buy a property but defer payment on the land.

“It is important the Government provides opportunities for people to move into home ownership. Affordable homes schemes such as Gateway is another way we can assist more people into a home of their own,” says Mr Heatley.

“Under Gateway full and final payment for the land can be deferred for up to ten years. This ten year period allows people on lower incomes to concentrate on designing and building, or buying, their homes before they assume the additional burden of paying for the land,” says Mr Heatley.”

It was an election stunt, of course. Much like National’s “sudden interest” in upgrading State housing in the Porirua area.

Three months, the by-election was won by  Kris Faafoi.

May 2012: Gateway Project OFF!

Having lost the 2010 Mana by-election, and as National scrambled to cut  state services; close schools; and scrap any  projects it could get away with (avoiding any public backlash in the process)  the “Gateway Housing Assistanceprogramme became a casualty,

John Key has defended a decision to cancel sales of affordable housing in an Auckland development, saying low interest rates are making it easier for first-time buyers and people on low incomes to afford their own homes.

The Hobsonville Point development, started in 2009, allocated up to 100 of 3000 houses under the Gateway scheme, a helping hand for lower-income first-home buyers who could not afford to buy in Auckland.

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The Prime Minister defended the decision not to include more of the Hobsonville development in the Gateway scheme.

“The Government has looked at that programme and decided that’s now not the most effective way of going forward”.”

Key added,

He said one of the positive stories at the moment was that mortgage rates had fallen.

“So we think the capacity for lower income New Zealanders to own their own home is greatly enhanced by the fact interest rates are lower.

“If you have a look at the average home owner in New Zealand, they are paying about $200 a week less in interest than they were under the previous Labour Government”.”

November 2012: Gateway Project ON (again)!

On 18 November, Labour Leader David Shearer delivered a speech to  his Party conference, promising to implement a mass-construction project to build 100,000 homes for desperate families.

Having gotten ‘wind’ of Shearer’s plans for “Kiwi Build”, National scrambled to dust off it’s Gateway Project, three days before the Labour leader’s speech,

The Government has reinstated plans to allocate a percentage of the houses at Hobsonville Point in Auckland as affordable homes priced under $485,000.”

Then Housing Minister, Phil Heatley, was keen to reassure the voting public that National would “do it’s bit” to help Kiwi “mums and dads” into their own homes – something that has become a distant dream during National’s term.

Even pro-National columnist, John Armstrong, was less than  impressed at the time,

“…when it comes to increasing the housing stock, there is not a lot central government can do unless it is willing to spend big bikkies.”

As was widely reported at the time, the so-called “Gateway Project” was less than a stirling success;

“In 2009, 100 of the 3000 homes at the development were tagged as affordable under the Gateway scheme, giving lower-income first-home buyers a helping hand.

Only 17 were sold, 14 for less that $400,000.”

As I pointed out two years ago – and not much seems to have changed in the interim under this government –

One aspect to Housing Minister Heatley’s press release (Hobsonville Point a boost for Auckland housing) that is painfully evident, is National’s luke-warm approach to the housing problem in this country.  Having read it, one cannot avoid the conclusion that their heart simply isn’t in it, and each word in their press release must have felt like pulling teeth.

Just by comparing the two releases of housing policies, one could easily gauge which Party was more enthusiatic;

National: a press release

Labour: a major policy speech,  given by the Leader of the Labour Party, at the Party annual conference, and released via television, internet, newspapers, etc.

National was not interested in assisting New Zealanders into their own homes. In this instance, National was more interested in trying to up-stage and undermine Labour’s release of  a major policy initiative.

October 2014: Gateway Project –  Status Unknown

As at this point, the status of Housing NZ’s ‘Gate Way‘ assistance project is uncertain, with a previous page on Housing NZ’s website now apparently a dead-link;

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Housing  NZ - Gateway assistance project - webpage

 

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“We’re sorry, but that page doesn’t exist” – is appropriate. The Gateway Project – after only seventeen homes sold under the scheme – seems to have been quietly canned. But as John Armstrong pointed out in 2012, the purpose of National’s quasi-housing “scheme” was not to build new homes for struggling New Zealanders;

“… the Government has finally steered political debate on to something it wishes to talk about, rather than being hostage to what Opposition parties would prefer to debate.”

High rents; growing unaffordability; a shortage of social housing; and growing homelessness – all impacted on our notion of having a decent roof over one’s head. News that,

“…more than half of New Zealand’s homeless were under 25, and a quarter were children. Most lived temporarily with friends or family, squeezed into living-rooms or garages, rather than on the streets.”

– was not what New Zealanders wanted to hear. Not in a nation that once prided itself on high rate of home ownership and the “quarter acre pavlova paradise” was deeply ingrained in the Kiwi psyche. That Paradise was fast disappearing, according to Richard Long, writing in the Dominion Post in 2012,

“So much for our quarter-acre pavlova paradise. The Government belatedly has come to the conclusion that something needs to be done about the failure of the housing market to provide the necessary land; and for resources, somehow, to be directed to providing low-cost housing instead of the present concentration on the expensive stuff.

All this is hardly new. I recall Helen Clark, when prime minister, lecturing me at a Wellington Cup meeting more than a decade ago about the need for land to be made available – at a reasonable price – to address the crisis. She surmised then that speculators were holding on to the land to gain higher returns. And she fingered, quite prophetically, the absurdity of house construction costing 30 per cent more in New Zealand than in Australia.

As the 2014 Election rolled closer, housing once again became a major election-issue. As Long wrote,

Now the Nats are going to have a go at solving the problem, with Finance Minister Bill English basically admitting the market system has failed.”

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Key’s promise – 25 February

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The sell-down of Air New Zealand, Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power, and Meridian raised approximately  $4.67 billion. This was a far cry from earlier expectations of   between $5 billion and $7 billion – and way below Key’s initial, wildly-optimistic forecast of $7 billion to $10 billion in January 2011,

“If we could do that with those five entities … if we can make some savings in terms of what were looking at in the budget and maybe a little on the upside you’re talking about somewhere in the order of $7 to $10 billion less borrowing that the Government could undertake.”

On 25 February 2014, Key announced an end to National’s asset sales programme,

“The truth is that there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme. Or they sit in the category where they are very large, like Transpower, but are a monopoly asset and so aren’t suited I think.”

He explained,

“Just as we did before the last election we’re making our position on share sales clear to New Zealanders before we go to the polls later this year.

We’ve achieved what we wanted with the share offers in energy companies and Air NZ. We’re now returning to a business-as-usual approach when it comes to [state-owned enterprises].”

Why was Key making such a clear promise to the electorate?

An earlier Roy Morgan Poll on 22 January 2014 – one month before Key announced a cessation of asset sales – would have sent National’s back-room strategists into a screaming tail-spin;

National: 43.5%

Labour: 33.5%

Greens: 12.5%

Those were heady days for National’s opponents, and a change in government seemed inevitable.

By committing National to an end to asset sales, Key was being strategic. He knew state asset sales were deeply unpopular with the public, and National did not want to risk giving opposition parties any further ammunition during what was then considered to be an up-coming, closely-fought election.

The polls (at the time) had forced National’s hand to acquiesce to public pressure. It would prove to be a pre-election promise they would regret later.

National made its panic-driven decision to abandon further asset sales at the same time that Fonterra announced at the end of February this year that it would be boosting it’s payout to dairy farmers,

Fonterra’s 35 cent lift in its milk price for the 2013-14 season to $8.65/kg milk solids means an extra half a billion in revenue for New Zealand.

The new forecast is a record payout from the co-operative and with the 10 cent kg/MS dividend on top, meant potential cash in hand for a fully shared up Fonterra farmer-shareholder of $8.75 kg/MS.

Federated Farmers’ dairy chairperson, Willy Leferink, was ebullient,

”In 2010, the NZIER said a $1 kg/MS rise in Fonterra’s payout makes every New Zealander nearly $300 better off.  Given this latest 35 cent kg/MS uplift, every New Zealander could be $100 better off as a result of what we do.”

It was also no doubt something that National was casting a keen eye over, as an increased Fonterra payout meant more tax revenue. National was ‘banking’ on high dairy prices to get it back to surplus by next year, 2015.

It would be a slim surplus of $372 million.

By 24 September, Fonterra had slashed it’s forecast payout down to $5.30/kg.

Prime Minister John Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take;

“It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.

They are giving him (English) a bit of an assessment of what impact that might have. There’s a lot of different factors that go into that surplus. We expect it to have some impact and it’s a very narrow surplus. That doesn’t mean that we won’t achieve surplus. It means the Government will have to think through all of the issues here. There may be other options we choose to take.”

Bill English was already working on those “other options“. He needed to find $5 billion dollars to fill a hole left by collapsing international dairy prices.

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National’s pre-election policy: 2014

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National’s housing policies for the 20 September  election were ‘divvied’ up between first home buyers and ‘social’ housing. Note that throughout National’s policy document, they refer to “social housing” and “state housing” is referred to as “state houses”  only in terms of properties, not as a policy term.

For first home buyers, National was prepared to allow Kiwisaver investors to effectively ‘raid’ their savings and use the funds for a deposit for a house purchase. Aside from further pushing up the price of a limited availability of properties, this is hardly what Dr Michael Cullen had in mind when he set up Kiwisaver in July 2007. Saving for home ownership and saving for retirement are not necessarily the same thing.

On 24 August 2014, Key stated in a speech,

“The policy will help tens of thousands more first home buyers achieve their dream of home ownership. It will get young families started building what for most will be their biggest asset.

National backs young Kiwis who are disciplined, save up and want to put a deposit down on a house.  National values home ownership.  That’s because it provides stability for families, strength for communities and security in retirement.”

However, not all New Zealanders  are fortunate enough to be in high-paying jobs where they can afford to “save up and want to put a deposit down on a house” – and pay high rent whilst doing so in rented accomodation.

Whether the houses are actually there to buy is also a moot point.

To date, this country has been woefully short of supplying new, mid-priced homes, to meet demand. Instead, ” the majority of new homes today are upmarket affairs“, as Rebecca Macfie reported for ‘The Listener‘ in July 2012.

The problem, simply, is insufficient supply to meet demand – especially of affordable properties. According to National’s policy, they need to find “ 90,000 lower and middle income first home buyers into their own home over the next five years” – a policy sounding remarkably similar to Labour’s 100,000 new homes over a space of ten years.

National’s social housing policy was more vague, with passing reference only to social housing providers other than Housing NZ;

What we will do next…

Continue helping those in most need

Support a growing role for community housing providers in delivering social housing through the social housing fund and Housing New Zealand.

In case the page mysteriously disappears (as have other National Party policy releases), the relevent section of the  Social Housing page   is posted here;

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National Party - 2014 election - social housing policy - Housing NZ

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There was  no mention of things to come once the election was over. Certainly no mention of a mass housing sell-off,  which could also be described as  a partial asset-sale of Housing NZ.

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English Blames Everyone Else

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On 7 October, as the National government faced increasing pressure over New Zealand’s growing economic and housing problems, Finance Minister Bill English made this bizarre accusation against local bodies;

“The growth in housing costs over time, to the point where you’re seeing families spending 50 or 60 percent of their income on housing – that’s pretty devastating at the low end.

So councils need to understand that when they run these policies that restrict the availability of land and the opportunity for lower value housing they are causing poverty.”

It was an accusation that startled city leaders from one end of the country to the other, from Auckland to Christchurch.

Green co-leader Metiria Turei was speaking for hundreds of local body elected leaders when she quite rightly pointed out,

“Nowhere in any report from any non-government organisation or Government department has urban planning been blamed for child poverty.

What I think is happening is Bill English is trying to divert attention from the fact that the solutions are obvious and within the power of the Government to implement, but they don’t want to.”

Interestingly, as reported in the same Radio NZ story,

ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said restrictions around the availability of land had affected housing affordability but it wasn’t the only factor to blame for poverty.

He said there were a lot of other challenges behind the scenes, and there was no one-size-fits-all solution to make houses more affordable.

Mr Bagrie said housing unaffordability was possibly due to wages being too low.

In essence, if workers’ remuneration is too low, they cannot purchase the consumer goods and services their society produces.

English, though, was not blaming Councils simply because he was having on “off day”. His diatribe was part of a carefully-calculated agenda, and National’s attack on Local Bodies was  part of a slowly unfolding plan.

He was looking for $5 billion, and there was precious little loose change behind the sofa cushions in the Beehive. Also, as Key had promised on 25 February 2014, National’s asset sales programme had been completed, and there would be no further full-scale privatisation of SOEs.

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Key’s promise – 6 October

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On 6 October, both Key and English made public statements that, on the face of things, seemed to be at variance with each other.

Key said that the government would not “you know, go crazy” selling Housing New Zealand homes

Yet, at the same time, he made clear what his interest in Housing NZ was;

“Housing’s a big issue, I think, for the Government; it’s a big issue for New Zealand and there’s specific parts to that.

So what we’ve done there is to have Bill English as the Minister of Finance responsible for what is a very big asset now in the Government’s balance sheet: Housing New Zealand. About NZ$15 billion worth of assets there.”

Now, in theory, with the income related rents there is a cash flow there that should allow them to actually go and build their housing stock. That is at way too slow a rate than what the government would like to see. So if you think NZ$15.5 billion sitting there for Housing New Zealand and NZ$100 million sitting in social housing, that mix is wrong and I think there is a real opportunity here to potentially change that dynamic and I want to see a lot more work done in that area.”

Part of National’s new agenda was Key’s intention to create a ministerial team compromising of Bill English, Paula Bennett and Nick Smith. The three ministers “would work together on housing issues”.  But the crucial, critical appointment was Bill English, who would take responsibility for Housing New Zealand.

Bill English; Finance Minister and now also Minister Responsible for HNZC (Housing New Zealand Corporation)?  What was the connection between the two portfolios?

As well as eying up the multi-billion asset that is Housing NZ and the additional millions in cash-flow, Key padded his speech with a litany of alleged “faults” with the Corporation;

  • too slow “ to actually go and build their housing stock”
  • “the mix is wrong”
  • the asset is often in the wrong place
  • governments of “successive persuasions have struggled with”  State housing flexibility
  • there was too much ” capital tied up in Housing New Zealand stock
  • they are not always terribly flexible
  • the previous government completely ignored the upkeep of those homes

The implications from repeated rhetoric is clear; Housing NZ has allegedly “mis-managed” their stock, and the State “struggles” with being a suitable landlord.

In his speech, Key failed to mention that National (and previous governments) have been using Housing NZ as a “cash cow”, demanding huge cash dividends from the corporation. As Nick Smith admitted in Parliament on 8 May,

“The average dividend under the 5 years so far of this Government has been $88 million. The dividend this year is $90 million.”

Sucking an average $88 million per year from Housing NZ – a government body charged with assisting the poorest people in our communities – was bound to have negative consequences. Key’s “litany of faults” was wholly predictable – a result of government self-interest to balance their books, at the expense of Housing NZ tenants.

It is not the first time National has used a SOE as a cash cow – or perhaps more akin to a lethal parasitic organism – to the  SOE’s eventual detriment (see: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys).

At any rate, Key’s 6 October speech was laying the groundwork for National’s new State housing policy – which Bill English was making public the very same day. After all, as Tom Scott so astutely pointed out in 2012, Key was renowned as “the Great Salesman” for good reason;

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Chairman Key - The Dear Leader

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Who better to “pitch the deal” to the public, than the most trusted, popular, apolitical  Prime Minister since perhaps David Lange?

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Real Reason for sell-off?

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Meanwhile, Bill English was outlining National’s true agenda, whilst Key was putting on his benign face to the New Zealand public.  As TV3’s Brook Sabin reported,

“A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.

The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.

On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.”

The reason for putting up to  $5 billion-worth of homes  on the block?

Crashing dairy prices had left a gaping hole in the National Government’s books, and their much-vaunted Budget surplus next year was under threat. Remember that  Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take; when he stated – also on 6 October;

“It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.

A day later, on 7 October, Fairfax’s Vernon Small reported on English reiterating the government’s parlous fiscal position;

The Government has posted a Budget deficit of $2.9 billion in the year to June 30, $338m worse than forecast in the pre-election opening of the books.

Finance Minister Bill English said the result was the third consecutive narrowing of the deficit before gains and losses (Obegal) and was further evidence careful fiscal management was producing consistent gains over time.

However it compared with the forecast deficit of $2b in the 2013 Budget.

The major changes since the pre-election picture were a decline in tax revenue, an increase in treaty settlement costs and an increase in earthquake rebuild expenses.

[…]

English said the economy faced some headwinds, including lower dairy prices, uncertain tax revenue, global risks in China and Europe and the impact of the Auckland housing market.

It was therefore rank hypocrisy when English justified the massive sell-of of state housing by linking it to impoverished families’ needs,

“There will be state house sales because we need to move a lot faster if we’re going to provide enough houses for low-income families,” says Mr English.

English’s planned $5 billion sale of State houses is a panic-driven measure by the National Government to plug the gap left by falling dairy prices and concomitant falling taxation revenue.

National’s re-election on 20 September was predicated on it’s undeserved reputation for being a “prudent fiscal manager” of the country’s economy. It was not just their surplus that was at risk – it was their carefully cultivated public perception at being better at managing the economy than Labour.

If National could not deliver a surplus – as it had promised – what good was it as a fiscal steward? It would prove to be a major mill-stone around their neck for the 2017 election.

In the meantime;

Housing New Zealand figures show that at the end of March 5563 people were on the waiting list, compared with 4495 at the same time last year and 4637 the year before.

Our poorest schools are swapping nearly half their pupils a year, as transient families chase work or flee debt.

Some schools say they have taught 7-year-olds who have been through eight schools in their first two years.

Many transient children also have learning difficulties but are often uprooted before schools can bring in extra support.

A decile 1 school will, on average, have twice the student “churn” of a decile 10 school, according to Ministry of Education figures. During the 2013 school year, a typical school in a highly deprived area would have lost and gained the equivalent of nearly half its roll.

A decile 10 school typically has a much more stable roll, with about a quarter coming or going last year. This does not include pupils starting or finishing their schooling.

The transience was even worse in primary schools, hitting children at a time when experts say moving schools is the most harmful.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act, show Russell School, a decile 1 primary in Porirua, had the highest level of pupil turnover in the Wellington region two years ago.

Principal Sose Annandale said a Housing New Zealand shake-up was probably partly responsible for the high turnover that year, but transient families continued to be a big problem.

[…]

The higher level of transience in low-decile schools was not surprising, as deprived families were more likely to move for housing or work.

“Many of these transient families do not have a fixed abode. They are just staying with whanau for a while, until they have to move on again.

As  the Salvation Army’s  Major Campbell Roberts, stated with matter-of-fact bluntness;

“We, at the present in New Zealand, don’t have enough social housing, so to reduce that number further would be a major problem. What there needs to be is an increase in the numbers of social houses.”

In his story, TV3’s Brooke Sabin raised the question,

“So a big cull of state houses is about to get underway, but the crucial question is: Will all that money make its way back into social housing or will some be pocketed by the Government? The official response is that hasn’t been worked out yet.”

Yes, it has, Mr Sabin.

The money will indeed be “pocketed by the government”.

For no other reason than their re-election in 2017 depends on it.

 

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References – Part 2

Scoop media: Gateway to improve housing affordability

Hekia Parata: State housing improved in Porirua

NZ Herald:  Key backs cut-off for cheap homes plan

Labour Party: Speech – New Zealand – A new direction

NZ Herald:  Quota reintroduced for Hobsonville housing development

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – National’s affordable housing package lacks any substantial detail

Housing NZ: Gateway Project

Dominion Post: Richard Long – So much for our quarter-acre paradise

Radio NZ: PM rules out more asset sales

NZ Herald: PM – no more SOEs to sell after Genesis

Fairfax Media: Labour spits over National’s asset sale figures

Fairfax Media: John Key reveals plan for asset sales

Roy Morgan: Poll – January 22 2014

National: Helping first home buyers

National: National to help 90,000 first home buyers

The Listener: Why it’s more expensive to build in NZ than in Australia

Otago Daily Times: Labour – 100,000 more affordable homes

National: Social housing

Radio NZ: Councils reject blame for poverty

Fairfax Media: Fonterra forecast worth an extra $500m to NZ

NBR: BUDGET 2014 – Government surplus meets global rating agency expectations

Interest.co.nz:  Fonterra cuts milk payout forecast for 2014/15 to NZ$5.30/kg

Hive News: Treasury re-crunching Budget numbers for low Fonterra payout

Interest.co.nz:  Key signals big shift towards community-provided social housing from pure state housing in creating ‘super group’ of housing ministers

Radio NZ: John Key reveals new Cabinet lineup

Parliament: Hansards – Housing, Affordable—Progress and Management of Housing New Zealand

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Fairfax Media: Government deficit widens

Fairfax Media: Housing NZ waiting lists swamped

Radio NZ: Govt pushes on with state house sales

Dominion Post: Kids dragged from school to school (See also: Housing policy will destabilise life for children)

Additional references

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

Fairfax media: Over-crowded house blamed for baby’s death

TVNZ News: Thousands of Kiwi kids homeless

Previous related blogposts

Review: TV3′s The Nation – “Let them eat ice cream!”

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

Social Groups

Facebook: Affordable Housing For All

Facebook: Housing NZ Tenants Forum

Facebook: Tamaki Housing Group- Defend Glen Innes

Other blogs

The Jackal: More homelessness under National (30 July 2012)

The Standard: Unaffordable housing & the culture of greed

No Right Turn:  A surprise policy


 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 October 2014

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Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

17 October 2014 23 comments

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1949 state house in Taita

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Intro. Lamp-posts, letterboxes, and liquor outlets

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Barely  three weeks since the election, and Key’s re-elected government is set for one of the biggest state asset sell-offs since… last year.  In line for privatisation; an estimated $5 billion worth of State housing.

State housing is one of the most critical of this country’s social service,  delivering a much-needed roof over the  heads of society’s poorest, most vulnerable, and often most transient. It is fair to say that without state housing – a legacy of enlightened Labour governments and a more sympathetic past public values –  we would have thousands more families living in squalor or on the streets, as currently happens in the richest nation on Earth.

In the US, street homelessness is now as much a feature of the urban landscape as lamp-posts, letterboxes, and liquor outlets;

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Homeslessness

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Here in New Zealand, we seem to be going all-out to emulate our American cuzzies, as our housing situation at all levels is worsening.

Overall home ownership has dropped from 1991, when  73.8% of households own their own home (or held it in a family trust) – compared to last year’s census which now reports 64.8% home ownership (or held in family trust).

In Auckland, home ownership rates are worse, 58% today, compared to 64% in 2001.

Homelessness is a more difficult notion to measure, as the Statistics NZ pointed out for it’s 2013 Census,

In general, people are becoming more difficult to contact in any census or survey collection…

• people having no usual residence (eg homeless people)

However an Otago University study, released in September 2013 concluded,

An estimated 34,000 people, or about one in every 120 New Zealanders, were unable to access housing in 2006, according to the latest available census and emergency housing data.

UOW researcher Dr Kate Amore says very little is known about this population, and the study provides the first ever New Zealand statistics on the problem.

“These 34,000 people were crowding in with family or friends, staying in boarding houses, camping grounds, emergency accommodation, in cars, or on the street. They all had low incomes.

Many of these people are excluded from poverty and unemployment statistics, and are not on social housing waiting lists. They are extremely disadvantaged, and it’s great that we now have a way to produce robust numbers about the size of the problem and who’s affected.”

The tragic nature of homelessness was chillingly spelled out when the report went on to state,

A quarter of severely housing deprived people were children under 15 years, living in these inadequate situations with their family.

The  report went on to reinforce the growing social problem of the working poor,

About a third of the adults in the population were working, but still could not get a house for themselves or their family.

The 10th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey showed housing as severely unaffordable in all eight of New Zealand’s major centres.  Christchurch-based survey author Hugh Pavletic blamed recently centrally-imposed State controls on mortgage loan to value ratio (LVR) restrictions, low mortgage interest rates, and lack of land as reasons for increasing unaffordability.

The same report stated that Auckland house prices were  less affordable than Los Angeles or London.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank’s loan to value ratio (LVR) controls – approved by Bill English on 16 May 2013 – has apparently succeeded in not just forcing first home buyers out of the housing market, but into renting, and pushing up rents.  The average weekly rent for a three bedroom home in Auckland  increased by 29%, from $440 in 2005 to $570 in 2013.

Long time property investor, Ollie Newland, has warned of slums developing as over-crowding increases,

Some landlords were capitalising on the desperate market by renting out homes on a room-by-room basis.

“It’s not a good look. We don’t want to go the way of Bangladesh. It’s quite rife. We come across it all the time, especially in the lower socio-economic areas.

So has housing only recently become a critical social problem?

Not according to the Prime Minister…

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National’s pre-election policy: 2008

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In January 2008, then Opposition Leader, John Key attacked Helen Clark’s administration for Labour’s track record on the economy. He said, in part,

“Tomorrow, Helen Clark will tell us what she thinks about the state of our nation.  In all likelihood, she’ll remind us how good she thinks we’ve got it, how grateful she thinks we should be to Labour, and why we need her for another three years. 

Well, I’ve got a challenge for the Prime Minister.  Before she asks for another three years, why doesn’t she answer the questions Kiwis are really asking, like:

[…]

  • Why can’t our hardworking kids afford to buy their own house?”

Indeed – why can’t our hardworking kids afford to buy their own house?

In the Otago University study (see above) Dr Amore stated,

“We know that housing shortages, poverty, and crowding are very serious problems in New Zealand, so these findings are not surprising. We expect the problem is bigger now than it was in 2006. This study just adds to the evidence that housing is major issue, and we need a lot more quality housing that people on low incomes can afford to live in.”

In the Sydney Morning Herald, when interviewed on the issue of child poverty in this country, John Key was uncharacteristically candid when he admitted,

“Our opponents say more children are living in poverty than when we came into office. And that’s probably right.”

So what is the National government doing about a pressing social problem that is, by the Prime Minister’s own admission, growing?
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Gerry Brownlee – Waiting for Godot, Tomorrow, and Private Enterprise?

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has been made aware of a critical housing shortage in Christchurch, due to the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes which devastated much of the inner city. According to a Buddle Findlay report dated February 2012,

The sheer number of buildings up for demolition is significant.  The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) currently lists 742 CBD buildings that have been or will be demolished.  In his state of the economy address in Auckland on 25 January, Prime Minister John Key said that of the 1,357 buildings approved for partial or full demolition in greater Christchurch, over two thirds have been demolished.  In addition, the demolition of the up to 7,000 residential red zone homes has recently begun in Bexley.

This has resulted in a massive shortage of rentals in Christchurch, with rents continuing to escalate, and people forced to live in substandard or over-crowded accomodation. A 2013 Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MoBIE) report revealed,

No reliable statistics are available on the number of people living in insecure housing. To generate an estimate of the scale of housing insecurity the report starts with a baseline established by a study of homelessness in Christchurch, supplemented by 2006 Census figures on people living in overcrowded housing. Qualitative information from non-government organisations in the area is used to identify plausible increases in the numbers of people living without shelter or in temporary or emergency shelter. Estimates of the housing stock lost due to earthquakes are used to identify the potential increase in numbers of people living in crowded conditions with other households. Through this approach, the report’s initial estimate of the scale of insecure housing is expressed as a broad range. That range runs between 5,510 and 7,405 residents, up from 3,750 before the earthquakes.

The same report updated the decline in housing stock in the quake-ravaged city,

“…it has been estimated that the total housing stock has been reduced by a net 11,500, or 6.2% of the previous housing stock.”

Predictably, as housing stock and rental numbers fell, rents skyrocketed. According to the same MoBIE report,

In the month of February 2013, the average weekly rent from new bonds lodged for the greater Christchurch region was $384. This is a 31% increase compared to the pre-earthquake month of August 2010 when the average rent was $293. The majority of this increase took place in 2012, as shown in Graph 6. Greater Christchurch’s average rent increased $92 per week which is very significant and will have an adverse impact on many tenants’ financial wellbeing. During this same period, Auckland’s average rent increased $50 per week or 13%.

When confronted with this crisis, Minister Brownlee’s response was reported in The Press, on 20 March 2012, offering this “solution” to Christchurch’s housing-shortage;

The Government appears to have ruled out further intervention in Christchurch’s worsening rental housing crisis.

The solution is best left to the market, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

A month later, Brownlee continued his ‘King Canute-like’ resistance to the problem,

People may be sleeping in cars, sheds and garages, but there is no rental housing crisis in Christchurch, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

“This is a problem, I’ll accept that, but I don’t think this is a crisis,” he said yesterday.

And incredibly,

Brownlee said the steep increase in rent was “not a problem that has been brought to my attention”.

The Government would not intervene in the issue, he said.

“A rent freeze doesn’t increase supply and will never encourage new stock to come in. We won’t be moving to regulate rents but we most certainly are actively providing new housing.”

Brownlee’s defensiveness is understandable. Nationwide, it is estimated that 20,000 – 23,000 new homes are required per year,  to meet demand.

However, over the last three years, less than 15,000 per year have been built.

So much for “the market”.

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Making Supply “meet” Demand – a sleight-of-hand trick

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When “market” supply doesn’t meet demand, there are three options available,

  1. Increase supply
  2. Dampen demand
  3. Ignore the problem

National chose Option 2 as the fastest, cheapest way to address the problem. As referred above, on 16 May 2013, Finance Minister Bill English approved a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the  Reserve Bank’s loan to implement  Loan to Value Ratio (LVR) controls. In simple terms,

Banks will be required to restrict new residential mortgage lending at LVRs of over 80 percent (deposit of less than 20 percent) to no more than 10 percent of the dollar value of their new residential mortgage lending.

Banks which exceeded the limit (10% of all lending) of low LVR (20% deposits) risked considered reprisals from the RBNZ,

If a bank breaches the speed limit it will be in breach of its conditions of registration. The Reserve Bank would need to consider the reasons for the breach and may impose a range of sanctions.

Again, Key was candid in the plan to address demand-side pressures on housing,

“Even with LVRs introduced, interest rates may ultimately rise anyway, but the intention with these loan-to-value ratios is to provide the Reserve Bank with other tools to dampen demand.”

Not since the Muldoon-led National administration, when price-wage controls froze the economy in 1982 – with dire results – has a government attempted to control a facet of the banking system with such direct, interventionist controls. Again, state intervention was the tool-of-choice, as Key admitted,

“We need to try to help people into their homes but also facilitate an orderly market.”

This was Muldoonism 2.0, and it was coming from a supposed free-market National government, with the blessing of Muldoon’s successor, John Key.

Even before the RBNZ implemented their new, prescriptive LVR regulations, National was pushing for exemptions with  New Zealand Bankers Association chief executive Kirk Hope stating the obvious,

“The Reserve Bank policy will have an impact on low income buyers. It will knock them out of the market.”

By December 2013 the Reserve Bank had “buckled” to government pressure. The government realised that preventing first-home buyers from getting into their first house was not a palatable political option.  The opposition would have a field day at National’s expense, and New Zealanders would begin to notice.

Forcing the RBNZ to implement first-home buyer exemptions for new-build houses ultimately proved fruitless. By 1 October  this year, the damage had been done and the results were wholly predictable;

Experts say the Reserve Bank’s controversial home loan restrictions have achieved the desired effect, but at the expense of first-home buyers.

One year ago today, the central bank introduced limits on high loan-to-value ratio (LVR) loans in an attempt to slow house price growth and reduce risk to the financial system.

The latest bank lending data from the June quarter shows the rules have been highly effective, wiping $5.5 billion worth of high-LVR loans from the balances that were recorded on September 30, last year.

[…]

HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said the limits had helped dampen house price inflation, though it was difficult to say by how much.

“It’s still unclear as to whether LVRs were the driver, or the higher interest rates were the driver.”

Bloxham said the limits had worked well in removing risk from the financial system, but not without social consequences.

“Along the way . . . the largest effect it’s had is to cut the first-home buyer out of the market.”

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research economist, Shamubeel Eaqub,  was damning of the government-sanctioned LVR restrictions,  saying that   first-home buyers had been unfairly blamed for  the housing bubble,

“The data we have seen very clearly shows it was investors.  We don’t think there’s any reason to maintain the LVR restrictions any further, especially now [the Reserve Bank] has raised interest rates.”

Bear in  mind’s National’s technique for solving problems. It would set the stage for  New Zealand’s growing shortage of social housing, and National’s ‘Clayton’s‘ response.

To be Concluded: Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)


 

References

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Radio NZ:  Home ownership on decrease

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment: Housing key facts

Statistics NZ: Coverage in the 2013 Census based on the New Zealand 2013 Post-enumeration Survey (pdf)

Otago University: 34,000 people missing out on housing, University of Otago research shows

Fairfax media: Housing affordability getting worse

Reserve Bank NZ: RBNZ signs MOU on use of macro-prudential tools

NZ Herald: Rents rise as buyers forced out of market

John Key: A Fresh Start for New Zealand

Sydney Morning Herald: The Key Factor

Buddle Findlay: The Progress of earthquake related demolitions in Christchurch

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment: Housing Pressures in Christchurch (pdf)

The Press: Christchurch rent crisis ‘best left to market’

Fairfax media: No Christchurch rental crisis -‘Pontius’ Brownlee

Reserve Bank:  Loan-to-value ratio restrictions – FAQs

Dominion Post:  Few first home buyer details in PM speech

Te Ara – TheEncyclopedia of New Zealand: Muldoon announces a wage and prize freeze, 1982

TVNZ News: Govt pushes for loan restriction exemption

NZ Herald: Reserve Bank buckles – new homes exempt from loan rules

Fairfax media: LVR works at first-home buyers’ cost

Scoop media: Gateway to improve housing affordability

Hekia Parata: State housing improved in Porirua

Additional references

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

Fairfax media: Over-crowded house blamed for baby’s death

Previous related blogposts

Review: TV3′s The Nation – “Let them eat ice cream!”

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Social Groups

Facebook: Affordable Housing For All

Facebook: Housing NZ Tenants Forum

Facebook: Tamaki Housing Group- Defend Glen Innes

Other blogs

The Jackal: More homelessness under National (30 July 2012)

The Standard: Unaffordable housing & the culture of greed

No Right Turn:  A surprise policy


 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 October 2014

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Letter to the Editor – a message to Cantabrians

27 August 2014 1 comment

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from:     Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:         “The Press” <letters@press.co.nz>
date:      Wed, Aug 27, 2014
subject: Letters to the editor

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The editor
“The Press”
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It must be galling for Cantabrians, and specifically the long-suffering people of Christchurch, that despite skyrocketing rents; critical housing shorting; and insurance payout delays – that the priority of John  Key’s government is – tax cuts.
It shows the depths of desperation faced by National that they risk losing the election and  would rather spray money around for yet more unaffordable tax cuts – rather than address the critical problems faced by Christchurch.
It shows their number one priority is not re-building a shattered city after three years – but attempting to bribe voters.

Cantabrians may do well to reflect on that when they head to the ballot booths on 20 September.
-Frank Macskasy

 

[address & phone number supplied]

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Guest Author: A Cry of desperation from Christchurch

–  Sarah O’Brien

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I spoke to my father (84 yrs old) and asked.. ‘are you going to watch Hope & Wire”?

His response… ‘No, it hardly represents what the people here are still going through. It misrepresents Christchurch all together, and the language is unacceptable.  All this intermittant rubbish the writer has crammed into it… represents us as a group of badly educated, sex driven white supremists’!!!

YES.. I couldn’t agree more…

Having now lived through over 13000 earthquakes, and dealing on a daily basis with my own paper war to have my insurance contract with IAG (via the ASB) honoured, living with black mold in the ceilings, no carpet, gib off bedroom & living room walls and having had raw sewerage in the house for 2 years as EQC refused to fix this under ’emergency repairs’ (while my insurers didnt want to know until I was deemed ‘Over cap with EQC, not able to get it fixed myself or ‘I’d loose my insurance claim’!!!)’.

Now I witness see daily ‘fletchered cosmetic repairs failing’, and elderly / disable persons having to shift from their homes for the 2nd or 3rd time, as their floor boards were ‘propped up’ (Jack and Packed) with bits of MDF / Malamine / Gib board and even an old chair leg!!!

Entry doors and windows still cannot be secured, water ingress every time it rains, and drive / pathways inaccessible to those who are elderly or disabled in small ways.

Why?? Because Gerry & his army of twats has decided its OK for up to 20% of structural repairs (replacement of piles) under houses , are able to be completed without consent!!!!! Therefore, we have cowboys being paid millions and their work is not requiring council building inspection!!!! Is this what our insurance is paying for???

YES: the government led (CERA) Fletcher repair scheme has cost the taxpayers three times more than it ever should, caused hundreds of deaths, illness (mental and physical), and this whole Government orchistrated genocide and complete ignoring of the plight of the Christchurch people is criminal….

But do YOU know how I felt at the end of Hope & Wire??

I shed a blubbery tear and felt…

BUGGER YOU NEW ZEALAND. ALL YOU SO CALLED FELLOW COUNTRYMEN & WOMAN. JUST BUGGER YOU ALL.

Why???

Because I have pleaded with you all to listen, protest, become involved and support us.. You get out there to save the dolphins. You rally to stop fracking. You rally to have emergency houses built in Auckland. You rally to help North Island flood victims or Wellington storm / earthquake victims.. you rally to stop wars in other countries.

Yet you leave the victims of this city for four years to survive sub-zer0 degree nights, relentless floods, living in 3rd world conditions. Many still living in tents and garages…. and STILL STUCK WITH EQC / FLETCHERS AND INSURERS STAFF WHO RELENTLESSLY BULLY AND THREATEN ELDERLY AND VULNERABLE VICTIMS OF THIS. OUR NATIONS TRAVESTY.

Yes… BUGGER YOU. If this was rugby… another springbok event.. would you take a day off work and protest??? THIS IS GENOCIDE HERE!! WAKE UP!!!

Sarah O’Brien
Christchurch resident, July 2014

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Previous related blogposts

Interview: Angie, the Earthquake Angel

A tale of two tragedies

Additional

Fairfax media: Christchurch rent crisis ‘best left to market’

The Christchurch Fiasco : the Insurance Aftershock and its Implications for New Zealand and Beyond


 

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National's trickle down policy is a frozen tap

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Radio NZ: Nine to Noon – Brian Easton – 7 February 2013

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– Nine To Noon –

 

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– Friday 7 February 2014  –

 

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– Kathryn Ryan & Brian Easton –

 

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Income inequality in New Zealand is set to become a central election issue, but is it really getting worse?

Brian Easton offers a solution how to address income inequality. Listen and find out what he suggests.

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Radio NZ logo -  nine to noon with Brian Easton

 

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Click to listen: Brian Easton, Economist ( 13′ 37″ )

 

 

 

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Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

(Hat tip: Murray Simmonds)

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More dispatches from Planet Key

17 March 2013 4 comments

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planet key

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Planet Key’s #3 Moon “Brownlee”; Largest of the Moons, it tends to disturb other bodies through it’s presence. “Brownlee” has a rough surface and highly abrasive atmosphere that many find obnoxious. “Brownlee’s” gravitational influence has a negative, perturbing,  influence on nearby bodies such as Planet Christchurch.

Brownlee recently let rip at Christchurch City Council for not carrying out repairs to council-owned community housing fast enough,

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Brownlee says housing councillor should go

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

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Consider for a moment that Brownlee, as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery  Minister, is in constant contact with CERA, Christchurch’s mayor, and anyone else remotely connected with that city and it’s re-build.

Brownlee has channels of communications that are open to him that allows him to discuss issues and problems as they arise.

So what was the purpose of this display of public excoriation of the Christchurch Council and especially the vilification of one Councillor, Yani Johanson?!

Does Mr Johanson not have a telephone?

Email? Skype? A paper letter? Smoke signals? (The latter seems to work well for the Vatican.)

Could Brownlee not have sat down around a table and asked the most basic of questions,

How can we help?”

Or is the public display of testosterone-fuelled machismo Minister Brownlee’s new modus operandi when dealing with those who fall within his ministerial orbit?

This kind of authoritarianism may be the norm in Zimbabwe, Burma, or North Korea – but here in New Zealand it comes across as the cries and foot-stamping of a petulant child.

Meanwhile, National ministers should look in their own backyard when it comes to housing,

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Pomare housing demolition begins

Acknowledgement: Dominion Post

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Christchurch has been wracked by two massive earthquakes and thousands more quakes since. Every aspect of their basic infra-structure was damaged or ruined to varying degrees.

I think we can cut them some slack when it comes to re-building an entire city, from beneath ground-up.

Meanwhile, nearly eighteen months later, with no earthquakes or any other major disasters (unless one  calls a National Government a major disaster), one wonders why National ministers have not progressed any further to re-build Pomare’s state housing?

After nearly a year and a half, all we’re seeing is a vast vacant lot, where once peoples’  homes existed,

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Pomare state housing_vacant lot_farmers cres

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Pomare state housing_vacant lot_farmers cres

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Any ideas, Mr Brownlee?

(More on this issue in an up-coming blog-story)

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Planet Key’s #4 Moon “Dunne”; covered in a dense, white atmosphere; “Dunne” is known to move from Planet Key to Planet Labour depending on which mass is greatest. The largest surface object on “Dunne” is the ‘Make Me a Minister’ volcano, which erupts whenever there is a nearby power-source.

As Minister of Revenue and Flashy Hairstyles, Peter Dunne is charged with taxation issues in this country.

No doubt his job was made considerably harder with two tax cuts (2009 and 2010) which considerably reduced taxation revenue for the State. (see:  Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting, see:  Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b) Indeed, English was forced to tax children and their paper-rounds. (see:  Key rejects criticism of ‘paperboy tax’)

Taxing kid’s meagre earnings. That’s how low and desperate National ministers have gone, to make up for the 2009/10 ‘lolly scrambles’ when the Nats  gave away billions in unaffordable tax cuts.

To try to fill the fiscal hole that Bill English, Peter Dunne, et al, have put themselves into, they’ve been scrambling to raise government charges  and tax everything and anything else that moves. (see: Prescription fees increase, see: Vulnerable children at risk from Family Court fees increase, see: Student fees rise faster than inflation, see: Petrol price rises to balance books)

The latest attempt to raise new taxes is Peter Dunne’s ‘carpark tax’,

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Business will evade car park tax

Acknowledgement: Fairfax media

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Well, well, well… a new tax?

A new fringe benefit tax?!

This is interesting.

Because John Key has always insisted that his Party cuts taxes and doesn’t increase them. Specifically, way back on 4 April 2005, when National was in Opposition,

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National Party Finance spokesman John Key has signalled an overhaul of the Fringe Benefit Tax, during a speech to the Auckland Rotary Club today.

“The next National Government will cut the red tape and compliance costs that are choking our businesses and preventing them from getting off first base,” he says.

“A practical example of what I am talking about is in the area of Fringe Benefit Tax.

“Today I want to announce that National will revamp Fringe Benefit Tax to remove a substantial amount of the paperwork that currently occupies too much administrative time for many of our businesses, especially the small ones.

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We won’t entertain suggestions of applying FBT to on-premises car parks.” 

Acknowledgement: Scoop.co.nz

And again in 2010, when a video was uncovered where Dear Leader was quoted as saying,

National is not going to be raising GST. National wants to cut taxes, not raise taxes.

See: Key ‘no GST rise’ video emerges

When challenged on this in the House, just recently,  Minister for Everything, Steven Joyce, responded with this bit of bovine faecal material,

I would say that I think a fair amount has changed since that statement was made back in April 2005, which was when Don Brash was leader of the National Party. Since that time we have had three leaders of the Labour Party, and maybe a fourth leader of the Labour Party—”

Source: Parliament Hansards – 9. Tax System Changes—Employee Car-parks

Yeah. Lot’s of things have changed. Like, for example, the difference between being in Opposition and Promising the Moon – and being in Government and having to explain why the Moon is still out of reach.

And when the Nats have to make smart-arse comments about Labour’s leaders, then you know they’re really on the ropes. Defensive much, Mr Joyce?

Like Key’s broken promise on GST, the “carpark” tax is another instance of National breaking it’s election promises. Which indicates, mainly, that National’s tax-cuts were never as affordable as they made out in 2008.

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Special Edition Tax cuts today - John Key

Acknowledgement: National Party

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Planet Key’s #5 Moon “Bennett”; “Bennett” originated from the asteroid belt, where many poorer dwarf-planets with low mass; minimal mineral wealth; and mostly invisible, are locked in orbits that will take them nowhere. “Bennett” gravitated to the National Zone where her mass and mineral wealth increased by close association with  Planet Key and it’s many  moons.

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To repeat and quote Bennett, when she stated on TVNZ’s Q+A on 29 April 2012,,

There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do. “

See:  TVNZ  Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview

To quote Minister Bennett’s latest utterances on this issue, on 12 March 2013, when hundreds of  people recently queued for just seven jobs at Carter Holt Harvey in Auckland,

“Well I am absolutely thrilled that 200 turned up quite frankly we’ve got more than 50,000 on the unemployment benefit but work expectations of them I think the fact that they are lining up that they want those jobs um speaks for itself and about peoples’ motivation to get work.”
 

“There’s always a lot of people going for certain types of jobs and if in particular if they are lower skilled they feel they can do them, they don’t have a lot of work experience, they have been out of work for some time.”

 
“No I don’t feel there is a job for everyone and I think it’s damn tough but I am incredibly proud of New Zealanders and their  motivation and the fact that they want them and I know that the economy is improving and we are going to see more happening.”

See: TV3  – Campbell Live:  Sign of the times: hundreds queue for 7 jobs

Acknowledgement for transcript:  Waitakere News – Don Elder, Paula Bennett and the rest of us

Ok, so the lightbulb has finally clicked in Bennett’s head. New Zealand has a problem. We do not have enough jobs for the number of unemployed and solo-parents who want to work.

It’s not often that a politician acknowledges the bleedin’ obvious – so kudos to her for having the  courage to do so. (John Key might learn a thing from Bennett in terms of not ducking  issues.)

However, if there are not sufficient jobs to go around – what is the point in wasting taxpayers’ money and Parliament’s time on this exercise in futility,

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Welfare reform bill passed into law

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald

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And why is language like this used by Bennett,

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Reforms to help beneficiaries out of 'trap'

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald

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If there are insufficient jobs – as Bennett herself has now acknowledged on at least two occassions, then ipso facto, the following must be true;

  1. The only ‘trap’ is a lack of work – not welfare
  2. Why “reform” the welfare system  when welfare itself is not broke – it’s the economy that is not working (as are 170,000 people)
  3. Why muddy the waters with  rhetoric like  “trap of benefit dependency“; “introduce expectations for partners of beneficiaries and make beneficiaries prepare for work“; or that welfare had “become a bit of a trap for quite a few people“?

What does “a bit of a trap for quite a few people” mean? That it’s a “little” trap as opposed to a “big” trap? Or is she attempting to minimise the impact of her beneficiary-bashing by trying to soften her rhetoric?

So the “dog whistle” rhetoric filters down to the right wing; the ill-informed; and other welfare-hating cliques in our society – but the message is watered-down for the Middle Classes who are uncomfortable with victimising the unemployed, or who may even know someone who recently lost their jobs.

That’s the trouble with beneficiary bashing during times of high unemployment. Most of us know someone who has lost their job through no fault of their own. Bennett is walking a tight-rope here.

Eventually, people will be asking; why are National ministers  wasting time on pointless welfare “reform” when it’s jobs we need?

Once that message percolates into the collective consciousness of the masses, National will be left standing naked – their corrupt, bene-bashing, dog-whistle politics exposed for all to see.

A few questions for Ms Bennett,

Why are you messing around with welform “reform”, when it’s jobs that we need?

Why aren’t you and your well-paid ministerial colleagues reforming the economy to create more jobs?

How much are these “reforms”  costing us, the tax-payer?

How many extra jobs will welfare “reforms” create?

I don’t expect answers to these questions because, really, they are unanswerable.

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