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The Free-market, Hyper-individualism… and a Culture of Cruelty?

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Up till recently, I had believed that there were two facets comprising to create a  neo-liberal economy (not “society” – neo-liberalism does not recognise community or society where individuals organise for a greater collective good).

The first was a free market predicated on minimal regulation; reduced government; greater reliance of private enterprise to deliver services; and a lower tax-take which forces future left-leaning governments to curtail vital infra-structure and social-spending.

As Coalition Finance Minister, Grant Robertson clearly told the told the country in March this year;

“We’ve put aside $42bn over the next four years for capital investment but you know what? It won’t be enough. We understand that we need to take a more innovative approach to the financing of infrastructure.”

Which was well understood by National’s former Finance Minister, Steven Joyce,  when he accused Labour of a so-called “$11.7 billion fiscal hole” in their pre-election costings.

National’s tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 were not just an election bribe at a time the country could ill afford them – they were a strategic move to constrain a future Labour-led government in a tight fiscal straight-jacket.

Then-Finance Minister, Bill English, said that the 2009 tax cut represented a $1 billion loss of revenue to the National government;

“About 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut, injecting an extra $1 billion into the economy in the coming year.”

The following year, National’s tax would be estimated to cost the State at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

This was well-under-stood by commentators, analysts, politicians. National-leaning John Armstrong explained this in straight-forward terms;

The message is Labour – if it wins – is not going to spend money the new Government will not have…

… is not going to make promises in advance he cannot keep.

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The yawning chasm of the Budget deficit meant there was no new money to spend. Some cherished policies would have to be introduced progressively – rather than in one go. Savings would have to be found; sacrifices would have to be made. And so on.

That was penned by Mr Armstrong in 2011. It still holds true today.

The second facet of neo-liberalism is promulgation and amplification of the Cult of the Individual. Whether this means cheaper imported goods at the expense of local industry and jobs; doing away with retailing restrictions (or even planned, deliberate breaking of the law); easier access to alcohol and subsequent social impacts; the primacy of the Individual’s rights for self-interest and gratification would trump communities expectations of collective  responsibility; social cohesion; the health and wellbeing of the population, and the greater good.

For example, attempts by communities to restrict and reign in plentiful availability of cheap alcohol is usually  met with a predictable vocal chorus of indignant outrage from people for whom the Right To Buy When/Where-ever supercedes any societal problems. The most spurious arguments are presented, attempting to portray consumers as hapless “victims” of “bureaucracy-gone-made”. Or “Nanny statism”.

Yet, the cost of alcohol abuse was estimated to be approximately $5.3 billion in 2016. That’s $5.3 billion that could have been invested in education, health, public transport,  housing, conservation and pest control, increased research in green technologies, etc.

The heavy  costs of alcohol abuse is socialised, whilst profits are privatised to business and their shareholders. For many, it is more important to be able to buy a drink at 4am in the morning than social problems arising from easy availability.  For some individuals, that convenience outstrips whatever harm is occurring elsewhere. “It’s not my problem”, is the thought that often runs through the minds of many who demand their rights – regardless of consequences.

But there is a third aspect – like a third leg to a three-legged stool – that must exist if neo-liberalism is to thrive: Cruelty.

A certain amount of callousness; disdain; and outright hatred must replace  compassion, egalitarianism, and a sense of community cohesion if the neo-liberal version of “society” is to operate successfully.

It is the reason why neo-liberalism never took hold in Scandinavian countries.

It is the reason why – once a foothold was gained in the late 1980s – successive governments ensured the neo-liberal model was maintained in this country.

Almost by definition, neo-liberalism cannot operate in a society which has values diametrically opposed to it. It took an “economic crisis” in 1984/85 for the Lange-led Labour government to impose Rogernomics.

In 1991, Ruth Richardson used the “BNZ Crisis” to implement drastic cuts to health, education and welfare. Housing NZ tenants were forced to pay market rents. User-pays was introduced for hospitals and schools – though the public resisted and ignored the $50/nightly charge for public hospitals.

Neo-liberalism could not have been introduced so easily without the convenient constructs of various so-called “economic crises”. The mainstream media at the time was complicit in the “reforms” sweeping every aspect of New Zealand’s cultural, social, and economic activity.

But once introduced, the speed of so-called “reforms” accelerated and opposition became harder. Mass protests seemingly had little or no effect. The change of government in 1990 from Labour to National only made matters worse – Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets” plunged the country further into recession.

For the following thirty years, the neo-liberal paradigm ruled unchallenged, with perhaps the rear-guard action from the now-defunct Alliance, and a few stubborn media commentators who still asked uncomfortable questions where we were heading as a country.

By 2002, the Alliance was crippled and forced out of Parliament.

The remaining critical voices of media commentators grew fewer and fewer.

The “revolution” was all but complete. Neo-liberalism was bedded-in, supported by a propertied Middle Class feeling “wealthy” with bloated house-values and bribed with seven tax cuts since 1986.

But all was not well in Neo-liberal Nirvana.

There were embarrassing reminders that the notion of “trickle down” – now repudiated by the New Right as an ‘invention’ by the Left – was not working as per expectations of devotees of the Chicago School model. As Budget Director for the Reagan Administration, David Stockman, said;

“It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down, so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory.”

It became apparent that the promises of neo-liberalism were largely faith-based. Enormous social problems were being caused as corporate power increased;  union power waned; wages stagnated; wealth drained away to a tiny minority; and simple things like home ownership rates were falling dramatically.

Tellingly, it was the gradual loss of the great Kiwi Dream of home ownership that was a litmus test-paper for the toxicity of neo-liberalism’s false premises and empty promises.

Ironically, this was happening at a time when mortgage money was easier and cheaper to obtain from the banks. But only if you earned a high income or already owned property to borrow against. Or could rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad.

Those who already had the assets could hope to get more.

Those at the bottom, or struggling middle classes, would miss out.

For many, they discovered that hitting rock-bottom wasn’t as low as you could go. For growing numbers of New Zealanders, “bottom” meant a shredded welfare safety-net  that had gaping holes in it under the National government;

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Added to a mounting housing crisis, various National ministers exploited every opportunity to portray the poor; the homeless; the chronically sick; unemployed; young people; in the worst possible light. They were authors of their own misfortune, according to former PM, John Key;

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National’s Bill English disdain for young unemployed was made abundantly clear on several occasions;

In 2016;

“ A lot of the Kiwis that are meant to be available [for farm work] are pretty damned hopeless. They won’t show up. You can’t rely on them and that is one of the reasons why immigration’s a bit permissive, to fill that gap… a cohort of Kiwis who now can’t get a license because they can’t read and write properly and don’t look to be employable, you know, basically young males.”

Last year;

“ One of the hurdles these days is just passing a drug test. Under workplace safety you can’t have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can’t pass that test.”

And again in December this year;

Government’s fees-free policy will ‘soak up staff out of McDonald’s’...”

English’s demonisation of unemployed and young New Zealander’s appeared at complete variance with those same people desperate for paid work. But that did not make him pause in his attacks.

Housing for the poor, the homeless, and vulnerable was also on National’s “hit list”, as they pursued their agenda to down-size state activity in housing.

First came the “reviews” and people’s live upended as National ended tenancies based on an ideological notion that state houses were not for life. The social problems resulting would be euphemistically known later as “unintended consequences”;

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National’s response was predictable,

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Therein lay their own seeds for electoral  defeat three years later.

In the years that followed, National portrayed welfare beneficiaries and Housing NZ tenants as negatively as they could possibly get away with.

The meth-hysteria portrayed HNZ tenants as hopeless, lazy drug fiends. National was only too happy to fan the flames of demonisation, as it allowed National to evict tenants and sell off state houses.  Their policy in September last year was unequivocal, and linked gangs and drugs, with Housing NZ tenants;

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The press statement above was issued by former welfare beneficiary-turned-National Minister, Paula Bennett. The same Paula Bennett who, only eight months later, lamented on Radio NZ;

“I’ve always had concerns… I just didn’t think that the 0.5 [microgram limit] sounded right. I questioned [the Health Ministry] in particular who had set that standard, questioned Housing NZ numerous times, got the Standards Authority involved.”

She suggested tenants should be compensated. That was ‘big’ of her.

She also stated,

“[I] was horrified that people might be smoking P in houses, I’m not going to shy away from that.

Then I started seeing reports and I remember one in particular from an expert – he said, ‘You can just about get more P residue off a $5 note than you could have at some of these houses with 0.5 micrograms’ and so that raised alarm bells for me.

But … then who am I to be standing in and saying at what level I felt that [the limit] should be?”

Maybe she could have asked Sir Peter Gluckman. He was the government’s Science Advisor at the time. The one appointed by John Key. Yeah, that one.

Or, she could have paid more attention to a 2014 MSD report which revealed a staggeringly low rate of drug-use amongst welfare beneficiaries;

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Yeah, that one!

But that would have gotten in the way of National’s cunning plan.

Plans that drove thousands of welfare rolls, as Key’s administration struggled to balance the government’s books after two unaffordable tax cuts in 2009 and 2010;

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In September 2017, on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘,  then Welfare Minister, Anne Tolley, described National’s drive to reduce welfare recipients in the most Orwellian way;

“But we do have a significant number of people who are looking for work, who are capable of working, and so most of them, it’s just a light touch to help them along the way.”

In the same interview, Lisa Owen challenged Minister Tolley on the fate of welfare beneficiaries who had been pushed off welfare. Minister Tolley admitted that she and the National government had no idea what had happened to the thousands of people, including families with children;

Lisa Owen: How do you know that they’re going on to a better life?

Tolley: Look, there’s a whole lot of people that don’t want the state in their lives. Tracking people is awful. They go off the benefit—

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Anne Tolley: They go off the benefit for a whole variety of reasons.

Lisa Owen: How can you claim success, though, for that when you don’t actually know if they’re earning more money than they were on the benefit—?

Anne Tolley: We do track if they come back on to benefit, and we do have a close look at what has happened. As I say, we do do a lot of training. We do provide a lot of opportunities for people to retrain.

Lisa Owen: But you don’t know what’s happening to those people. You’ve got no idea.

Anne Tolley: We have 44% who self-identify to us that they’re going off into work. You know, people go overseas. They age into superannuation. There’s a whole lot of reasons why.

Lisa Owen: All right, so you don’t know.

Thankfully, former PM John Key was more forthcoming in 2011 that New Zealand’s “under class” was growing.

As National ramped up it’s campaign of  denigration and punitive action against welfare beneficiaries and Housing NZ tenants, compliant State organisations were reaping their victims.

One was forced to suicide;

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One was a victim of damp housing and poverty-related disease;

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One was chased for a welfare debt she could have no chance of repaying – but MSD pursued it “in case she won Lotto“;

MSD was trying to recover approximately $120,000 from a chronically-ill beneficiary in her 50s who will never be able to work again. The Ministry has pursued her for years and spent a large amount on the case, even though it is plain the woman has no money and her health will never allow her to work again.

The judge asked the Crown lawyer whether it was worth continuing to pursue the beneficiary.

The lawyer responded that it was, as the beneficiary might win Lotto and would then be able to repay the money.

And the most recent example of victimising the homeless simply defies comprension;

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Homeless men at the “drop-in centre” were shaken awake through the night every half hour.

All because the facility was not compliant with fire and building consents. To it’s credit the Rotorua Lakes Council said “fire and building consents were being rushed through so people could sleep at the shelter“.

But Mr Deane – the organisor of the facility ” was told yesterday [5 July] that they had to remain awake until the necessary  consents were granted”.

The common term for this is sleep deprivation.

It should not be forgotten that the practice of sleep deprivation was one of the five techniques used by the British government against Northern Irish citizens arrested in 1971. Subsequently, in January 1978, in a case taken by the government of Ireland against Great Britain, in the the European Court of Human Rights, ruled that the five techniques – including sleep deprivation – “did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture … [but] amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment“.

Sleep deprivation was determined to be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2010, the British government lost a Court appeal to prevent public release of a report revealing the practice of sleep deprivation torture had been used against British resident, Binyam Mohamed. The Court judgement stated;

“The treatment reported, if it had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom would clearly have been in breach of  [a ban on torture].

Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could be readily contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of BM by the United States authorities.”

In 2014, the UN committee against torture condemned the United States for allowing sleep deprivation to be used as a torture technique against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The United States governments calls such practices “enhanced interrogation”.

To discover that sleep deprivation is being used against homeless men in New Zealand is disturbing.

To realise that a practice considered torture by various international organisations has barely been reported by the mainstream media – is deeply troubling.

We have reached rock-bottom as a society when people are being subjected to “a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment” – simply because they are homeless.

This is the definition of  abuse against the vulnerable: they are unable to fight back because they are utterly powerless.

If this practice of sleep deprivation was carried out in our prisons, there would be a major Royal Commission of Inquiry.

But not when the subject of this abuse is the homeless. Their powerlessness is worse than men and women incarcerated in our prisons, despite being “free”.

The cruelty shown to our welfare beneficiaries; to Housing NZ tenants; and to the homeless, has been sanctioned by a sizeable ‘chunk’ of our population;

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(2008) (2011) (2014) (2017)

Fully a quarter of the country’s population has continued to endorse the National Party at four consecutive general elections.

What does this say about a quarter of the population’s attitude to what has amounted to a campaign of vilification and  denigration against those at the bottom of our social-economic ‘ladder’ – a campaign that has been skillfully carried out to facilitate pushing people off welfare and selling off state houses.

This degree of callous cruelty has been led by various  ministers in the previous National government who have mis-used information; misled the public; and made derogatory comments against those whose sole ‘crime’ was to be poor.

This was bullying from the highest level of power, toward those at the lowest level of powerlessness.

National’s subtle and graduated vilification of the poor made cruelty permissable in a country which once valued tolerance, fairness, and egalitarianism.

When depriving homeless men barely merits a mention in our media, and few bat an eyelid, what other possible conclusion can be made?

This Coalition government is constrained fiscally when it comes to welfare and state housing.

It suffers no such constraints when it comes to showing strong moral leadership to reject State-sanctioned cruelty.There is no fiscal cost to compassionate leadership that lifts up the powerless.

There are good men and women in Labour, the Greens, and NZ First. That is perhaps their strongest common bond between all three; a rejection of the culture of callousness that has seduced and poisoned the hearts and minds of so many New Zealanders.

Every Minister in this coalition government can reject decades of a culture of cruelty by reaffirming the humanity of the unemployed; solo-mums; youth; sickness beneficiaries; state house tenants; the drug and alcohol addicted; and the homeless.

Every Minister in this coalition government can use their position of power to speak on behalf of the powerless.

Every Minister in this coalition government can remind all New Zealanders that we are not bullies; we are better than that. If we cannot look after the powerless in our own society – then what possible hope is there for us and our children’s future, to be a compassionate society?

This will be the defining point of difference between what we have been – and what we hope to become.

This is what will inspire New Zealanders to choose what we aspire to be, and what kind of leadership will take us there.

Cruelty or compassion? Hopefully that will be the true point of difference in 2020.

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~ In Memory ~

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~ Emma-Lita Bourne ~

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~ Wendy Shoebridge ~

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References

Radio NZ: Robertson on infrastructure – $42bn ‘won’t be enough’

Fairfax media: Steven Joyce sticks to $11.7 billion hole in Government budget

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 tax cuts, SME changes

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Labour confined to a fiscal straitjacket

Dominion Post: ‘Pressure valve’ medics patch up night’s drunks

Fairfax media: Alcohol – How can we reduce the harm it causes?

RBNZ: Banking crises in New Zealand – an historical perspective

NZ Herald: July 1984 – When life in NZ turned upside down

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – Te Ara: The ‘mother of all budgets’

Wikipedia: The Alliance

NZ Initiative: Defeating the trickle-down straw man

The Atlantic: The Education of David Stockman

NZ Herald: Home ownership rates lowest in 66 years according to Statistics NZ

Interest.co.nz: Housing mortgage rates are more likely to go down rather than up

Fairfax media: Bank of mum and dad could be NZ’s sixth largest first-home mortgage lender

NZ Herald: Auckland teen couple face sleeping in car

TVNZ: More homeless people sleeping in cars

Mediaworks/Newshub: The hidden homeless – Families forced to live in cars

NZ Herald: Minister spells out $43,000 ‘salary’ claim for solo mum

NZ Herald: Benefit cuts for drug users defended by PM

NZ Herald: Bennett increases pursuit of welfare ‘rorts

Fairfax media: Key – Mums of one-year-olds better off working

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

NZ Herald: Beneficiary birth control ‘common sense’ – Key

Fairfax media: House call plan to nab benefit fraudsters

NZ Herald:  Unions demand Bill English apologise for describing jobseekers as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

Fairfax media:  Bill English says employers are regularly telling him that Kiwis can’t pass drug tests

Twitter: Newshub – Bill English “soak up staff out of McDonalds”

Frankly Speaking:  Fact Sheet – Employment-Unemployment and Queues for Vacancies

Dominion Post: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

Fairfax media: Nearly 600 state house tenants removed after end of ‘house for life’ policy

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: State housing shake-up – Lease up on idea of ‘house for life’

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

National: New crack down on gangs and drugs

Radio NZ: Paula Bennett: HNZ too cautious on meth testing

Beehive: PM appoints Chief Science Advisor

NZ Herald: Minister claims low drug result as victory

NZ Herald: Bennett trumpets 5000 fewer on DPB

Fairfax media: Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed

NZ Herald: Over 5300 benefits cut due to info sharing

NZ Herald: Benefits cut for 13,000 parents in new regime

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Radio NZ: About 2000 children hit when parents lose benefits

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Mediaworks/TV3: The Nation – Welfare Debate

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Fairfax media: Aggressive prosecution focus at MSD preceded woman’s death, inquest told

NZ Herald: Damp house led to toddler’s death

Catriona Maclennan: Loans to feed kids are income and disqualify benefit, says MSD

Radio NZ: Homeless shaken awake as Rotorua shelter awaits consents

European Court of Human Rights: Case of Ireland v. The United Kingdom

BBC: Binyam Mohamed torture appeal lost by UK government

The Guardian: UN torture report condemns sleep deprivation among US detainees

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2011

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2014

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

Additional

Gordon Campbell:  Ten Myths About Welfare – The politics behind the government’s welfare reform process

Other Blogposts

Public Address: We are, at last, navigating out of the “meth contamination” debacle

Pundit:  Beneficiary ‘impact’ highlights poverty of social policies

The Daily Blog: A Fair suck of the sauce bottle!

The Daily Blog: New Government response to MSD sadism is just not good enough

The Standard: Loans to feed kids are income and disqualify benefit, says MSD

Previous related blogposts

Week Watch – 7 June

Easter Trading – A “victimless crime”?

Professor Bill English lectures young New Zealanders on free education

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – “hidden borrowing”?!

Tracy Watkins – Getting it half right on the “Decade of Deficits”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2018.

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The Many Mendacities of Mr Bridges – The ‘Claytons’ Apology

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On 5 June, Simon Bridges presented himself on Radio NZ’s Morning Report to address the meth-hysteria that led to three hundred state house tenants being evicted over the  last three years where “P” had been detected in a property.  The evictions took place during National’s term in office.

He apologised for National’s part in the hysteria and wrongful evictions;

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“I’m sorry that the advice we got was wrong and has made this situation what it is. We got the wrong advice, we’re not technical experts, we thought we were asking the hard questions.”

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Or, did he…?!?

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Listener <letters@listener.co.nz>
date: 18 June 2018
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
The Listener

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When National’s Simon Bridges, fronted up on Radio NZ on 5 June, he apparently apologised for his role in the unjust evictions of 300 state house tenants for meth-testing results that have been shown by Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, as bogus.

Bridges said;

“I’m sorry that the advice we got was wrong and has made this situation what it is.”

Except – it’s not an apology for the wrongful evictions at all. It’s a lamentation that “the advice we got was wrong”.

He hasn’t expressed regret for 300 people and their families being evicted. He is sorry that the so-called “evidence” no longer backs up National’s policy of ridding itself of pesky state house tenants so that they could sell six thousand properties between 2008/09 and 2016/17.

In August 2016, then Housing NZ Minister, Bill English, admitted on that the meth-testing standards were unsound;

“Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk.

According to that guideline they should not be moving people into houses where there is P contamination.

It would certainly help housing New Zealand if the scientists applied themselves to coming up with a new guideline.

We would hope that within a few months there will be a standard that all the scientists regard as more appropriate. In the meantime, Housing New Zealand are doing their best to ensure that they don’t inconvenience tenants any more than is necessary.”

Housing NZ tenants weren’t just ” inconvenienced”. They lost their homes; had their possessions illegally destroyed; and were forced to pay reparations for unnecessary clean-up costs.

This was the full force of the State used against the most vulnerable people in our society.

Mr Bridges should try apologising again. This time, not for “the advice we got was wrong”.

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-Frank Macskasy

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(Address and phone number supplied)

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The “Clayton’s Apology”

The apology you’re giving when you’re not giving an apology.

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References

Radio NZ: ‘I’m sorry the advice we got was wrong’ – Simon Bridges

NZ Herald: HNZ boss Andrew McKenzie apologises to tenants evicted because of wrong meth guidelines

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Wikipedia: Claytons

Acknowledgement for cartoon

The Spinoff: The Side Eye – Renting in NZ means always moving out and never moving up

Additional

Radio NZ: Meth house contamination debunked by PM’s science advisor

Previous related blogposts

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – 2,000 more state houses?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 June 2018.

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The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – 2,000 more state houses?!

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Soon after criticising the Coalition for “hiding debt in SOEs” – a capital offense that National was guilty of in 2009, and which contributed to  bankrupting Solid Energy by 2015 – National Party’s finance spokesperson, Amy Adams, was at it again.

This time, Ms Adams was making claims on housing that official figures could not sustain. Her talking-up of National’s so-called “achievements” in social housing collapsed when exposed to scrutiny.

Appearing on TVNZ’s Q+A on 20 May, Ms Adams’ criticisms of the Coalition government were rigorously  challenged by a bemused Corin Dann. At every opportunity she took to attacking the Coalition, Corin Dann was able to turn the criticism back on National.

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National Party’s Finance Spokesperson, Amy Adams – A bad case of Foot-in-Mouth affliction.

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When Ms Adams asserted that;

“Even Treasury is saying that the GDP growth that they’re forecasting is only held up because of strong and, in fact, growing immigration numbers…”

– Corin Dann responded with undisguised disbelief;

“Are you seriously criticising this government for relying on immigration to grow its economy when your government relied on immigration and housing?”

Ms Adams became increasingly defensive. Instead of holding the current Coalition government to account, it rapidly became a cross-examination of National’s own track record whilst in government.

At one point, Ms Adams asserted;

” Just take state housing for example — we promised 2000 new houses a year, so 6000 over three years. This government is now committing to deliver less than they promised and only 1600 a year. “

If National had been re-elected last year; and if those six thousand new State houses had been built – it would have made little appreciable difference to homelessness in New Zealand.

In 2008, according to it’s 2008/09 Annual Report, Housing NZ stated that it’s housing stock stood at 69,173 (p25).

Housing NZ’s 2016/17 Annual Report revealed “we own or manage approximately 63,000 homes”. (p7)

After eight years in government, National had managed to “lose” six thousand state houses.

Meanwhile, waiting lists for state homes have rapidly ballooned as the scourge of homelessness worsened under National.

In March 2008, there were 206 applicants for a State house in the “A” Category: deemed “at risk”. There were 3,605 in “B” Category: deemed “in serious housing need”. Total: 4,017.

(NOTE: There were additional categories – “C” and “D” – considered less urgent by Housing NZ. These two categories were removed from Housing NZ’s books after July 2011.)

Since March 2016, the waiting list for a state house went from 4,017 in 2008, dropping to  3,352 in June 2015, and skyrocketing to 7,890 in March this year;

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Indeed, had National not disposed/sold/transferred 6,000 state houses and had they proceeded to build an additional 6,000 as Ms Adams asserted on Q+A, they could well have put a serious dent into homelessness, over-crowding, and living in sub-standard hovels in this country.

Instead, homelessness has worsened to an extent where National was forced – reluctantly – to even concede that there was a crisis. National went from this last year;

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– to this, this year;

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It took a long time.  Ocean-going behemoth oil tankers have made course corrections faster than National Party policy changes.

Unfortunately, National’s election policy on Housing offered scant information how they intended to resolve this crisis. Tellingly, their policy document referred to “social housing” once – and then only very briefly;

Freeing up Crown Land to see 34,000 more affordable, market and social houses built over the next ten years.

There is no reference to state housing.

Despite a NZ Herald report in July 2016;

In the past financial year, HNZ built or bought 871 state houses.

Its rate of construction will now be ramped up to around 1300 state houses this financial year, 1500 the following year, and around 2000 the year after.

– there appears to have been very little movement in increasing Housing NZ’s stock.

The same Herald story reported that;

Over the next two years, Housing New Zealand will also build another 800 affordable houses to be sold on the open market.

– effectively turning Housing NZ into a profit-driven property developer.

Ms Adams may have based her claim of  “2000 new houses a year, so 6000 over three years” on that Herald story. But Housing NZ’s own Annual Reports do not back up her numbers.

Once again, National’s spokespeople have been caught out embellishing the truth at best – or – telling deliberate fibs at worst. (A third option is that Ms Adams was simply making-up-policy-on-the-hoof.)

One thing is clear. Under a re-elected National government, this;

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– would have become this;

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References

Mediaworks/Newshub: Govt not honest about debt in new Budget – Amy Adams

Fairfax media: Solid Energy announces voluntary administration ahead of sale

Scoop media:  Q+A – Amy Adams interviewed by Corin Dann (transcript)

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Housing NZ: Quarterly Housing Sector and Housing Assistance Report – March 2008

Housing NZ: Briefing for the Minister of Housing – December 2011

Ministry of Social Development: Housing Register

Mediaworks/Newshub: Flat house prices prove there’s no crisis – National housing spokesman Michael Woodhouse

Radio NZ: New National leader says there is a housing crisis in NZ

National Party: National’s comprehensive housing plan

NZ Herald: Housing New Zealand to spend $2 billion on new state houses

Other Blogs

The Standard:  There is no housing crisis in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

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

Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

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

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 May 2018.

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What I want for Christmas…

29 December 2017 Leave a comment

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Now is the time of the year when we send in  requests to that mysterious red-garbed being at the north pole for ‘goodies’ of one sort or another.

This is my belated wish-list of gifts. But not gifts for myself. These are gifts for the whole of New Zealand…

Housing for all

As the Coalition’s Associate Finance Minister, David Parker recently stated;

“I have a pretty simple view of this. I don’t think that it should be an international market for houses. I think local homes are to live in.

They shouldn’t be commodities that we trade internationally. I think just about everyone who’s a foreign person buying into New Zealand – they’re a very, very wealthy one-percenter if you like. And I think that’s one of the excesses of global capital when you allow those sorts of interests to influence your local housing market.”

The majority of New Zealanders would agree with him.

Even our former pony-tail-pulling Dear Leader, John Key, was moved to lament seven years ago;

“Now, that’s a challenging issue given the state of the current law and quite clearly it’s evidentially possible and has been achieved that individual farms can be sold. Looking four, five, ten years into the future I’d hate to see New Zealanders as tenants in their own country and that is a risk I think if we sell out our entire productive base, so that’s something the Government will have to consider.”

Granted that he was referring to selling farms to foreign investors, but the same holds equally true for residential property. We literally could become “tenants in our own country” if housing is allowed to be a commodity traded by investor-speculators. Especially without hindrances such as Stamp Duty or Capital Gains Tax. In effect, our housing becomes the plaything of the wealthy, with our children becoming increasingly locked out of ever owning their own home.

Even domestic investor-speculators are having a deleterious effect on home ownership. As recently as March this year (2017) the Property Investors Club revealed that “Auckland investors account for a 43% share of all sales [and] first home buyers have dropped back to a low of 19%“.

When I open up the Christmas gift labelled “Housing”, I find;

  • A capital gains tax, excluding the family home, set at the corporate tax rate of 28%. Rentals are a business; we should tax them as such.
  • An increase of State Housing of at least ten thousand units.
  • Labour’s “Kiwibuild” policy taking off  like a rocket and providing affordable homes for all first-home buyers.
  • Entrenching Housing NZ  in legislation as a public service rather than an SOE; banning dividends or any other transfers from HNZ to central government; reinvest any gst paid by HNZ back into HNZ; banning sales of existing housing; guaranteeing tenancy for all families where children and/or young adults under 21 reside in the home.

Free education for all

One of the greatest scams sold to New Zealanders is that education is a “private benefit” and therefore should be paid for (at least in part) by young people.

This was never the case for Tories such as John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Bill English, et al. Their university tuition was mostly free, courtesy of the State.

An educated population presented solely as a “private benefit” ignores the counter-factual; an un-educated population would be severely handicapped economically, socially, technologically and marked with deprivation on every level.

As a mind-experiment, imagine if every doctor, nurse,  and dentist remained in New Zealand after graduation, and in doing so, their debt was wiped. Who would benefit? Answer:

(a) doctors, nurses, and dentists,who would have no massive debts hanging over them

(b) the public, who would  enjoy their services

(c) central government, which would receive  doctors, nurses, and dentists’ taxation.

Now imagine if those same doctors, nurses, and dentists, all emigrated. Imagine if we were left with not one doctor, nurse,  and dentist in the country. Who would benefit? Who would lose out? Answer:

(a)  Losing out: the public, which would be deprived of their services

(b)  Losing out: central government, deprived of their taxation

(c)  Losing out: the entire country, as the economy, life-expectancies, child mortality, etc, all took a giant leap backwards

(d) Doctors, nurses, and dentists, who would still have massive debts hanging over them.

It’s abundantly clear that an educated population is not primarily a private benefit. It is a collective benefit that allows an entire society and nation to progress.

We used to have (near-)free tertiary education for those who wanted it – with a student allowance thrown in.

Then we had Rogernomics; seven tax cuts; and ended up with over $15 billion in student debt. High student debt has forced many graduates to go overseas. The previous National regime even implemented a policy arresting so-called “loan defaulters” at the border;

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This is the craziness  we have arrived at: making criminals of young people for not paying for a service that John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Bill English, et al, enjoyed for free.

And like a frog in a steadily heating pan of water, this craziness has grown incrementally until New Zealanders have have accepted this state of craziness as “the norm”.

It is not normal. It is as far removed from normal as one can get without permanent residency in the local psych unit.

I open the second Christmas gift. This one is labelled “Education”. In it, I find;

  • Fully funded Early Childhood Education; Primary Schools, and Secondary Schools. All school “donations” are dropped.
  • Increases to Vote Education funding is tagged to inflation/cost-of-living increases.
  • The mandate for  salary increases for teachers is handed to the Remuneration Authority, and is automatically double that of MP salary increases.
  • All university and polytech education is free-to-user.
  • All current student debt is wiped.
  • All criminal convictions for loan defaulters are wiped and their legal fees reimbursed.
  • All student debt amounts paid by graduates become a tax credit. Eg; a graduate having paid $30,000  in debt (including interest) will have a tax credit of the same amount. (An exception being those graduates who voted National and/or ACT. Their debt will be doubled. After all, they support user-pays. Let’s not disappoint them.)

Free breakfasts and lunches in schools

Europe does it. Sweden, Finland, Estonia, UK, Scotland,  and even India does it. They provide varying levels of free meals  for children at school.

The benefits are obvious; healthy meals are provide to all children regardless of social status or class origins. There is no stigmatisation as “coming from a poor family” when everyone is provided with the same service.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) wrote in their 2011 report, “Hunger for Learning“;

Yet despite the ubiquity of food insecurity among students at Auckland’s decile 1 and 2 schools, children’s hunger is often portrayed as one of individual moral failure and stigmatised accordingly. (p17)

In all cases breakfasts were provided on a universal basis to all children who wanted one. Principals were very conscious of the stigma attached to targeted provision of meals, even in younger children. For schools working to build trust between themselves and the community principals felt that universal provision sent a message that children and parents would not be judged. (p24)

Anscombe (2009) notes that in the New Zealand context some schools  do not want to be seen as needing to feed children because of the stigma attached to low-decile schools. (p28)

The key argument against free provision is that it takes away parents’ responsibility to provide basics for children. Yet, as this report makes clear,  many families cannot afford to provide adequate nutrition for their children, and also, targeting risks stigmatisation, and it is clear from the interviews conducted for this report that this becomes evident in children well before they leave primary school. Stigmatisation risks missing children that need help (Sheridan, 2001). (p29)

In its estimate of the cost of food in schools in Scotland, the Scottish parliament made a number of observations pertinent to New Zealand. Among them were that a deregulated system led to poorer quality food, something the Scottish legislation sought to address; a universal system removes the stigma attached to targeted provision, improves take up and is cheaper to administer; universal provision helps build a healthy nation, and this was viewed as contributing to the economic, social and healthy wellbeing of Scotland as a whole; and nutritious school meals were recognised as lowering Scotland’s high rates of coronary heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes, and were seen as being of key importance for development and growth in childhood and adolescence (Sheridan, 2001, pp. 2-3). Other, more direct, savings included teacher time (teachers spend time teaching rather than trying to deal with disruptive behaviour) and savings associated with improved attendance. (p36)

One fact we are all fully cognisant of is that the moralising Right are only too willing and quick to jump on a soapbox and judge poor families for not feeding their children. The constantly parroted rhetoric is “can’t afford to feed them, don’t have them” – a subtle code  advocating class eugenics, and attempting to deflect from the real social problems we face.

Make school meals – like superannuation and hospitals – universally free, and that stigma vanishes because everyone’s children is treated equally.

After all, if it was good enough for former Social Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett,  to refuse to  measure poverty

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…then it should be good enough not to measure which children should or should not qualify for free breakfasts and lunches in our Primary and Secondary schools.

I open my third gift, and it contains;

  • Free healthy, nutritious breakfast and lunch for every child in New Zealand.

Orphan medicines for all who need them

In the last few years I have reported on a small number of New Zealanders who have been denied life-saving medication because PHARMAC has insifficient funding to pay for these expensive drugs. Medication for diseases such as Acid Maltase deficiency, or Pompe Disease, are not funded and sufferers either have to pay huge sums – or slowly perish.

NZORD, the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders, has repeatedly called for PHARMAC to fully-funded orphan drugs for rare conditions.

In August 2013, this blogger reported;

At a seminar in Wellington, Labour’s Health spokesperson, Annette King, announced her Party’s new policy to create a new fund for purchasing so-called “orphan drugs” – medicines – for rare diseases.

Labour’s new policy marks a turning point in the critical problem of “orphan drugs” which are not funded by PHARMAC, but which are a matter of life and death for people suffering rare diseases.

Ms King announced Labour Party policy on the issue of orphan drugs and the problem of lack of funding;

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Annette King orphan drugs NZORD seminar

Health Spokesperson, Annette King, Wellington, 1 August 2013 – NZORD seminar

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“So one of the things that would need to happen soon after an election would be the establishment of on implementation working group, which could be made up of clinicians; of patients; of community representations, and others,  to put in place the details and work on the criteria for access. I do believe that in separating the funding and operation of the orphan drugs policy from PHARMAC. It will let them get on with doing what they do really well, and I think in some ways it will free them to get the best they can for the most of us who don’t need special medicines. But it will mean that for those who have rare disorders, that there will be a fund around that.”

Ms King was advocating a separately-funded body that would over-see orphan drugs for rare diseases.

However, it has become apparent that budgetary constraints and fiscal time-bombs left by the previous, incompetant National government have put Labour’s policy in doubt.

Instead, the new Coalition government is faced with unfunded budget-blow-outs such as new frigates for the NZ Navy;

The cost of upgrading two of the navy’s frigates has blown out again – this time by $148 million. The project – originally estimated to cost $374-million – will now cost $639 million.

This, on top of an eye-watering, jaw-dropping $20 billion “investment plan”  for New Zealand’s military. The Fairfax article appeared to parrot the previous government’s spin with these opening paragraphs;

The Government for the first time has confirmed New Zealand is capable of launching its own cyber attacks as a deterrent to cyber terrorism.

It’s unveiled a $20 billion investment plan in defence force capability, which will see the military establish a new cyber support capability, bolster intelligence units and digitise the army on the battlefield, giving it network enabled navigation and communications systems.

Only further down the story was it revealed that the $20 billion would be spent on new warships, aircraft, and other military paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, health budgets are stretched with PHARMAC unable to afford life-saving medicines.

The next gift to be opened;

  • “orphan drugs” funded for all who desperately need them

There are many other gifts to be opened, but one particular one caught my eye. This one had no cost to it. It was totally, utterly free-of-charge…

Kiwi fairness

Wrapped up in plain brown paper,  and put away in a dusty attic somewhere for the past thirty years, is a little box. It appears unassuming and unremarkable.

Except…

It contains the most precious gift of all; our notion of Kiwi fairness; our identity of caring for others. We had it once, in abundance. We even used to march for it in our streets, for fairness, justice, and peace in far away countries.

In South Africa;

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In South East Asia;

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Even in our own backyard;

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Wouldn’t it be refreshing if those 1,152,075 New Zealanders who voted for National in September this year, thought more of homelessness; child poverty; polluted rivers and lakes; under-funded hospitals, medicines, and mental health services; mounting student debt on our children, etc  – than for their bloated property values?

Wouldn’t it be better for us as a society if our distorted sense of hyper-Individualism – that bratty spoiled ‘child’ of  neo-liberalism and globalisation,  was pared back, and the needs of our communities put first and foremost?

The last gift I open;

  • The Kiwi identity of a fair go for all.

Without it, nothing else can be achieved. Perhaps that one is the most important of all.

A very Merry Christmas, festive season, happy new year, and family time for all,

irrespective of how you may choose to celebrate it.

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References

NBR: Foreign Buyer Ban – it’s the enforcement, stupid

NZ Herald:  PM warns against Kiwis becoming ‘tenants’

Property Investors Club:  First buyers still missing out in Auckland’s most affordable properties

Labour Party:  Our plan to start fixing the housing crisis

NZ Herald:  Student loan debt – 728,000 people owe nearly $15 billion

Fairfax media:  Kiwi lawyer comes home from UK to find $16,000 student loan grown to $85,000

NZ Herald:  Woman arrested at airport over student loan debt

NZ Herald:  Third person arrested at the border over student loan debt, as Govt ramps up crackdown on borrowers

NZ Herald:  Student loan debtor arrested at border, more warrants sought

Radio NZ: Two dozen prosecuted for defaulting on student loans

Child Poverty Action Group: Hunger for Learning

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

National Party:  29 fiscal time-bombs waiting to blow

Radio NZ:  Navy budget blowout – ‘Our sailors aren’t safe’ – Ron Mark (audio)

Fairfax media:  Defence White Paper – Government unveils $20b defence plan for new planes, boats and cyber security

Electoral Commission:  2017 General Election – Official Result

Additional

Bay of Plenty Times:  Inside Story – The student loan effect

Previous related blogposts

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key (12 Nov 2012)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions (28 Nov 2012)

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe? (18 Dec 2012)

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion (9 Jan 2013)

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key (20 Jan 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi (4 March 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part rua (4 March 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part toru (4 March 2013)

Opposition parties work together on “orphan drugs” (part wha) (10 Aug 2013)

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homeless families living in a car cartoon

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 December 2017.

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National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

15 June 2017 4 comments

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The Grand Announcement!

On 3 June, National announced with great fanfare that additional state housing would be made available in Tauranga  and  Papamoa;

Almost 220 new social and transitional places are on the way for Tauranga and Papamoa, the Government has today confirmed.

“We’re on track to have 68 short term transitional housing places available in Tauranga and Papamoa by the end of the year. This will mean we can support up to 272 families in Tauranga and Papamoa every year while long term solutions are found,” says Ms Adams.

“Of those 68 places, 21 places are already open.

“Across the wider Bay of Plenty region, we will be providing a total of 146 transitional housing places meaning we’ll be able to help 584 families every year,” says Ms Adams.

“These houses are in addition to the 290 social houses we’re planning to secure in the Bay of Plenty. These new properties will be a welcome addition to the region, which is an area of growing need.”

Minister Amy Adams emphasised,

“We are working hard alongside providers to address the demand on social housing and help those most in need of warm, safe housing.”

Except…

Which would be fine – except that in December last year, National signed an agreement to sell off 1,138 state houses to IHC subsidiary, Accessible Properties;

Accessible Properties has signed a contract with the Government confirming it will acquire and manage 1,140  [actually 1,138] state homes in Tauranga, and plans to add 150 more houses to its portfolio.

The 1140 homes are currently with Housing New Zealand and will transfer on April 1, 2017. The contract was signed today and Housing New Zealand tenants are receiving letters this week explaining the change of ownership.

It was a similar deal to the one  the Salvation Army walked away from in March 2015;

The Government’s plan to sell off unwanted state houses to community housing providers has been dealt a massive blow with the Salvation Army walking away from the negotiation table.

The Salvation Army announced today it lacked the expertise, infrastructure and resources to deal with the number of houses and tenants that the Government wanted to offload.

[…]

Salvation Army social housing spokesman Major Campbell Roberts said the Government had underestimated the complexity of the task.

“I don’t think there has been enough thinking gone into it.”

Roberts said the current “Housing New Zealand monopoly” wasn’t working, but handing social housing over to single community organisations, like the Salvation Army, would fail.

Community Housing Aotearoa director Scott Figenshow rightly pointed out;

“ Last month the Government confirmed $1.2 billion of deferred maintenance on the state housing stock. Why would a provider want to purchase a liability? ”

IHC/Accessible Properties showed no such hesitation and on 1 April this year the sale was completed. Accessible Properties’ CEO,  Greg Orchard, appeared very pleased with the deal;

“The properties have been assessed as being at a very good standard – we will maintain this and seek to make improvements.”

The sale of the properties took place at the same time that Tauranga was experiencing a housing crisis similar to Auckland’s;

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Which means…

National’s “grand plans” for 220 new social and transitional places remains woefully short of the 1,138 houses that National sold off to IHC’s Accessible Properties at the end of March.

It is also unclear what is meant by “ transitional places“. Are these actual houses? Or motel units, à la Auckland-style;

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Only National would have the brazenness to sell off 1,138 state houses and then announce one-fifth of that number of “new houses” as some sort of “stunning achievement”.

Worse still is National’s over-all record when it comes to State housing;

In 2008, Housing NZ’s state housing stock comprised of  69,000 rental properties.

By 2016, that number had fallen to 61,600 (plus a further 2,700 leased) – a dramatic shortfall of 7,400 properties.

No  wonder we have families living in cars in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Where did those state houses end up?

Promises made…

In September 2009, then-Housing Minister, Phil Heatley, announced that state house tenants would be allowed to purchase the state houses they were living in;

From today those state house tenants in a position to buy the house they live in can do so, says Housing Minister Phil Heatley.

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Over the next week, Housing New Zealand will be approaching about 3,800 state tenants who pay market rent and live in a home that is available for purchase, to make them aware of the opportunity.

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To ensure a property is not on-sold to developers, a tenant who purchases their state house will be unable to reapply for a state house for three years from the date of purchase.

Heatley specifically made clear his opposition to state houses ending up in the hands of anyone but occupying tenants.

In January 2015, our then-Dear Leader, Key, repeated National’s plans to sell state houses – but only to social service providers;

We’ll then look to sell between 1,000 and 2,000 Housing New Zealand properties over the following year for use as social housing run by approved community housing providers.

In doing so, we’ll use open and competitive processes.

Community housing providers may want to buy properties on their own, or they may go into partnership with other organisations who lend them money, contribute equity, or provide other services.

Properties will have to stay in social housing unless the government agrees otherwise, and existing tenants will continue to be housed for the duration of their need.

Selling properties in this way doesn’t reduce the number of social housing places. It just means more of the tenancies will be managed by a non-government housing provider rather than Housing New Zealand.

We’re very conscious that the sale of properties has to work for taxpayers.

We’re looking to get a fair and reasonable price for these properties, bearing in mind they’re being sold as ongoing social houses with high-need tenants.

We’re not selling them as private homes or rentals.

Note his unequivocal guarantee; “We’re not selling them as private homes or rentals”.

As with many of Key’s statements, he was somewhat ‘loose’ with truthfulness.

Promises broken.

By May this year, it became very apparent where many of the 7,400 state houses sold off by National had ended up;

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The article by Virginia Fallon makes this extraordinary revelation;

While the Devon St sale gives buyers the chance to choose their neighbours, it marks a bittersweet ending for Kay Hood, who once owned 80 per cent of the street.

“I would have liked to have bought the sixth one, that’s the only eyesore,” she said.

Over 20 years, Hood and husband Peter bought five houses on the street, and she wishes the last one never got away.

“We bought them off Housing Corp and I did approach them for the last one, but we never got it.”

We bought them off Housing Corp…”?!

So while entire families are camping out in cars, garages, or  –  if they are lucky – motel rooms, private investors have ‘snapped up’ State House properties.

In this case, the Hoods on-sold their investments (ie, former state houses), and were candid in their plans;

“ We’re going to go skiing and spend the children’s inheritance. ”

Personally, I hold no antipathy toward the Hoods. In our current social climate of  hyper-individualism  combined with a degree of moral ambiguity, many of our fellow New Zealanders have exploited opportunities for speculation such as this.

But I do hold 100% responsible John Key and his fellow Ministers-of-the-Crown who allowed this travesty to occur.

More so John Key, who benefitted from a state house in his youth;

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The over-powering stench I can smell is either a dead, rotting whale on my front lawn – or Key’s appalling hypocrisy.

The sound of a train-wreck hurtling toward you

It is abundantly clear that National is panicking over the issue of housing.

Whether it is homelessness or over-crowding by poor families, or home unaffordability for middle-class Millenials, National has managed to spectacularly cock this up.

New Zealanders may be able to tolerate poverty. This country has had varying degrees of poverty since the Year Dot.

But the notion of homelessness is more than they can stomach. Homelessness strikes at the very core of the “Kiwi Dream”, where a roof over your head and a place to raise a family is one of our strongest values. (The other being the now-mythical notion of egalitarianism. That social ideal had the life throttled out of  it after 1984.)

Housing-related problems (I refuse to call them “issues”) for National keep mounting in a Trump-like way.

On 8 June, on Radio NZ, Major Campbell Roberts (the same Maj. Roberts who, in 2015, had thoroughly rejected National’s invitation to buy properties from Housing NZ)  from the Salvation Army’s social policy unit, had been invited by then Finance Minister English to become part of National’s Housing Shareholders Advisory Group.

Maj. Roberts revealed that now-Dear Leader, Bill English, had described a looming housing crisis as far back as 2010;

“ He [Mr English] said a couple of things; one, the use of of the $15 billion asset of Housing New Zealand, and the second was that he was seeing a major crisis in Auckland in housing in five or six years.  It was a passing comment – but it was one of the reasons for setting up the shareholders group.

English’s prediction has eerily come to fruition;

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Unsurprisingly, English rejected Maj. Robert’s revelations using a highly effective technique from his predecessor. One of English’s tax-payer funded spin-doctors said,

The Prime Minister was having a number of such conversations on housing reform at the time, including with a housing advisory group which included the Salvation Army, and he doesn’t recall exactly what he said.

Who else had memory problems when it came to potentially embarrassing gaffs and scandals?

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Meanwhile, in a latest move to dampen the ballooning housing market, the Reserve Bank is contemplating adding a new “tool” to it’s regulatory powers. The RBNZ wants to cap  debt-to-value ratios at five times a borrower’s income;

The Reserve Bank wants to be able to stop people taking out mortgages that are too big compared to their incomes.

It wants debt-to-income restrictions (DTIs), which limit the amount that people can borrow to a multiple of their income, added to its macroprudential toolkit, alongside loan-to-value (LVR) restrictions.

The restrictions are used in other markets around the world, such as Britain, where borrowers must have a loan no bigger than 4.5 times their income. The Reserve Bank is suggesting a limit of five times.

The size of New Zealand mortgages compared to incomes has increased sharply over the past 30 years. The Reserve Bank said increases since 2014 partly reflected the drop in interest rates over that time, but it was possible that rates could rise again in future.

The RBNZ estimates debt-to-income restrictions could prevent 8,800 investors from buying a property. But 1,600 First Home buyers  would also be caught up in stringent DTI restrictions and locked out of  owning their home.

The Bank’s chief agenda is to prevent a massive housing crash that would impact on the economy; cause mass unemployment; and result in thousands losing their homes through mortgage defaulting;

The housing market could collapse if mortgage rates rise to 7 percent, given the increasing numbers of households heavily in debt, the Reserve Bank says.

The Reserve Bank stress-tested the ability of borrowers to cope with mortgage rates at 7 percent, which is close to the average two-year mortgage rate over the past decade.

It found 4 percent of all borrowers, and 5 percent of recent ones, would be put under severe stress where they could not meet day-to-day bills for food and power.

Auckland borrowers appear particularly vulnerable to higher rates, with 5 percent estimated to face severe stress.

[…]

“So that if a downturn comes, you don’t get a whole lot of forced sales coming onto the market that depresses house prices even further, and create a risk for the banking system and also the broader economy.”

All because National ignored a crisis that Bill English predicted seven years ago, and could have dampened with a capital gains tax equivalent to company tax, and stopping investors from claiming tax deductions on mortgage interest payments.

It is bizarre and inequitable that tax-payers are in effect subsidising investor/speculators on their investments. Especially when, after two years, those properties can be on-sold with little or no capital gains tax paid.

If the RBNZ introduces a debt-to-income ratio of five times a person’s income, it may well succeed in dampening down the property bubble.

But as usual, it will be those at the bottom (or near the bottom) who pay the price. They will be the ones who continue to be locked out of the property market and denied a chance to enjoy the Kiwi Dream of home ownership.

The resentment and anger this will cause cannot be over-stated.

The sound in Bill English’s ear is the roar of a train wreck bearing down on him and his hopeless, self-serving ‘government’. ETA for the crash: 23 September.

All because National stubbornly refused to act to curb property speculation.

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References

Scoop media:  More social housing coming on board in Tauranga & Papamoa

NZ Herald:   Government sells off Tauranga’s state housing portfolio to Accessible Properties

Accessible Properties:  What is happening?

Fairfax media:  Salvation Army says no to state houses

Bay of Plenty Times:  Accessible Properties takes over state homes

TVNZ News:  Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars

Bay of Plenty Times:  Tauranga’s homeless problem at ‘crisis point’

Sunlive: Housing crisis under the spotlight

Radio NZ:  Housing situation critical – Tauranga principal

Tauranga Budget Advisory:  City’s Rental Housing In Crisis

NZ Herald:   Govt to buy more motels to house homeless as its role in emergency housing grows

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2015/16

Beehive:  State houses available to buy from today

Fairfax media:  John Key Speech – Next steps in social housing

Fairfax media:  Can’t afford your own island? How about buying your very own street?

NZ Herald:  Prime Minister John Key’s childhood state house up for sale as Government offers 2500 properties to NGOs

Radio NZ:  PM spoke of housing crisis in 2010 – Sallies

Otago Daily Times:  Auckland housing crisis expected to drag on

Fairfax media:  PM talked of major housing crisis – Salvation Army

Dominion Post:  Editorial – Prime Minister’s bad memory embarrassing

Fairfax media:  Debt-to-income ratio would stop thousands from buying houses – RBNZ

RBNZ: Consultation Paper – Serviceability Restrictions as a Potential Macroprudential Tool in New Zealand  (p26)

Radio NZ:  Housing market could collapse on 7 percent mortgage rates

IRD: Residential property

IRD: Taxation (Bright-Line Test for Residential Land) Act 2015

Additional

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NewstalkZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

Previous related blogposts

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 June 2017.

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“Spinning” in a post-truth era

18 August 2016 3 comments

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ministry-of-truth-update

 

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Two recent media stories, on two utterly disparate issues, were clear examples of how tax-payer funded media “spin doctors” were guiding government ministers to respond to questions in a certain way.

Two interviews; two ministers; both on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Morning Report‘ – and both interviews left the audience none-the-wiser afterwards.

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“Guidelines”

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The first, on 5 August, featured Finance  and Social Housing Minister, Bill English, defending Housing NZ’s use of flawed testing regimes for methamphetamine-use in state housing.

On 20 June this year, Housing NZ admitted that the current testing for methamphetamine use (smoking)  was flawed;

“…The current standard guidelines were written to address meth ‘cooking’ and not use, meaning they are not entirely suitable for the contamination that occurs through use of meth.

The Ministry of Health guidelines were written a while ago. At that time it wasn’t perceived that consumption would be at the levels that it has reached. For this reason the guidelines do not cover all they need to.”

Drug Foundation executive director, Ross Bell, was scathing;

“I think they’re out of control…

[…]

I don’t know how they can justify that. Housing New Zealand has spent over $20 million in the last financial year doing these tests and these cleanups. Knowing that these are flawed the minister should step in and stop taxpayers’ money being wasted and vulnerable people being punished.”

Despite the testing regime  – which TVNZ’s  ‘Fair Go‘ programme used to “detect” methamphetamine on bank-notes – “not fit for purpose”, Housing NZ has continued to use the flawed guidelines to evict tenants;

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Expert questions meth contamination evictions

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Housing NZ Minister, Bill English, agreed that the testing for methamphetamine was flawed;

“They’re operating to a Ministry of Health guideline which I understand is internationally standard, but is regarded as not quite appropriate, particularly for dealing for use of P in houses…

[…]

Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk.”

The interesting aspect to Radio NZ’s Susie Ferguson’s interview with Minister English was not that he disagreed with the premise that the P testing regime  was flawed. He gave a straight answer to Ms Ferguson’s question;

Susie Ferguson: “Are these tests fit for purpose?”

Bill English: “Ah, no. And Housing NZ have said that.”

English then spent the next seven minutes defending the flawed testing regime.

In part of his interview, the “g”-word became glaringly  prominent;

“Housing New Zealand is in the position where there is currently a moh guideline, you can’t just wish that away – Housing New Zealand are not health experts.

Ministry of Health stand by the guideline, and the Ministry of Health are the statutory organisation that promulgates the guideline.

I think everyone involved with this is frustrated, I suppose except for the scientists that gave us the guideline in the first place.”

It is obvious what phrase English’s media spin-doctors told him to stay “on-message”.

He referred to “guidelines” no less than sixteen times within those seven minutes.

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“Technical matters”

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On 8 August, in an unrelated matter, our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, was interviewed over  China’s threats to launch a trade war if New Zealand investigated cheap imports/dumping of sub-standard Chinese steel.

As Vernon Small described the situation on 4 August, in the Dominion Post;

Now let’s see if we’ve got this right.

In early June Chinese officials find a type of fungus (Neofabraea actinidiae) on board a bunch of kiwifruit heading into the country.

Nothing much happens.

Then in early July a message is passed, through back channels, to Zespri and Fonterra (and potentially other primary producers) that China is extremely peeved that a complaint has been laid about the potential dumping of cheap Chinese steel in our market.

A steel inquiry by regulators here could lead to the imposition of non-tariff barriers that could slow down our exports, the warning suggests. And, what’s more, China is angry that the complaint was even accepted for consideration by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

After some to-ing and fro-ing, China officially denies it draws a link between a potential steel-dumping inquiry and sales of our food products. The various New Zealand agencies and exporters chant in unison that it is an “unsubstantiated rumour” that such a link had been made.

Trade Minister Todd McClay at first tries to dismiss media reports as reflecting a single low-level source talking to Zespri. But he later back tracks and apologises to Prime Minister John Key and concedes the Zespri warning was not all. In fact, there had been “discussions and limited correspondence over the past few months as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has endeavoured to assess the veracity of these reports”. But in the end they were not verified.

[…]

On July 22, Zespri said it had experienced no problems. 

But on July 29, just a few weeks after the initial “warning” – and right in sync with that warning –  Chinese border agencies impose non-tariff barriers, involving a risk notification and strengthened inspection and quarantine processes, on our kiwifruit.

Zespri says their unwelcome fungal friend does not affect food safety and is not a pathogen. It exists in several countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Holland, the United States and Ecuador – and potentially China itself, the home of the chinese gooseberry to which the noble kiwifruit is whakapapa.

But in contrast with Zespri’s relatively sanguine view, the Chinese notice from the AQSIQ, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, describes Mr and Mrs Neofabraea actinidiae in very unflattering terms as a “rot pathogen” and a “major disease” that could infect other fruit such as apples and persimmons, thus inflicting “serious economic loss”.

It saying the fungus hails from New Zealand and Australia – the targets of Chinese suspicions that we are acting in league with Uncle Sam.

And through it all ministers and Zespri are ruling out any link to the “unsubstantiated” trade threat.  “China throws up these non-tariff barriers all the time” is the tenor of the message emanating from the Beehive. Nothing to see here.

(The full text of Vernon Small’s analysis is worth reading, and reminiscent of the sort of critical journalistic insights that we used to have in abundance in the Fourth Estate, and which could ultimately do great harm to an encumbent government’s reputation.)

On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 8 August, Guyon Espiner interviewed our esteemed Dear Leader on China’s blocking of our kiwifruit exports.

Key’s responses to Espiner’s questions were a tribute to the Prime Minister’s media spin-doctors. Throughout the entire four and a half minutes interview, Key stayed on-message, referring to the blocking of Zespri’s export as “a technical issue“.

The phrase “technical issue” was used three times.

Other answers given were verbose – but not very enlightening for the listener;

Espiner: “Did he [Todd McClay] tell the truth about that, though?

Key: “Yeah, he did, but he was-“

Espiner: “You said he was dancing on the head of a pin.”

Key: “He was very specific in the answer that he gave to a very specific question.”

Espiner: “He was misleading, wasn’t he?”

Key: “Well, I just think, in our business the problem is that even though often a journalist will ask me a direct and specific question, you really know they’re  asking a broader question. And it’s kind of tidier if you can at least give a, give them [a] more fulsome answer.”

So according to Key, if “a journalist will ask… a direct and specific question, you really know they’re  asking a broader question“?

This was quintessential Key silly-speak for “Yes, Todd McClay lied”.

The curious aspect to Key’s “spun” answers is that Guyon Espiner – a seasoned journalist of the calibre of Lisa Owen, Kim Hill, Simon Walker, et al – allowed Key to make his specious drivel unchallenged.

At the very least, Espiner should have challenged Key of his references to “technical matters” with the simple question,

“Prime Minister, is the phrase “technical matters” the on-message phrase you’ve been told to use?”

Key would have responded with a resounding “No, of course not!”.

But that would have blown that phrase out of the water from that point on in the interview. The carefully ‘spun’ message crafted by his spin-doctors would have been rendered neutralised, and Key would have had to rely on other answers to Espiner’s probing. Perhaps even something approaching the truth.

The best way to counter “spin” is to clearly identify it as such.

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Shades of Bill Birch

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In 1991, when former Finance Minister, Bill Birch, was promoting the Employment Contracts Bill to the New Zealand public and media, his constant mantra was that it would “raise real wages”;

” The challenge New Zealand faces in industrial relations is to create an environment that delivers high productivity, high income and high employment.”

The promise of “higher wages” was an attempt to justify  the de-unionised, laissez-faire bargaining aspects of the Employment Contracts Act (later passed into law as an Act of Parliament).

But such was not to be. As economist, Andrew Morrison, reported for the  Parliamentary Library in 1996;

“The content of employment contracts has also changed. There are more flexible work practices, greater multi-skilling and increased use of performance pay. Rates for overtime and penal rates have dropped.

[…]

Econometric work shows the ECA as having had no significant effect on the aggregate level of wages. There may have been some deterioration in working conditions, however evidence is not clear-cut.”

Birch’s claims of the ECA “raising wages” were utterly bogus of course.

In reality, the Act increased wages for a few – but either froze or reduced wages for the majority, as Morrison pointed out.

It was the first occassion when this blogger noticed an oft-repeated phrase used by a politician to promote a wildly unpopular piece of legislation. It may have been one of the first (?) uses of ‘spin’ in such a context (as opposed to mis-use of information or outright lies).

In 1991, the “raising wages” mantra was not challenged in any meaningful way (that this blogger can recall).

A quarter of a century later, we still seem to have a problem with political ‘spin’.

The scary thing is, that our elected representatives don’t really seem perturbed that we recognise their ‘spin’ for what it is. In a post-truth environment, it seems to be the “new norm”.

As Andrea Vance wrote in an opinion piece on 1 July;

Politicians are now playing a game in which it’s up to their opponents to fact-check, to catch out their lies. (“People have had enough of experts,” as British Tory leadership hopeful Michael Gove put it.)

They presume media and the voters should accept what they say as fact.

Earlier this week, Trump’s supporter Jeffrey Lord dismissed this “fact-checking business” as an “elitist, media-type thing”.

People only care about “what the candidates say”, he added.

But if what the candidates say are bare-faced lies…then where does that leave us?

Indeed, where does that leave us?

Perhaps needing new standards for political honesty?

We can call them “guidelines“.

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References

Radio NZ: Drug Foundation critical of meth contamination evictions

Housing NZ: HNZ supports new meth standards committee

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Radio NZ: Expert questions meth contamination evictions

Radio NZ: NZ braces for effects on Zespri’s halt of kiwifruit exports

Fairfax media: China’s attack on kiwifruit after trade reprisal warning ‘just a coincidence’

Radio NZ: NZ braces for effects on Zespri’s halt of kiwifruit exports

Parliamentary Library: The Employment Contracts Act and its Economic Impact – Andrew Morrison, Economist (November 1996)

Otago.ac.nz: Labour’s Labour Relations

Additional

TV1 News: A post-truth era in politics

TV1 News: Perhaps the Government might want to say sorry

Radio NZ: Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?

Radio NZ: Give facts a chance

Previous related blogposts

Military ‘spin-doctoring’ – the media catch-up

The Art of ‘Spin’

Paula Bennett on unemployment: spin baby, spin!

The Dark Art of ‘Spin’ – How It’s Done

The Dark Art of ‘Spin’ – How It’s Done (Part #Rua)

When spin doctors go bad

“Spin me a conspiracy”, said Dear Leader!

“Spin me a brain exchange”, said Dear Leader!

National Party spin on Aaron Gilmore and MMP

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

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quick it's an emergency - spin doctors

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 August 2016.

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= fs =

Rebuilding the Country we grew up in – Little’s Big Task ahead

17 July 2016 1 comment

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1949-state-house-in-taita b

 

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2007: John Key says Housing is in crisis

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On 20 August 2007, National’s new leader, John Key, made a stirring speech to the  Auckland branch of the New Zealand Contractors Federation. In it, he lambasted the then-Clark-led Labour government;

“Over the past few years a consensus has developed in New Zealand. We are facing a severe home affordability and ownership crisis. The crisis has reached dangerous levels in recent years and looks set to get worse.

This is an issue that should concern all New Zealanders. It threatens a fundamental part of our culture, it threatens our communities and, ultimately, it threatens our economy.

The good news is that we can turn the situation around. We can deal with the fundamental issues driving the home affordability crisis. Not just with rinky-dink schemes, but with sound long-term solutions to an issue that has long-term implications for New Zealand’s economy and society.

National has a plan for doing this and we will be resolute in our commitment to the goal of ensuring more young Kiwis can aspire to buy their own home.”

(Hat-tip: Bert)

In 2007, Key described “home affordability and ownership” as a “crisis”.

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2016: John Key says Housing is a more like a “challenge”

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Almost exactly five years, one of my first blogposts involved the looming housing crisis. On 3 August, 2011, I wrote;

The shortage of state housing is a serious matter, though. This critical problem of decent, affordable housing is not helped by the fact that the Fourth National government (1996-1999) sold around 13,000 State Houses in the 1990s.  These properties were supposedly made available to tenants – but actually went mostly to property speculators (who later sold them for tax-free capital gains).

When Labour was elected to power in November 1999, they immediatly placed a moratorium on the sale of state housing. According to HNZ, they currently ” own or manage more than 66,000 properties throughout the country, including about 1,500 homes used by community groups”

This government has re-instated the sale of state houses.  It does not take rocket science to work out that selling of state housing reduces the availability of housing stock.   Housing Minister Phil Heatley said that,

“… about 40,000 of the 69,000 state house stock will be available for sale,”  but then added,  “that the vast majority of tenants do not earn enough to be required to pay market rent means relatively few will be in a position to buy“. (Source.)

There seems to be nothing stopping tenants from buying their state house and immediatly on-selling it to a Third Party.

Is it any wonder that the shortage of state housing is not being addressed in any meaningful way?

That was five years ago.

The housing crisis appears to have only recent dawned on National ministers. As Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett  said on 25 May this year;

“Certainly what we’ve seen is it has been more acute in the last two years.”

It is most certainly not a recent problem.  It is only “new” if you are a well-paid National minister, living in a tax-payer-funded residence.

In my blogpost five years ago, I offered a solution to the housing crisis confronting this country;

Solution: build more houses.

This may seem like a ‘flippant’ answer to a desperate problem – but it is not.

The building of 10,000 new state houses may seem an outrageously expensive idea.  But it would address at least three pressing problems in our economy and society;

1. Persistantly high unemployment.

2. Low growth.

3. Inadequate housing for the poorest of our fellow New Zealanders.

At an average housing cost of $257,085 (calculated at DBH website @ $1,773/m for a 145 square metre, small house), the cost (excluding land) is $2.57 billion dollars,  including GST (approximate estimate).

By contrast, the October 2010 tax cuts gave $2.5 billion to the top 10% of income earners.

For roughly the cost of last year’s tax cuts, we could have embarked on a crash building-programme to construct ten thousand new dwellings in this country. …]

It would be a boom-time, as two and a half billion dollars was spent on products and services.

Would it actually end up costing taxpayers $2.57 billion dollars? The answer is ‘no’.  Government would actually re-coup much of that initial outlay through;

  • gst
  • paye
  • other taxes
  • reduced spending on welfare for unemployed
  • and investment re-couped by rent paid for new rentals

Would it work?

Yes, it would.  An NZIER survey expects a strong pick-up in 2013 when the rebuilding phase hits full-flight, with 3.9% annual growth predicted from a previous forecast of 2.6%.

[…]

There is no reason why a determined government cannot adopt a bold programme for economic growth.

Instead of borrowing to pay for tax cuts we can ill afford, we should be investing in jobs.  The rest will almost invariably take care of itself.

We have the resources. We have the money. We have the demand for new housing. What else is missing?

The will to do it.

National has been half-hearted in it’s will to address this crisis. It has implemented a few lukewarm, ad hoc measures, but they are five years too late and too little.

Some of National’s announcements have been panic-driven;

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Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders - interest

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At other times, National has indulged in it’s favourite past-time of “blame-gaming”;

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housing crisis - national - blame game

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By 2016, under Key’s watch, homelessness has increased; housing affordability has worsened, and home ownership has plummeted. Our esteemed Dear Leader no longer calls it a “crisis“. It is now just a “challenge“;

“I don’t think it’s a crisis, but prices are going up too quickly.”

“There are plenty of challenges in housing, and there have been for quite some time.”

Make no mistake, this is a direct consequence of National’s laissez-faire approach and an opportunistic reliance on mass immigration to keep the economy afloat at a time when dairying is no longer the main driver of economic growth.

By any definition, National’s “hands off” approach to housing – whether social housing for the poor or affordable housing for the Middle Classes – has been an abject failure.

The mood for change has never been as palpable since the dying days of the Shipley-led National government in 1999.

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The Labour Response

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On 10 July, Labour leader Andrew Little congratulated Labour on it’s 100th year birthday. He also put the boot firmly and fairly up National’s backside for it’s hopeless track record on housing.

If the supply of food were in short-supply and expensive as is housing for poor and middle-class New Zealanders, there would be rioting in the streets by now. By morning there would be a revolutionary government sitting in the Ninth Floor of the Beehive and Key and his ministerial cronies would be in hiding, exile, or under arrest.

Little began with a brief, but accurate refresher course in New Zealand history;

“We’re here to celebrate Labour’s creation of the welfare state, the achievements of widespread home ownership and the creation of state housing, a free health system and a free education system.

In short, we celebrate the building of a nation.

We celebrate and we remember the image of Michael Joseph Savage carrying the very first furniture into the very first state house.

Offering hope to people that the years of depression were over and there were brighter days ahead.

We’re here to celebrate the beginning of the reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha and the restoration of the mana of the Treaty of Waitangi.

We’re celebrating the decision to make New Zealand nuclear free. We celebrate the courage shown by thousands of New Zealanders who marched against the Springbok Tour.

We’re celebrating KiwiBank. Kiwisaver. Working for Families. The Cullen Fund.

We celebrate Homosexual Law Reform and we remember the scene of the packed galleries in Parliament rising in song after we passed Marriage Equality.

These are Labour achievements.

This is the legacy of our party.”

Little omitted Labour’s de-railing in the 1980s at the hands of a small cadre of Neo-liberal fifth columnists. They who delivered our country into the hands of  global finance. They who were the  authors of a failed economic experiment that caused generations of misery, and rewarded the top 10% with unearned wealth. They whose names will pass into history and be quietly forgotten.

This was a moment where Little – like his predecessor David Cunliffe –   turned his back on neo-liberalism and announced to the country that the experiment was over. Labour would take back the reigns of responsibility for ensuring housing for all;

“After eight years, this government’s lost touch.

And nowhere, nowhere, is this government more out of touch and out of ideas than on housing.

Housing is at the core of a good life.

It provides security and stability.

It helps families put down roots in their communities and save for retirement

It is one of the most common sources of capital for people setting up their own small business.

The ambition of widespread homeownership sits at the heart of our social contract. It is at the heart of the Kiwi Dream.

The promise that if you work hard and do the right thing, you can earn a place of your own.”

A few salient statistics drove home the worsening crisis to anyone who needed convincing;

“Since 2008, when this government came to office, the average house price in Auckland has nearly doubled.

But over the same period, incomes have increased by only 24%.

In the last year, house prices in Auckland have increased by $2600 a week.

Twenty six hundred dollars a week.

It’s crazy. How on earth do you save enough to keep up with that?

[…]

The proportion of Auckland houses being bought by investors has now reached 46% – around twice the level of first home buyers.”

Little went on to explain how the housing crisis went in tandem with other worsening social indicators;

“And then there is the hard edge of the crisis.

The rising poverty and homelessness that National turns a blind eye to.

We’ve all heard the stories of Kiwi kids admitted to hospitals with respiratory illnesses because the cold damp homes they have to live in are making them sick.

We’ve all seen the awful media reports in the last few weeks about what life is like for those who can’t find any home at all.

Of the 42,000 people living in overcrowded conditions or in garages or in cars.

Of children sleeping under bushes in South Auckland.

We’ve seen the story of the 11 year old girl, whose mother has a job, but whose family spent months living in a van before they were taken in by Te Puea Marae.

She said that the hardest part is actually not being able to read in the van, because you don’t have space. And there’s not much light because it would waste the battery.”

These are matters raised that Labour’s opponants on the Right cannot easily dismiss or explain away. These are real events from real New Zealanders living under the currently all-too-real neo-liberal system.

Increasing child poverty; income/wealth disparity; and a worsening housing crisis – all of which are the spawn of thirty years of neo-liberalism.

Those who maintain that poverty has deepened because the “market” has not been sufficiently de-regulated, nor government reduced, nor taxes sufficiently cut, need to ask themselves; “At what point does an experiment that is showing no signs of positive improvement have to be concluded as an abject failure”?

As Little demanded from the party-faithful;

“When did this become the New Zealand we lived in?”

Little then laid out what he called Labour’s comprehensive plan to take to the  election next year. He said that a Labour government would;

 

  • …urgently address the shortage of emergency housing – with $60 million to provide 1400 new beds in emergency accommodation – enough for 5100 extra people a year. With the existing support that will take the number of people helped each year to over 8,000.

 

  • …reform housing New Zealand – so that instead of being run like a corporation making a profit off the most vulnerable, we can invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building thousands of new, modern, high quality state houses instead.

 

  • …will build 100,000 new affordable homes to be on sold to first home buyers.

 

  • …will set up an Affordable Housing Authority to deliver ambitious new urban development projects, at scale and at pace. We are going to change the face of our towns and cities, and fix this housing crisis. The Authority will have a target to meet: 50% across all of the homes in its developments will have to be affordable. The Authority will look after the Government’s urban land holdings, and will make sure there is a pipeline of land for future needs – for housing, business, schools, parks and hospitals.

 

  • …ban offshore buyers from the market unless they are willing to build a new home and add to the stock..

 

  • …will extend the bright line test so that if you sell an investment property within five years, you’ll pay the full tax on it. That means the short term speculators won’t be able to get away tax free anymore. It means ending the tax incentives to speculate in short term property gains at the expense of families trying to get into a home.

 

  • …will begin consulting on how to end the loop hole of negative gearing.

 

Perhaps Labour’s most audacious plan is to set up a new “Affordable Housing Authority”.

If one reads his speech a certain way, he is planning on reviving a newer, 21st century version of the old Ministry of Works (which was privatised by National in late 1996.) If so, it could be the most direct  way to build houses for people in desperate need.

Considering that most of this country’s infra-structure was built by the old Ministry of Works (or similar state bodies), including the telecommunications systems being used to upload this blogpost onto this website, it would not be a far-stretch of the imagination that it could be done again.

If so, this wasn’t just a speech – it was a Manifesto for the Last Rites of Neo-liberalism.

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Property Investors throw their toys out of the cot

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The reactionary response from the NZ Property Investors Federation was utterly predictable. They were miffed. All of a sudden, their tax-free pot of gold was about to be denied to them

The Federation’s executive officer, Andrew King, bleated like a spoiled brat who had just been told to share his toys;

“In one part of his speech, he said there were homeless people and people living in overcrowded conditions and they wanted to do something about that.  How does making it harder to provide rental homes to these people achieve it? Unbelievable.”

It may have escaped King’s somewhat narrow-attention, but homelessness and over-crowding has worsened during the time that his members have enjoyed spectacular tax-free gains. What were they doing in the last eight years?

He also compared businesses, shares, and farms with housing;

“No other investment is like that. If you do the same with a farm, with shares, with a business, all of those wouldn’t be affected, just rental properties – it’s just wrong.”

Generally speaking, people do not live in “shares”,  “businesses”, or farm paddocks (yet). People live in houses. That is the critical difference.

On top of which, astronomical rents are directly contributing to homelessness and over-crowding;

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High Auckland rents forcing people onto the streets - Sallies

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So to whine that, all of a sudden, Labour’s housing policies will “ make it harder to provide rental homes to these [homeless] people” is contemptible.

His members should be held to account for their part in our housing crisis. The sooner that a capital gains tax is introduced at the same rate as New Zealand’s company tax (28 cents in the dollar), the better.

Mr King’s absurd “pity me” comments have crossed the borderline into territory commonly known as;

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hypocrisy definition

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National discovers Problem & Solution!

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Last year, as stories of homelessness; over-crowding; fewer available  Housing NZ homes; and worsening housing affordability began to make headlines around the country,  National was grabbing money from a government department tasked with caring for the most vulnerable people in our society;

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Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend

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In all, National has raked in over half a billion dollars from Housing NZ;

Housing NZ dividends under National

HNZ Annual Report 2009-10 – $132 million   (p86)

HNZ Annual Report 2010-11 – $71 million   (p66)

HNZ Annual Report 2011-12 – $68 million   (p57)

HNZ Annual Report 2012-13 – $77 million   (p47)

HNZ Annual Report 2013-14 – $90 million –  (p37)

HNZ Annual Report 2014-15 – $108 million –  (p33)

HNZ Statement of Performance Expectations 2015/16 – $118 million – (p12)

Total: $664 million (over seven years)

See more here: National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

Labour took dividends as well, around a third of National’s figure. The difference between the two is that Labour builds State housing, whilst National continually flogs them off.

This amounts to looting a critical government organisation that is akin to thieving from a charity.

This year’s 2016 Budget indicated that Housing NZ would pay a  dividend  of $38 million  and $54 million next year, for 2017.

Twenty four hours after Andrew Little gave his speech to the country, Housing NZ suddenly announced no dividends would be paid for the next two years;

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RNZ - Housing NZ confirms it will not pay govt dividend

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Labour’s Grant Robertson offered his rationale for National’s policy U-Turn;

“The first we hear from National that they suddenly believe Housing New Zealand needs to retain that money to invest in state houses is the morning after an announcement by the Labour Party that Housing New Zealand will never be required [by Labour] to provide a dividend to the government.

This is not a coincidence, this is a panicked, desperate response from the government.

What we know is that National has extracted dividends from Housing New Zealand over recent years and it’s quite clear that National has seen Housing New Zealand as a cash cow in the past.”

Bill English refuted allegations that National was panicking over Labour’s housing announcement only 24 hours previously;

“It’s nothing to do with Labour and the Greens. This is a $20 billion entity – you don’t come up with capital plans for the next five years because Labour puts out a press release.”

He also denied that National was  looting Housing NZ;

“We don’t accept that taking the dividend is stealing from state housing, because the dividend is not the constraint on what gets built…

…If there was less dividend, we’d just put in more capital – it’s not driven by the availability of the cash.”

National takes money in the form of dividends and taxes  from Housing NZ – whilst non-government charities are tax-free? And he earnestly claims it is not “stealing”?!

English then issued the most ridiculous explanation ever heard, that the figures in this year’s May 26 Budget “appear to be based on older HNZ numbers dating from almost a year ago“.

Yeah, right, Bill.

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flying-pig-clipart-1

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Is the Finance Minister really expecting New Zealanders to believe that the government’s May 2016 budget was full of inaccurate figures?

What is really galling is that Bill English, Steven Joyce, and other National Ministers expect us – the public – to believe this rubbish. It is revealing just how stupid they think we are.

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Who is in charge anyway?!

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Whenever National implements unpopular legislative changes, they often point to Labour having carried out similar policies.

In 2014, National “borrowed” Labour’s policy by implementing free health-care for children under 13.

Last year, National raised benefits by $25 (to take effect this year) for people on welfare.

This year, having their ‘hand forced’ by Labour’s housing policy, the Nats have cancelled dividends from Housing NZ for the next two years.

National seems to be highly influence by Labour.

Which  raises the question; who is actually setting policy and governing the country? Because it appears we almost have a de facto Labour Government pulling the strings.

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A Cautionary Note for Labour

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On TVNZ’s Q+A on 10 July, Corin Dann quizzed Andrew Little on Labour’s policy toward Housing NZ tenants. Corin  Dann specifically asked Little about whether or not tenants should have state houses for life;

Corin Dann: You talk about state houses – an extra thousand state houses. Does Labour believe that someone should have a state house for life?

Andrew Little: I think we think when people are in circumstances where they can’t afford to buy their own home, can’t afford to rent, they’ve got to have a home. They’ve got to have a home, get their life on track, underway.

Corin Dann: Do they have it for life?

Andrew Little: If they’re at a point in their life where their circumstances have changed, and actually, they can afford to buy, my view is I would rather work with them to get them to buy that house so we could then release some funds to build the next state house.

Corin Dann: So you keen National’s policy? They don’t keep them for life?

Andrew Little: Well, I don’t agree with the policy that says we’ll target elderly people on fixed incomes in a state house and see if we can toss them out. That’s not a solution to anything. But what I would say is people who have gone into a state house early, got their lives sorted out,…

Corin Dann: They should move on if they can.

Andrew Little: …the circumstances are right, if we can sell that house to them, why wouldn’t we? And use the funds then to build the next state house for the next vulnerable person.

Selling State houses to tenants is text-book privatisation policy for National, and was a prime plank for the Bolger and  Shipley-led governments in the  1990s.

It is a dangerous road for a Labour government to go down.

Selling a state house to a tenant may seem a kindly gesture from a  benevolent left-wing government.

But eventually a National-led government will be elected back into power. Their track record on selling State houses is evident and they would have no hesitation in taking a Labour policy of selling State housing to tenants and expanding on it.

This is thin-edge-of-the-wedge, slippery-slope stuff.

This is mis-guided to the extreme, and will provide a future right-wing government a ready-made policy to act upon. And not in a nice way.

If Labour is serious in returning to it’s social democratic roots, it would do well to think carefully before embarking on such a naive policy.

Instead, it should consider the following;

[1] Transience

Transience is one of the greatest problems affecting low-income, poverty-stricken families. Moving from one house to another is debilitating to such families – especially for children.

A government report states that transience for children can have extreme, negative impact on  their learning;

Nearly 3,700 students were recognised as transient during the 2014 year. Māori students were more likely to be transient than students in other ethnic groups.

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Students need stability in their schooling in order to experience continuity, belonging and support so that they stay interested and engaged in learning.

All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate at school. When students arrive at a school part-way through a term or school year, having been at another school with different routines, this challenge may become greater.

Students have better outcomes if they do not move school regularly. There is good evidence that student transience has a negative impact on student outcomes, both in New Zealand and overseas. Research suggests that students who move home or school frequently are more likely to underachieve in formal education when compared with students that have a more stable school life. A recent study found that school movement had an even stronger effect on educational success than residential movement.

There is also evidence that transience can have negative effects on student behaviour, and on short term social and health experience

Encouraging families to stay long-term in State housing not only creates a sense of community amongst tenants; stability for fragile, vulnerable families,  but assists in the long-term stability and education of children.

Not only is a state house “for-life” fair, it provides real, tangible, long-term benefits.

[2] Guaranteed Tenancy

Low-income, vulnerable families in State housing must be given guaranteed, protected security-of-tenure.

Currently, tenants are exposed to the winds-of-change whenever there is a change in government. Their tenure is at the pleasure of right-wing governments, and mass-evictions have been commonplace under John Key’s administration;

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A progressive government must do all within it’s power to protect such vulnerable families. Otherwise what is the point of throwing out right-wing regimes when their ideologically-driven policies no longer palatable, and well past their Use-By date?

Tenancies must be secured. Either by the use of long-term contracts, enforceable in Courts of law, or by some other means such as entrenched legislation.

Labour-led governments come and go.

But tenancies for our most vulnerable must be protected from the whims of others.

[3] State Housing Protected

As well as protection for tenants of state housing, state houses themselves must be entrenched and protected from the rapaciousness of right-wing governments.

In modern, First World societies, the power of contract is supposedly sacrosanct.

It should not be beyond a progressive government to use some means of contract-law to safe-guard state housing. Once this is accomplished, it should make it near-impossible for a right-wing regime to wreak havoc with the lives of the poor.

Perhaps it is time to look at how we can make the concept of contract-law work in the favour of those who have least wealth to lose.

There is much more work to be done.

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References

Scoop media: Key – Speech to New Zealand Contractors Federation

theyworkforyou.co.nz: State Houses—Sale and Disposal

NZ History: Construction and sale of state houses, 1938-2002

Housing NZ Corporation: Rent, Buy or Own – overview (archived page)

Beehive: State houses available to buy from today

TV1 News: First home buyers set to be disappointed with Budget

Department of Building & Housing: Estimated building costs (archived page)

Dominion Post: Inequality report ignores tax cuts for rich – Goff

NZIER: Home

TVNZ News: NZ economic outlook grim until 2013 – NZIER (archived page)

Interest.co.nz: Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders

Hive News: Hive News Tuesday – Key blames ‘Dirty Politics’ for lack of state house sale debate

Reuters: NZ Prime Minister says central bank should get on with housing measures

Parliament Today: Housing NZ’s Woes Blamed on Labour

TV3 News: Housing blame game flares up in Parliament

NewstalkZB: Govt accused of blaming Auckland Council for its own failings on housing

Sharechat: Key blames Labour for barrier to foreign buyer ban

Youtube: Bill English Blames Greens for Housing Crisis

Otago Daily Times: Homelessness increasing in NZ

NZ Herald: Auckland has the fifth least-affordable houses in the world

Fairfax media: NZ home ownership at lowest level in more than 60 years

TV3 News: Key – No housing crisis, foreign buyers’ influence ‘minor’

Labour Party: Andrew Little’s Centenary policy speech

Treasury: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

Fairfax media: Labour’s plan to tax property investors slammed as ‘attack’ on rental property providers

Radio NZ: High Auckland rents forcing people onto the streets – Sallies

IRD: Company Tax Rate

Radio NZ: Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend

Radio NZ: Housing NZ confirms it will not pay govt dividend

Fairfax media: Bill English denies U-turn after Steven Joyce reveals Housing NZ won’t pay dividend

National Business Review:  Govt blames outdated Budget figures for Housing NZ dividend U-turn

Metro mag: Opinion – Is John Key the finest actor of his generation?

NZDoctor.co.nz: Free care for the under-13s features in growth Budget

Radio NZ: Welfare increases – what $25 buys you

TVNZ: Q+A – Corin Dann and Andrew Little (video)

TVNZ: Q+A – Corin Dann and Andrew Little (transcript)

Te Ara NZ Encyclopedia: Housing and government – Total Housing Stock

Education Counts: Transient students

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

Fairfax media: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

NZ Herald: Elderly, disabled included in state house review

NZ Herald: State tenants to make way for workers

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

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

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

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

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

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 July 2016.

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