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Land banking – capitalism’s weeping sore

10 November 2017 Leave a comment

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Halloween came early for parasitic land bankers. On 30 October, new Housing Minister, Phil Twyford,  issued a bold statement that has barely been reported or commented on: land bankers are firmly in the laser-sights of the new Labour-Green-NZF coalition government.

At the same time  that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced an impending ban on the  sale of existing homes to foreign investor/speculators – Minister Twyford  issued a clear warning to land bankers that the recently elected Coalition Government would be prepared to seize their land under the Public Works Act;

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“You don’t want to have one land banker holding out a massive new development that’s going to deliver thousands of new homes.”

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Minister Twyford was unequivocal;

“We’ve got a Housing Minister now that accepts there is a housing crisis. You don’t want to have one land banker holding out a massive new development that’s going to deliver thousands of new homes.

…You might want to have it in your back pocket, but you’d use it very, very sparingly.”

He said that the new government recognised the reality of the housing crisis and was  “going to throw everything at it“.

The National Business Review highlighted land banking in 2013, when Leith Van Onselen offered his “less regulation is best” ideological response to over-coming the  problem (I refuse to sugar-coat it by calling it an “issue”). His mantra consisted of freeing up more land; the removal of regulatory constraints on the supply of land, along with more permissive planning policies;

“…land banking – an especially baneful form of rent seeking at the current time – is more prevalent in situations where land supply is constrained and planning approval processes are slow and uncertain. Land banking is also only profitable where the value of land is rising faster than the cost of capital. And in the absence of physical barriers to land supply, land price increases above the level of inflation are driven primarily by policies and regulations that artificially restrict the supply of land.

It stands to reason, then, that the removal of regulatory constraints on the supply of land, along with more permissive planning policies and infrastructure provision, would increase competition amongst both developers and land owners, thereby driving down the cost of land/housing. The existence of high levels of competition would, in turn, make land banking particularly risky, as another nearby owner would always have the opportunity to move to the market ahead of the land banking firm.”

Whilst Van Onselen recognised the “baneful” nature of land banking, his proposed more-market “solution” is not without dire consequences.  In the “absence of physical barriers to land supply” by “the removal of regulatory constraints on the supply of land“, urban sprawl into valuable food-producing rural land creates new problems through unintended consequences. Interviewed on TVNZ’s Q+A on 29 October, Horticulture New Zealand CEO, Mike Chapman warned;

Horticulture New Zealand is calling on the new Government to protect locally-grown food as urban sprawl threatens valuable growing land. Its CEO, Mike Chapman, says the impact is already “quite extreme”.

“If we don’t, we’ll be increasing our imports – fresh, nutritious locally grown food will not be available, and at the moment, we don’t have country of origin labeling, so the consumers won’t know where they’re buying their food from. It could be from anywhere in the world,” says Mr Chapman.

Reliance on the “marketplace” to solve our housing problem can be a dubious proposition.

This is especially the case when commercial firms actively exploit a problem  for greater profits. This property-brochure from Guardian First National Real Estate  in Johnsonville, Wellington, illustrates that (some) companies are not above exploiting a problem for purely personal gain;

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Guardian First National real estate johnsonville wellington

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Note the reference to “Do up, develop or landbank?”

Perhaps one of the worst cases of land banking and profiteering was reported in 2013 by the NZ Herald;

A land banking business with a big piece of residentially zoned real estate on Auckland’s outskirts has made more than $6 million a year for almost two decades – doing nothing.

QV records shows Yi Huang Trading Company owns 39 Flat Bush School Rd, which it bought in 1995 for $890,000.

Now, this 29ha block is listed on the market for $112.6 million, promoted as “the land of opportunity, vacant but close to Barry Curtis Park”.

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The sale has left developers fuming. They say land bankers are ruining the city and that the sale will be tax-free because the company has held the land for so long.

Conversely – and with some justification – land banking is also a necessary tool by those developers who actually intend to build on them.  As one project is completed, and another begins, the developer must ensure a constant supply of readily available land “in the pipeline”.

As Van Onselen reported in 2011, quoting from work by Professor Alan Evans, Director of the Centre for Spatial and Real Estate Economics at the University of Reading (United Kingdom);

…as well as causing delay and increasing uncertainty, the process of seeking planning permission lends itself to strategic thinking and behaviour… the lack of certainty created by [such] a system is that it encourages the possession by large developers such as volume house builders of land banks… which can be developed at some future time. A developer such as a volume house builder will seek to ensure continuity in the supply of sites for development so as to ensure that management, equipment and labour can be used efficiently… without being laid off or idle. Commentary on the financial pages of newspapers would suggest that a land bank of at least 3 years supply seems to be regarded as necessary for the financial health of a house builder… not having a site available for development at the right time can mean that a exorbitant price will have to be paid to buy one, in order to keep the firm in business…

Speaking on The Nation on 4 November, Housing Minister Twyford appears to be fully cognisant of this particular problem and showed little reticence to proactively intervene in the “market”;

“Because of capacity problems in the industry, particularly workforce issues, it is going to take us a little while to ramp up. And our modelling has always been based on the idea that in the first three years, we’ll probably deliver about 16,000 homes, and in the third year, we’ll start to hit the average of 10,000 a year. There are three main ways that we’re going to deliver KiwiBuild. So, the first is that we’re going to say and are already saying to the private sector, to developers and builders, if you’re doing a development and you think that some of the properties in that development – might be a set of townhouses, for example, somewhere – would meet the KiwiBuild affordability criteria and design specs, then come to us. We’ll look at them, and we could buy them off the plan, speeding up your development, taking some of the risk out of it, and ensuring that we get a supply of high-quality affordable homes for first home buyers.

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One of the problems at the moment, actually, is that many of the apartment projects that are underway are having real problems with financing. So by the government willing to underwrite or buy units off the plan, that actually takes away some of the risk and uncertainty and will speed up those developments.”

This is precisely the kind of market-intervention which many progressives have been demanding.  Minister Twyford even spelled it out;

“So we’re going to intervene in the market to fix that market failure by building large numbers of affordable homes. That’s the job of government, to do that.”

The alternative? To do nothing as National allowed the free hand of the market to run it’s course, and unsurprisingly our housing crisis worsened. Journalist and commentator, Tim Watkin, painted an increasingly bleak picture of urban life in New Zealand in the early 21st Century;

“… what social service agencies are now reporting is a growing – yes, growing – group of Kiwis living in their cars or renting garages. Social workers in South Auckland to a person say they can’t remember it being this bad. Rents have risen 25 percent in five years and emergency houses are full.

If you can’t afford the rent, there’s nowhere to go. Except your car, or perhaps someone’s garage.

And this isn’t just extended families bunking down in a garage while they wait for a house, as we’ve seen for years. This is a new rental property market; people paying strangers to live for months, even years, in a garage. You won’t see it on TradeMe, but we’re talking about $300 or more a week. One family had been living in a garage for two years and are paying $380/week.

Wesley-Smith was taken to Bruce Pulman Park in Takanini by Manuaku East MP Jenny Salesa, where families and individuals can be found most nights near the public toilets, sleeping in their cars. Salesa says one car-dwelling family a week turns up at her office seeking help; half aren’t engaged with the Ministry of social Development.”

Watkins was merciless in his criticism of the capitalist exploitation of the housing crisis for selfish ends. Firstly with “mum and dad property investors”;

So it’s time for mum and dad property investors to ask themselves a few hard questions. If the cost of your borrowing is forcing people to pay rents they can’t afford, maybe you shouldn’t be in the landlord business. Even if you are only one stone in the mountain, have you borrowed too much to morally justify your investment?

But he reserved his most trenchant ire for parasitic land-bankers;

But even more in the gun are the property developers, especially those who are land banking in this market. It’s time to call out those land bankers and say enough.

Financially, it’s a no-brainer for them. Especially if they’re lucky enough to own land in a Special Housing Area with all the privileges of accelerated consents and greater intensification attached. You’re quids in, the government has put a premium on your land and land values are skyrocketing. So why go to the risk and hassle of actually building?

The answer: Because your land banking is making kids sick. It’s driving families into their cars. It’s increasingly immoral to fiddle while Auckland burns.

Auckland desperately needs houses and if you’re a developer sitting on land, then you’re putting your own finances ahead of the need of families to have a roof over their heads.

Watkins pointed out then Housing Minister Nick Smith’s response to land-banking;

Housing Minister Nick Smith denies that land banking is a problem in his Special Housing Areas.

Watkins was on the button; Nick Smith is in full Denial Mode when it comes to land-banking.

On 3 June last year, I lodged a OIA request with Nick Smith, asking;

1. Does the government keep a record of how much land is “landbanked” in New Zealand?

2. If the answer to Question 1 is “yes”, how much land has been landbanked in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Christchurch, and Dunedin?

3. Please provide any Ministerial, Ministry, or Cabinet papers that relate to the issue of landbanking.

After nearly two months and reminders sent to Smith’s office, the Minister finally responded on 20 July. His response to my three questions consisted of  one paragraph;

“The problem with your request is that ‘land banking’ is a loosely used phrase a bit like ‘speculation’ that has no agreed definition. A person or company  may own a section of land and not build on it for some time for all sorts of reasons and there is no definition  of how long this is for it to be deemed land banking. We do keep track of the progress made on developments in Special Housing Areas and I refer you to the publicly available reports  that set out the progress on development of these areas (http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/housing-property/housing-affordability).”

Remarkably, Smith added at the end;

“I can confirm that no information can be found within the scope of your request.”

Smith either has a badly-flawed, John Key-like memory – or he was being economical with the truth. Two years earlier, on 30 November 2014, Housing Minister Nick Smith had referred specifically to land banking, expressing his frustrations at the practice;

“The Government and the Council are determined to release sufficient land supply and we’re not going to allow land price inflation of the sort we’ve seen over the last decade.

I want the land owning development community to realise that the Government is serious with Council about freeing up land supply, and they cannot bank on ongoing high land price appreciation that has encouraged land banking over the last decade.”

As with the previous National government refusing to define and measure poverty, by claiming that “‘land banking’ is a loosely used phrase a bit like ‘speculation’ that has no agreed definition” Smith was clearly hoping/praying that public/media attention on this issue would fade away.

It was a forlorn hope/prayer. Pressure was mounting on Smith.

Indeed, three weeks prior to  writing to me insisting there was “no agreed definition” on land banking and “no information can be found within the scope of your request” –  he was threatening land bankers with seizure;

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Despite insisting he had “no information” or  “definition” of the problem, Smith was considering seizing property from land bankers – something he recognised as running counter to National’s pro-capitalist kaupapa;

“If you look at many of the other governments in other parts of the world that have used those powers, they have worked effectively.

Yes, we are the National Party, but we have responded in a very pragmatic way to the challenges in Christchurch. And that has involved overcoming some of those pure views about property rights.

 We are pragmatic, and pragmatic answers are needed to the housing challenge that New Zealand has.”

Even Wellington’s Dominion Post – not a socialist ‘rag’ by any means – was vocal in it’s criticism of land banking and National’s inability to act. Their editorial on 28 March this year was scathing;

Smith himself once said it was “offensive” that an investor in Auckland could buy land in 1995 for $890,000 and put it on sale in 2016 for $112 million. “The biggest problem is Auckland is the issue of landbanking,” Smith said.

Smith’s approach to the problem was to rely on the special housing areas in Auckland, which allow for faster consents for large housing developments. Developers can face a “use it or lose it” clause which penalises them if they don’t lodge consent applications. His critics, however, argue that this rule doesn’t guarantee house completions.

And that is the problem with land-banking, it seems. It is merely a symptom of a deeper malaise, and fixing it might require radical changes. It remains to be seen what one city council can do by way of encouraging or scaring developers into building more affordable houses.

Some such as economist Arthur Grimes have suggested that the Government should use the Public Works Act to buy land for housing. This is a reasonable suggestion, draconian though it might seem. The housing crisis is so serious that radical measures of this sort have to be considered.

The National-led Government, however, with its deep allegiance to property rights and its natural sympathy for the business class, would never accept such a proposal.

Nick Smith’s  heresy to the most basic capitalist tenet – the supremacy of property rights – did not go unnoticed by Anthony Robins. Blogging on The Standard on 4 July last year, he astutely pointed out;

“I don’t often agree with the Nats, but I think there are (rare) circumstances where land bankers could be paid off, moved on, and the land put to use. But – the extinguishing of private property rights? Seizure of land? Just imagine if Labour had proposed it. There would have been an instant orgy of political and media outrage. Because it’s National though, there will be barely a whisper.

Robins’ comment had a prescient quality to it. A Labour Minister – Phil Twiford – has now threatened to do precisely what Nick Smith threatened (but never had the guts to actually follow through on).

By brandishing the Public Works Act as a ‘stick’, Twyford has put land bankers on notice. Either develop the land or have it seized by the State to house the homeless.

In a civilised society, for land bankers to sit on empty, buildable land whilst families are packed in over-crowded houses; in garages, or survive in vans and cars – is an affront to any notion of fairness and decency.

It would be like someone hoarding food in times of famine, to get a better price later.

And if Minister Twyford invokes the Public Works Act to seize land, the National Party should think twice before screaming in outrage. It would be sheer hypocrisy on their part.

For one thing,  former Housing Minister Nick Smith threatened precisely the same thing.

Secondly, the housing crisis is a legacy of the previous National government.  It’s their mess we’re cleaning up.

Use it or lose it, land bankers. The party is over.

Minister Twyford – let’s do this.

 

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Postscript: Speaking of “legacies”

Meanwhile, National persists in it’s exercise in futility, maintaining their fantasy-charade of the “great gains made over the past 9 years“;

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National’s denial is partly to blame why our horrendous housing crisis spiralled out of control.

During it’s nine years in office, National continued to point-blank deny  the social problems it faced. This continuing denial will ensure they remain in opposition for the coming decade.

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References

Mediaworks:  Government prepared to seize land for housing projects

Radio NZ:  Foreign home buyers to be banned – PM

NBR: Auckland – the land bankers paradise

TVNZ: Q+A – Horticulture New Zealand CEO, Mike Chapman

NZ Herald:  Land bought in 1995 for $890,000 – owner will sell for $112m

Macrobusiness:  Why developers land bank

Scoop media:  The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Phil Twyford

Interest.co.nz:  Bernard Hickey argues the Government and Auckland Council should ramp up their attempts to change the expectations of land bankers about constantly rising prices

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

NZ Herald:  Government look at hardline measure to seize property for development

Dominion Post:  Editorial – Landbanking is a big part of the housing crisis

Twitter: National – “great gains made over the past 9 years

Additional

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

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

Morgan Foundation:  How Minister Smith Could Deal with Land Banking

Morgan Foundation:  Would it be Crazy to Reduce House Prices by 40%?

Other Blogs

The Pundit: How Special Housing Areas are failing & the immorality of land bankers

The Standard:  National to seize privately owned land

The Standard: So there was a housing crisis after all

The Daily Blog: On calling out the excesses of capitalism

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

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

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

National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 November 2017.

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Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rua)

8 September 2017 Leave a comment

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National’s Running Ad – Unintended Messaging?

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Nearly everyone has seen National’s “running ad” – a variation on last election’s rowing-boat advertisement – but without the plagiarised and illegal use of an artist’s music.

The full advert can be seen here, on Youtube.

The messaging is fairly uncomplicated and straight-forward; the blue (actually, more like teal) team is a metaphor for National running together as a team, whilst other “joggers” – representing Labour, Greens, and NZ First – are limping along. It’s about as subtle as burning a cross on a Black American’s front lawn.

But, take another, closer look as the Teal Team does it’s cross-country running…

First, the obligatory Clean and Green and 100% Pure message;

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With not a hint of  cows defaecating in the background creating polluted, unswimmable waterways;

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Yup. New Zealand as we imagine it in our fantasies.

It becomes pretty clear though, that National is strong on presenting an image – an Aryan image;

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With the brown folk somewhere in the background, and very bloody happy with their lot in life;

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The jog takes them along a deserted country highway. By now the “jog” is beginning to look very much like inmates from one of  National’s boot-camps, enduring a  forced run;

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Back to wide-open scenery – as the runners jog across a dammed river or lake;

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Is this really National’s vision of an unspoiled, 100% “Pure” countryside – with a dam across it?

But here is where it really starts to get creepy with an unintended subliminal message beamed out to every household in the country. The Teal Team approach runners from a mixed Red (Labour), Black (NZ First) and Green (ditto) team. The other Team are clearly struggling;

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The Teal Team run past;

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As they do, the Mixed Team begin to  stumble;

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The Mixed Team stumble and collapse, falling to the ground;

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And down they go;

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The Teal Team seem apparently (?) oblivious to the situation and continue to run on;

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So the “message” from this advert is that National will readily ignore other people in obvious distress and carry on their merry way?

The subliminal theme presented by the Teal Team is one of callous indifference.

This may not have been National’s intended message. But it sure ties in with child poverty, homelessness, income inequality, and other dire social problems ignored by National. Not  until the media spotlight is focused sharply on the plight of families living in garages, cars, or tents, does National react.

The focus groups presented with this advert clearly didn’t understand the subconscious meaning  within these images when they gave it their ‘thumbs up’. Or maybe they did – but just didn’t care.

Postscript

As at 1 September, the National Party runners ad scored 570 ‘Dislikes’ as opposed to 173 ‘Likes’.

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On Youtube at least,  the Nats have already lost the election.

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The Real Green ‘Jogger’ who tried

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The doom of Metiria Turei  was well and truly sealed when the Establishment Media (aka, Media Elite) and assorted right-wing bloggers and commentators ripped her reputation to shreds like a pack of blood-crazed pit-bulls in a feeding-frenzy.

Some of the public understood her situation.

Many did not. The conservative public passed judgement on Ms Turei because, well, passing judgement on someone elses’ perceived moral ‘lapses’  makes the Judger feel so much better about him/herself.

Ms Turei’s sacrifice appears to have struck a chord with a significant number of  people;

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The Dominion Post, however, barely reported the story in a meaningful way;

Former Greens co-leader Metiria Turei has received the most nominations for the 2018 New Zealander of the Year Awards so far.

Support for Turei increased after her resignation following her admission she’d lied to Work and Income to receive higher benefit payments in the 1990s, the awards organisation said.

The nominee with the second highest number of nominations is the Australian deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce – although his eligibility to win won’t be assessed until nominations have closed.

Joyce was recently revealed to be a New Zealand citizen because his father was born here. The revelation came during a spate of Australian senators having to step down after checking laws preventing them holding dual citizenship while in office. Since then, Joyce has renounced is New Zealand citizenship. Stuff has contacted Joyce’s office for comment.

The Dompost focused more on Australian deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, than on Ms Turei’s public support.

The NZ Herald  barely mentioned the fact  that Ms Turei was leading nominations with it’s story;

Despite Turei’s fall from grace after she publicly admitted she lied to Winz about her living circumstances in the 1990s she has received the most nominations.

In an act of casual minimisation, both papers made sure their stories did not reflect any degree of public support for the former Green Party co-leader.

One thing seems  clear – there is an under-current of support for Metiria Turei.

Postscript

Anyone wanting to add their voice to nominate Ms Turei can do so on the New Zealander of the Year website.

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Fran O’Sullivan… takes a jump to the Left

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Following on from several political parties expressing varying degrees of a gradual move back to state-funded tertiary education, Fran O’Sullivan – the doyen of the Right and nominally an “impartial” journalist writing for the NZ Herald appeared on TVNZ’s Q+A on 27 August as one of it’s regular panellists.

She had this to say about sales of land and property to off-shore investor/speculators; land-banking in Auckland, and current policies that drove house-prices, gifting a tax-free gain for speculators;

@ 1.09

“… when he [Phil Twyford] talked about property speculators, what and how […] what exactly are you going to do there? Are you going to bring in place capital gains taxes? Because I say that because right now, including our government officials, we’re being marketed internationally as a hot place for property investment. No capital gains tax. No stamp duty.

In China and elsewhere, the people coming out of the US buying the big stations, that sort of thing. This is a global property play we’re in and we’re being marketed as a very good place for that. We need to have a much more holistic view I think than what we got today.”

@ 6.07

“Well I was actually quite stunned that people are talking in the range of $500,000 to $600,000. For first home owners I think that’s quite ridiculous. I think it needs to come down further.

I think there needs to be very large state intervention on the land bankers. Just to free up is not enough, I think they’ve got to take a haircut […] what happened to people after the war, farms were sold at fixed prices so people could come back in. We have a national crisis and I think, you know, speculating, and land.”

A pro-National, ostensibly pro-free market commentator loudly voicing support for seizure of privately held land?  Make no mistake, this is heresy against the supreme core neo-liberal tenet of the supremacy of individual land-owning “rights”.

What Ms O’Sullivan was advocating is a giant leap to the Left.

In effect, private land ownership has not only failed to deliver affordable homes to young New Zealanders – but is actually an impediment. Our aspirations for families to own their own homes has been confounded by unfettered capitalistic greed.

Ms O’Sullivan appears to have experienced a Road-To-Damascus conversion that neo-liberalism is not the answer. Like any inflexible, dogmatic ideology, it is part of the problem.

She joins former National PM, Jim Bolger in his own personal discovery that the neo-liberal so-called “reforms” he over-saw in the 1990s are a failure;

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Nick Smith’s Mixed Message of The Month

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On 18 August, our putative “Environment’ Minister, Nick Smith, voiced his concerns that New Zealand-based company, Rocket Labs, may be impacting environmentally on our ocean floor. The concerns were that debris from rocket launches from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay could be harming the ocean floor;

“The preliminary work indicates the environmental effects are small, but after 100 launches we may want to have a fresh look as to what is the future regulatory regime beyond that.

By the time we have had 100 lots of debris hit the ocean, fall to the seabed, we will have a better idea [of the environmental impact].

Right now we are not able to get advice on exactly how much of the jettisoned material will actually make it to sea level, or whether it will burn up prior to hitting the ocean.

When we have that information we will be able to refine the regulatory regime.”

Meanwhile, National  has permitted granting of a consent to Trans-Tasman Resources  to mine 50 million tonnes of iron ore sand off the coast of south Taranaki each year, every year, for the next 35 years.

The process would involve mining;

“…50 million tonnes of sand from the seabed off the coast of Patea in South Taranaki, extract the iron ore from it using a giant magnet, and then put 44 million tonnes back”

The damage to ocean life in the surrounding sea and ocean floor cannot even be imagined. The zone of mining would most likely become a dead-zone – uninhabitable.

Unbelievably, consent was given by the so-called Environmental Protection Agency, despite receiving 13,417 submissions demanding that Trans-Tasman Resources’  application to be declined – and only 147 submissions in support.

Meanwhile the Ministry for the Environment has determined that any impact by Rocket Labs on the seafloor would be minimal;

“Overall, our view is that the risks to the environment and existing interests from jettisoned material falling into the EEZ are low and that the development of a space vehicle launch industry will have significant economic benefits for New Zealand, at a national and regional level.”

One has to wonder where Nick Smith’s priorities lie?

At the bottom of the ocean floor, by the looks of things.

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References

Youtube:  Keep NZ Moving Forward – Party Vote National

NZ Herald:  Cows in water supply shock town

Dominion Post:  Metiria Turei has most nominations for 2018 New Zealander of the Year

NZ Herald:  Metiria Turei and Barnaby Joyce lead nominations for NZer of the Year

New Zealander of the Year:  Nominate

TVNZ’s Q+A:  Housing Debate – Panel – 27 August 2017

Fairfax media:  The 9th floor – Jim Bolger says neoliberalism has failed NZ and it’s time to give unions the power back

Radio NZ: Rocket Lab faces government environmental checks

Mediaworks:  Trans-Tasman Resources gets consent to mine iron ore sand off south Taranaki

Manawatu Standard:  Call for moratorium on all seabed mining amid ‘secretive’ application

NZ Herald:  NZ rocket launches raise concerns about toxic environmental fallout

 

Previous related blogposts

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (tahi)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 September 2017.

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Election ’17 Countdown: The Promise of Nirvana to come

5 March 2017 8 comments

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(Or, “The Duplicities of Dr Smith: Dirty rivers, Dubious standards, and Double-talk” )

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“…We should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.” – John Key,

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Water Quality & Shifting Goal Posts

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On 23 February, Faux-Environment Minister, Dr Nick Smith, announced a seemingly “bold” plan to clean up New Zealand’s waterways by 2040;

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The Government has announced a new target to have 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers reach swimmable water quality standards by 2040.

The target will be based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80 per cent of the time in line with European and United States definition, Environment Minister Nick Smith said.

Currently 72 per cent by length meet that definition and the target is to increase that to 90 per cent by 2040.

Faux-Environment Minister  Smith tried to re-assure New Zealanders;

“This ambitious plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug.

This 90 per cent goal by 2040 is challenging and is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years. It will make us a world leader in water quality standards for swimming, and that’s important for New Zealand’s growing tourism industry. It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic.”

A day later, on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’, however, his assertions were taken to task with a more critical style of interviewing by Susie Ferguson.

Smith claimed that new levels of e.coli contamination were set to international standards;

“The level, the 540 e.coli, is the level that is set by the World Health Organisation, it the level that is set both by the E.U. and by the U.S.”.

Ferguson challenged Smith’s assertions by pointing out that other international organisations and jurisdictions held lower e.coli level for permissible contamination levels. At one point she asked the Faux Minister for the Environment how  rivers currently rated as “swimmable” will now be able to have twice the amount of faecal matter in it and still remain safe to swim in.

Smith’s reply was waffly, suggesting that Ferguson was attempting to mix “Medians” and “95 percentile” figures. He ducked Ferguson’s question.

Green Party water-spokesperson,  Catherine Delahunty, pointed out that National had simply re-designated pollution levels by “shifting the goalposts“;

“The Prime Minister thinks he can pull a fast one on New Zealanders by just shifting the goalposts and calling what was ‘wadeable’ now ‘swimmable’.”

The Fairfax article in which Delahunty made the accusation did not disclose what “goalposts”  she was referring to.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, also referred to a shifting of “goalposts”;

“There have been some goalposts moved, or some ways of measuring things moved, and it’s very difficult to tell whether things are being tightened or loosened. That’s a big concern of mine.”

Radio NZ reported Dr Wright as being highly critical that the 90 percent target-catchment included  waterways that no-one would swim in, such as  rivers in very remote/very cold regions of New Zealand;

“It’s where do people want to swim and at what time of the year … There’s sort of a dilution that’s gone on by putting the whole length of these rivers in, and the whole areas of these lakes.”

There was  further evidence of “shifted goalposts” to come…

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Media Analysis & What was left out

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When Faux-Environment Minister  Smith announced a grandoise “plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug“, he omitted to mention a salient fact.

Radio NZ’s Environment & Conservation Reporter,  Kate Gudsell, reported on the morning of 24 February  (the day after Faux-Environment Minister  Smith made his much heralded announcement;

The government has weakened the threshold for what qualifies as the best quality waterway to swim in as part of its target to make 90 percent of New Zealand’s rivers swimmable by 2040.

Under the old system, for a waterway to be considered the best for swimmability the acceptable level of E coli was less than 260 per 100ml of water.

That equated to a low risk of infection, up to 1 percent, when a person was taking part in activities that were likely to involve full immersion.

Now, the government has changed the whole system so that for a waterway to be considered excellent it cannot exceed a new E coli level of 540 per 100ml [of water]  more than five percent of the time, which equates to a less than five percent risk of infection.

To give waterways an “Excellent” rating, National has more than doubled the permissable level of e.coli bacteria in a given river or lake from 260 per 100ml of water to 540 per 100ml of water.

When pointedly asked by a journalist that “the Ministry of Health recommendation is 260 E.coli – how does that relates to the 540 level?“, Smith tried the “baffle-them-with-bullshit-science” response;

“We are saying at 540 E.coli the risk is one in 20 (of getting sick).  But that one in 20 is at the 95 per cent confidence level. So there is an extra level of cautiousness. Even if you put 20 people in water and it has a 540 E.coli level it’s not saying on average one person gets sick out of 20. It’s saying one in 20 of 20 groups will have one in 20 get sick.”

Smith’s “ one in 20” explanation was so confusing, he ludicrously managed to  contradict himself on Radio NZ;

Under the old system, for a waterway to be considered the best for swimmability, the acceptable level of E coli was less than 260 per 100ml of water.

That equated to a low risk of infection, up to 1 percent (one in 100), when a person took part in activities likely to involve full immersion.

Under the new system, for a waterway to be considered excellent it could not exceed an E coli level of 540 per 100ml more than 5 percent of the time.

That equated to a less than a 5 percent (one in 20) risk of infection.

When it was put to him that the new swimmable standard allowed for one in 20 people to become sick, Mr Smith said, “That is junk science”.

Even Smith can’t keep up with his own bullshit.

Unfortunately, not all media reports (initially) referred to National shifting the e.coli goalposts from  260 per 100ml of water to  540 per 100ml of water; such as Fairfax’s “New Government target to see 90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040“; Radio NZ’s  “Govt plans to make 90% of NZ waterways swimmable by 2040“; TVNZ’s “Govt wants to make 90% of lakes and rivers clean enough to swim in by 2040“; and NBR’s “Government bows to pressure, adopts ‘swimmable’ target for lakes and rivers“.

The public reading those stories would not have realised that National was effectively doubling the permissable level of e.coli contamination in our waterways.

However, TV3 News (“Govt aims to get 90pct of rivers swimmable by 2040“) and NZ Herald (“Government sets 2040 ‘swimmable’ rivers target“), got it right on the first day (23 February).

To be fair, National’s media release on 23 February – “90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040”  –  was also missing the crucial detail of e.coli levels being increased.

It was a detail which the Faux-Environment Minister did not want publicised, when he fronted up to the media on the 23rd.

Interestingly, commentors on Stuff.co.nz and NBR seemed very aware on 23 February that Smith was trying to pull a ‘fast one’ over the public’s and media’s eyes;

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(Note “Two days ago” correlated to 23 February.)

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Past Targets & Election Year Gimmickery

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The 2040 “target” for supposedly cleaning up our rivers and lakes was not National’s first attempt at setting long-term goals.

National ministers have been setting target-goals for themselves as a kind of “feel good” story for the public. Usually these targets are released to the media in an election year. And usually the target dates are set years, if not decades, into the distant future.

Who can forget these targets;

In 2011 (election year!), National announced that New Zealand would be smokefree by 2025;

The Government has set a long-term goal of reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, thereby making New Zealand essentially a smokefree nation by 2025.

In 2014 (election year!) and announced by Minister for Stomping on Crushed Cars, Anne Tolley, National set this ambitious target for themselves;

Reducing crime

Our aim

  • By June 2017, reduce the crime rate by 15%, reduce the violent crime rate by 20%, and reduce the youth crime rate by 25%.

  • By June 2017, reduce the re-offending rate by 25%.

Another target-goal, set in 2014 (election year!),  and announced by Social Welfare minister, Paula Bennett;

…has set a new target of getting benefit numbers from 295,000 to 220,000 by 2017 – a 25 per cent drop. She is also looking for a 40 per cent drop in youth on benefits – getting 21,000 more young people off the benefit.

And this one, released in June last year (strangely, not an election year);

New Zealand to be Predator Free by 2050

Prime Minister John Key has today announced the Government has adopted the goal of New Zealand becoming Predator Free by 2050.

[…]

“That’s why we have adopted this goal. Our ambition is that by 2050 every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums.”

The budget for this herculean feat to eliminate “rats, stoats and possums” from “every single part of New Zealand” was set at  an ‘extra’ $28 million (above $60 – $80 million already budgetted for pest control) – an amount which was derided for it’s utter inadequacy.

So how are we doing with these laudible, “feel good” target?

Not too well.

In 2015, a Fairfax story revealed that National’s ambitious goal to eliminate smoking from New Zealand was lagging far behind;

However as the deadline looms for Smokefree 2025 – a commitment by the Government to help reduce smoking to minimal levels in New Zealand in 10 years – anti-smoking organisations are calling for it to take bolder steps to preserve New Zealand’s position as a world-leader in the fight against tobacco.

[…]

Even the Ministry of Health admits it’s off track…

[…]

In New Zealand, tobacco manufacturers’ returns supplied to the Ministry show consumption has declined 6 per cent per year since 2010, or 23 per cent since 2010.

[…]

“At this rate, New Zealand will not meet the target of Smokefree 2025,” [Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland Robert] Beaglehole said. “But it is achievable, and we know what to do to get back on track.”

Perhaps the worst target-goal that has failed was National’s (dubious) committment to cut large numbers from welfare benefits, as conceded by Anne Tolley in July 2016;

Anne Tolley has effectively conceded that National is unlikely to meet its objective of moving 65,000 people off the benefit within the next two years.

In excusing her government’s failure to meet one of their own self-imposed target-goals, Tolley gave this illuminating explanation;

“It’s a very aspirational target.”

Within those five simple words, Tolley has revealed the the eventual outcome and excuse whenever one  of National’s target-goals fails: they are only “aspirational”.

This is critical, because like the “Predator Free New Zealand by 2050” or “90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040”, the target dates for these goals to be accomplished are so far into the future that (a) no one will recall these committments being made (b) most National ministers who made them will be long-retired, residing in rest-homes and having drool wiped from their slack-jawed faces by under-paid caregivers or (c) dead.

In short, no one will ever be held to account for these failures of policy.

The great mistake made by National is that, at the beginning when they dreamed up these feel-good gimmicks, they set target-goal dates too close to the present. For example,  when John Key and Bill English published a document entitled “Better Public Services” in February 2014, issuing a whole raft of target-goals, they set the date for accomplishment at 2017  (for most, though not all).

That left National minister in office only three years later having to explain their failure to achieve their target-goals.

In Tolley’s case, she could only offer the lame excuse that they were “aspirational” goals  only.

As  Susie Ferguson pointed out to Nick Smith on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report;

“The long time frame of this though means  that you are going to  be long gone whether we see that this has happened or not.”

The ultimate Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for a politician.

In the meantime – stay out of the rivers and lakes. Nick Smith has been seen bull-shitting in them.

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References

Scoop media: John Key – Speech to the Bluegreens Forum

Fairfax media: New Government target to see 90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040

Radio NZ: Nick Smith defends new swimming standard for rivers and lakes

Radio NZ: ‘Very confusing’: Watchdog critical of water quality changes

New Zealand Yearbook: 1984

Radio NZ: Water quality measure ‘less stringent’

Fairfax media: The new ‘swimmable’ fresh water target: Nick Smith defends his plan

Radio NZ: Water quality criticism based on ‘junk science’ – Nick Smith

NBR: Government bows to pressure, adopts ‘swimmable’ target for lakes and rivers

New Zealand Yearbook: 2008

Ministry of Health: Smokefree 2025

Beehive: Better Public Services

NZ Herald: National pledge to cut benefit numbers by 25 per cent

Beehive: New Zealand to be Predator Free by 2050

Fairfax media: Smokefree 2025, predator-free 2050 criticised for a lack of follow through

Beehive: New Zealand to be Predator Free by 2050

NZ Herald: Anne Tolley – Government’s benefits target ‘very aspirational’

Scoop media:  On The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Bill English, Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata

Statistics NZ: Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2015

Additional

Fairfax: Cattle belonging to Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias’ repeat offenders

Scoop media: Swimmable rivers – Greenpeace says look below the surface

Scoop media: Big Backdown by Smith on Swimmable Rivers

Other Blogs

Green blog: Nick Smith thinks New Zealanders are stupid

Greenpeace: Don’t get freaked by the eco

My Thinks: Come swim with me

No Right Turn: A literal bullshit standard

The Civilian: What’s all the fuss about these rivers? I drank some water once and it wasn’t any bloody good

The Civilian: Government vows that by 2040, 90% of New Zealand’s rivers will be ‘vaguely liquid in nature’

The Daily Blog: National’s ‘swimmable’ rivers policy is another ‘alternative facts’ moment and why we can’t allow it

The Daily Blog: David Parker – Flammable rivers – Smith’s swimmable river con ignites outrage

The Standard: Just allow more shit – a metaphor for this government

Previous related blogposts

The law as a plaything

When spin doctors go bad

Congratulations Dr Smith!!

TDB Investigation into what is happening in our water

Election ’17 Countdown: The Strategy of Ohariu

Election ’17 Countdown: Joyce – let the lolly scramble begin!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 February 2017.

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Congratulations Dr Smith!!

11 September 2016 3 comments

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Dr Smiths

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Congratulations are in order for Dr (Nick) Smith.

Not content with National’s default Blame-Game targets, Dr Smith has come up with an entire new scape-goat for National’s never-ending botch-ups; failed policies; scandals; mismanagement; under-funding; accident-prone Ministers; cronyism, and every other cluster-f*ck that a politician can conceivably come up with.

Up till now, National’s  favorite Default Deflection targets have been;

Deflection #1: The Previous Labour government done it

Never mind that National has been in power for nearly nine years, they can still point the finger at Labour for “the mess that they left us”. (“Mess” being record low unemployment; positive economic growth;  national debt paid down, and posting eight surpluses in a row. How many countries would love to have been bequeathed Labour’s “mess“?)

How that “mess” has survived unchanged and “fixed”,  by National,  throughout nearly a decade is never explained. Only Guyon Espiner on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘ cuts of Ministers when they attempt to resort to Deflection Number One, with an exasperation in his voice that would do the parent of a toddler proud.

The Housing crisis was a recent example of Deflecting blame to Labour;

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Key’s latest exercise in responsibility-avoidance;

“Under the nine years that Helen [Clark] was Prime Minister, my friend, nationally house prices went up 102 percent. Under us in eight years, they’ve gone up 43. In Auckland they went up 87 percent I think – under us it’s about the same.

If it was a state of emergency now, a crisis now, why wasn’t it a state of emergency and a crisis then?”

Even the passing of National’s ill-fated synthetic drugs laws (later repealed as an utter legislative failure) was blamed on Labour;

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Who would have thought that after eight years in Opposition, Labour still wields such powerful influence? Who thought it possible to govern from the Opposition benches?

Labour, take a bow.

Which is all rather ironic, as Dear Leader is pushing Heaven, Earth, and Planet Key to support Helen Clark as the U.N.’s next Secretary General;

“There are major global challenges facing the world today and the United Nations needs a proven leader who can be pragmatic and effective.

Coming from New Zealand Helen Clark is well placed to bridge divisions and get results. She is the best person for the job.

I’ll do everything I can to get her over the line.

[…]

If Helen became the next secretary general of the UN New Zealanders would celebrate in the same way they celebrate Lorde for her singing and Lydia Ko in golf.”

Most people would say she was a very strong prime minister for nine years and she’s done a great job in the last seven years at UNDP.”

And subsequently;

“If they’re doing that, that is everything that’s wrong with the United Nations because, for goodness sake, let’s get the best person in the job…

[…]

I still think anyway if its a drag race between Kevin Rudd and Helen Clark, New Zealanders, and I reckon a hell of a lot of Australians, know who the best candidate is.”

Wow! Is this the same Prime Minister of a previous Labour government that Key blames all New Zealand’s economic and social woes?

Deflection #2: Welfare Beneficiaries/Housing NZ tenants done it

It’s the fault of those “lazy benes”. And/or Housing NZ tenants. It’s their fault that poverty has increased; wages have remained low; the income/wealth gap has widened; that there is over-crowding and homelessness.

Of course it’s their fault. Key said so;

“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”

Didn’t you know that government social and fiscal policy is set by  WINZ beneficiaries  and Housing NZ clients?!

Deflection #3: The GFC/Great Recession/Overseas Events done it

Unemployment is still high (even with Statistics NZ fudging unemployment stats). It’s the GFC, stoopid, as Key pointed out;

“We did inherit a pretty bad situation with the global financial crisis. We have had three terrible earthquakes in Christchurch. We have had the collapse of finance companies. We have had to bail out what is, in terms of the earthquakes, the single biggest economic impact on a developed economy as the result of a disaster. The public don’t agree with every decision… but I think they believe on balance it’s been a tough three years and we’ve handled most things well. The second thing is it’s all relative. Yes, our unemployment went to 7 per cent and now it’s 6.5, but in America it’s 9 per cent officially and 14 per cent unofficially and in Spain it’s 20 per cent… “

And,

“While I think we have to acknowledge that the last three years have been pretty tough with the Global Financial Crisis, on a relative basisNew Zealand’s been doing a better than a lot of other countries.”

Of course, Deflection #3 has a limited shelf-life, and sooner or later the public and media will wise-up to the fact that the Global Financial Crisis event was eight years ago.

Time for another handy international crisis?

Deflection #4: The Auckland Council/RMA done it

When it comes to Auckland-related problems such as housing unaffordability; homelessness, and over-crowding, the Nats have a geographic-specific Deflection solely set aside for that contingency;

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Govt blames RMA Auckland Council sunspots

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Very handy.

Deflection #4 is better than ‘Persil‘ at removing embarrassing and unsightly, Auckland-issue credibility stains…

But now, in a masterful, brilliant stroke of creative political bullshit-artistry, Dr Smith has come up with a brand new Deflection category.

Drum roll, please…

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Deflection #5: The birds done it!

In a speech on 30 August, Dr Smith was at pains to rationalise away his government’s abject failure at cleaning up New Zealand’s heavily polluted waterways. His surrender to a future of rivers so contaminated with animal faeces and harmful micro-organisms that they can no longer be  swum in, was summed up when he lamented;

“A national requirement for all water bodies to be swimmable all of the time is impractical. Most of our rivers breach the 540 E. coli count required for swimming during heavy rainfall.”

The target to blame? Birds.

“We’ve got water bodies like the Washdyke Lagoon here in Canterbury and Lake Papaitonga in the Manawatu which are home to many birds whose E. coli make it impossible to meet the swimming standard without a massive bird cull.”

The… Birds!?!? Priceless.

Hear that, birds?!?! It’s all your fault!!

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Expect to hear more of Deflection #5 in future, as the chorus of complaints about our rivers and lakes continues to grow.

Never let it be said that National cannot find a convenient target to deflect blame onto, whenever a situation demands it;

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Obviously, any chance of National taking responsibility for the mis-management of our waterways is… for the birds.

But the public, the media, and environmental groups will not allow Smith to escape his responsibilities. He will be held to account and reminded of his failures at every turn. Like New Zealand’s polluted, unswimmable  waterways, his Environmental portfolio has become utterly toxic.

We can hear Dr Smith now; “Oh, the pain, the pain

 

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References

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

TV3 News: John Key blames Helen Clark for housing crisis

Radio NZ: Labour forced our hand on timing – Key

Fairfax media: Government backs Helen Clark for top UN job 

Fairfax media: John Key – Don’t write Helen Clark off yet, after UN polling

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

Dominion Post:  View from the top

Fairfax media: Key and Goff Q&A – Creating jobs

NZ Herald: Minister blames RMA for land price rise in Auckland

Fairfax media: Council blamed for Auckland housing delays

Beehive.govt.nz: Improving freshwater management

Other Blogs

Greens: Swimmable Rivers tour – Waikirikiri/Selwyn

No Right Turn: Lowering expectations

No Right Turn: So much for 100% pure

The Daily Blog: When Nick Smith said making every river swimmable ‘was not practical’ did a little bit of you die?

The Standard: Water quality too important for bird-brained excuses

Previous related blogposts

Labour: the Economic Record 2000 – 2008

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

When National is under attack – Deflect, deflect, deflect!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 September 2016.

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New Zealand – we’re in the sh*t

26 August 2016 5 comments

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“…We should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.” – John Key,

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In September 2008, one month before the general election, National’s leader addressed the party’s “Bluegreen* Forum“, asserting;

“What global Leaders know, and what the National Party knows, is that environmentalism and a commitment to economic growth must go hand in hand.  We should be wary of anyone who claims that one can or should come without the other.  And we should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.

In the years ahead it will be increasingly important that New Zealand marries its economic and environmental policies.  Global climate change awareness, resource shortages, and increasing intolerance of environmental degradation will give environmental policy renewed relevance on the world stage.  

New Zealand will need policies that make the most of this trend.  This will be important for our trade prospects and for the way in which we grow our economy.   I’m confident that with the right policies New Zealand can make its environmental credentials an important part of its comparative advantage.”

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Nearly eight years later, Key’s fine speech on environmental protection has come to nought. Nearly eight years of National governance and – whilst ostensibly implementing “bluegreen” policies – we have recently witnessed the worst case of water contamination in modern New Zealand history;

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havelock north water contamination

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Until the evening of 19 August, people could only guess at the source of the campylobacter contamination. Though many – if not most – New Zealanders already held a suspicion at the back of their minds.

That suspicion became readily apparent;

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Campylobacter most likely from livestock - Yule

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According to the 19 August Radio NZ report – updated at 6.33PM;

Preliminary results from the tests carried out on the contaminated water have shown, while several strains of the bacteria were present, ruminants were the most likely source.

Wild fowl was also a possible source, but the report from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) said poultry was unlikely.

The institute said more analysis would be carried out next week before a final assessment of the source could be made.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said it was likely the previous weekend’s flooding had swept faeces from livestock into the water supply.

“It’s very hard to explain it in any other way. I’ve been a farmer, I’m an engineer, and it looks likely that somehow that has occurred.”

The chooks may be off the hook – but it seems that the cows have come home to roost (or whatever cows do when they “come home”); our dirty little secret is out in the open. We are a polluted nation, awash in animal faeces and the billions upon billions of microscopic organisms that inhabit each piece of animal dung.

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In December 2011, three years after Key addressed the so-called “Bluegreen Forum” and promised that  “National will never forget that New Zealand’s outstanding physical environment is a key part of what makes our country special. Kiwis proudly value our forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans” – there were already suggestions that dairy farmers  were not compliant in keeping their livestock out of  waterways;

Dairy farmers have been accused of telling porkies to Fonterra about whether they are keeping stock out of waterways.

An Agriculture Ministry audit of the Clean Streams Accord shows that half of farms have complete stock exclusion.

This contrasts with Fonterra’s claim – based on farmers’ self-appraisal – that 84 per cent of farms are compliant.

Fish and Game leapt on the disparity, revealed yesterday in the accord’s report for the 2010-11 year.

Chief executive Bryce Johnson said it raised questions about the accuracy of all the other performance targets reported by the dairy industry to the public, politicians and the government’s Land and Water Forum.

“It’s a woeful indictment on the legitimacy of the accord, on dairying’s environmental performance over the past decade and particularly the industry’s claim that self-policing is the way towards achieving improved water quality,” he said.

At the time, Fonterra’ milk supply general manager Steve Murphy attempted to ‘spin’ the dairy industry’s way out of the discrepancy;

“Some aspects [of the ministry audit] are factual but there are also differences in the way measurements were made.”

Murphy even tried to make light of the situation with this bad-taste remark;

“We can all pooh-pooh the results but the reality is that progress is being made.”

Federated Farmers dairy chairman, Willy Leferink, simply dismissed the report out-of-hand;

“If you look closely at that report you can pick holes in it, but to me, it also sends a clear message to get our respective farms in order.”

At the same time, environmental scientist, Dr Mike Joy, condemned the so-called “clean, green” image that New Zealand was perpetuating.  At the 2011 Forest & Bird annual general meeting presentation, Dr Joy  called   our “100% Pure” advertising campaign  misleading and cited the data;

 

  • Almost all river quality monitoring sites show a worsening trend. 43% of them regularly fail to meet bathing standards, in many instances because faecal contamination levels are too high. Almost half our lakes are polluted by excess nutrients, or over-run by invasive fish. Sediment chokes all but one harbour, and estuaries.
  • By 2050, if the trend continues, we would have extinguished native fish in New Zealand. Five threatened species are commercially harvested; none have any legal protection.
  • 18,000-30,000 people contract waterborne diseases every year, from microbial contamination. Of the 70 “best” Waikato waterways, e-coli in more than 50 of them exceeds contact recreation levels.

 

Our esteemed Dear Leader responded with his usual facile glibness;

“Well, that might be Mike Joy’s view, but I don’t share that view. Like lawyers, I can give you one that will provide you with a counter-theory.”

When questioned further by the Dominion Post, Key’s tax-payer funded spokesperson responded with a curt;

“The prime minister does not share the view of Mike Joy, and has no further comment to make.”

Eight months after Key’s dismissal of Dr Joy’s warnings,  government scientists from NIWA were pointing out the dangerously degraded state of our waterways;

Water in Lake Horowhenua is so toxic that it could kill a small child, regional councillors have been told.

In certain conditions, and if cyanobacteria were present, the lake could be lethal to animals and small children, a scientist with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Dr Max Gibbs, told Horizons Regional Council’s environment committee yesterday.

Dr Gibbs was presenting a selection of initiatives to help improve the water quality of the Levin lake, which is floating just off the bottom of the New Zealand lake-water quality rankings, sitting at 107 out of 116.

As our waterways were becoming toxic enough to potentially kill animals and small children, Key made what was perhaps the lamest, most pathetic rationale to justify continuing to use the “100% Pure” branding for our country;

“It’s like saying ‘McDonald’s, I’m loving it’ – I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it . . . it’s the same thing with 100% Pure. It’s got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.”

John Key was likening our environment to McDonalds – one of the world’s premier unhealthy fast-food producers.

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Perhaps Key’s remarks were more appropriate than he realised at the time. At least he wasn’t blaming Labour or welfare beneficiaries this time;

“If . . . we should be 100% Pure and . . . there’s no economic activity . . . cavemen burning fires has a environmental impact.”

Worse was to come for Dr Joy’s admonitions to our poor environment track record.

On 21 November 2012, corporate lobbyist, Mark Unsworth, sent this scathing email, attacking the scientist;

From: Mark Unsworth [mark@sul.co.nz]
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 12:15 a.m.
To: Joy, Mike
Subject: Ego Trip

Dear Dr Joy
Is your ego so great that you feel the need to sabotage all the efforts made by those promoting tourism in NZ because of your passionate views on the environment ?
You have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly .
Letting your ego run riot worldwide in the manner you did can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism.

You may not care given your tenure in a nice comfy University lounge ,but to others this affects income and jobs.
Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York .And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery-its more accurate
Cheers
Mark Unsworth”

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Corporate lobbyist, Mark Unsworth

Corporate lobbyist, Mark Unsworth

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Unsworth’s hysterical outburst was a crass attempt to gag the scientist-messenger. At the same time the corporate lobbyist was demanding Dr Joy’s silence, the Ministry for the Environment released a report warning that half of New Zealand rivers were too dangerously polluted to swim in;

More than half of monitored recreational sites on our rivers are unsafe for swimming, a report has revealed.

The Ministry for the Environment’s latest report card – issued weeks before summer weather sends Kiwis flocking to the water – has left opposition parties questioning New Zealand’s 100 per cent pure brand.

The results showed water quality was poor or very poor at 52 per cent of monitored river sites.

A further 28 per cent were graded “fair” – with a risk of illness for those swimming there.

Only 20 per cent of monitored river recreation sites were graded good or very good.

Health effects from swallowing water tainted with faecal micro-organisms or other bacteria can be unpleasant. They include diarrhoea or vomiting, and infections of the eye, ear, nose and throat.

The report card canvassed sampling from 210 freshwater beaches, including lakeside areas, and 248 coastal beaches used for recreation that had been assigned grades based on monitoring data acquired over five summers.

It is unknown if Unsworth also sent a similar vitriolic email to the Ministry for the Environment.

Attempts in Parliament to clean up our waterways have been blocked by National and other parties.

In October 2012, Green MP Catherine Delahunty’s private member’s bill – Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill – was drawn from the Ballot. The Bill would have reduced the amount of time that discharges could be made into our rivers”in exceptional circumstances”. (Yes, industries are allowed to discharge waste into our waterways! Who knew!?)

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Greens MP, Catherine Delahunty, at the Selwyn River

Greens MP, Catherine Delahunty, at the Selwyn River

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As reported in the NZ Herald in October 2012;

Green MP Catherine Delahunty said her member’s bill, which has passed its first reading, sought to close a loophole in the Resource Management Act that allowed contaminating discharges with toxic effects and discolouration of waters under “exceptional circumstances”.

Ms Delahunty said the phrase included no timeframe, and had been used to justify long-term pollution of some waterways and coastal areas.

Her bill would limit its use to five years.

As further reported by Forest & Bird;

The most well-known case of the term “exceptional circumstances” being used loosely is where the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has allowed the Tasman Mill in Kawerau to discharge wastewater into the Tarawera River since 1995. In 2010, the mill used this clause of the RMA once more to obtain resource consents to keep discharging for another 25 years. That is, under section 107 (2)(a) of the Act, the mill has been consented to discharge to the river for a total of 42 years This is clearly not an exceptional circumstance but a case of a business-as-usual approach being used to exploit this loophole in the RMA.

The Bill passed it’s first reading and was sent to the Local Government and Environment Committee.

At it’s second reading it was voted down;

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Ayes 51                                       New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; Māori Party 2; Mana 1.
Noes 68                                       NZ National 59; NZ First 7; ACT  1; United Future 1.

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It was disappointing and disturbing to see NZ First voting against Catherine Delahunty’s Bill.  At the time, NZ First justified voting down strengthening environmental protection for our waterways by invoking commercial imperatives;

“It was also interesting to note that very big signals were given in terms of the potential impact that this bill would have on the wider New Zealand economic development situation. If resource consents and permits of this nature were restricted to only 5 years for exceptional discharges, it would have a very adverse detrimental effect on investment and industry in this country. In the situation with Norske Skog, it had, just in the last few years, invested $50 million in a major new machine at the paper plant there—a very significant investment in a major piece of equipment. Had Norske Skog not had the extended permits, the parent company internationally would probably have made the decision not to invest that $50 million in New Zealand.”

As then-Co-Leader of the Green Party, Dr Russell Norman has pointed out;

“The natural environment makes New Zealand a great place to live. And it underpins our economy – tourists come here for the 100% Pure image, and Chinese parents feed their kids New Zealand infant formula because it’s clean, green and safe.

So you’d have to be a mug to attack the environment. Or a Cabinet minister, because since the last election that’s exactly what they’ve been up to.

They are using taxpayer money to subsidise the intensification of dairying agribusiness, intensification that will lead to more water pollution. According to the Ministry for the Environment most monitored rivers aren’t safe for swimming already.

Swimming in a river should be a birth right of New Zealand kids but it’s rapidly becoming a quaint historical oddity- “Hey dad did you really swim in that half drained contaminated cesspool when you were a kid?”

And sure agribusiness makes a quick buck selling milk powder to China, but what happens when Chinese parents find out that our rivers are becoming just as polluted as theirs? Will they still pay a premium for New Zealand food?

No environment, no economy.”

National’s response?

In March this year – as disaster loomed five months away for Havelock North – Environment Minister Nick Smith exposed National’s “Bluegreen” stance;

“I do not think a legal requirement for every water body in New Zealand to be swimmable is practical.  Our ambition is for a lot more areas to be swimmable… but we want to be practical.”

In effect, Smith admitted his government’s failure and surrendered New Zealand to a future of dirty rivers; dying lakes and undrinkable water.

Little wonder that stock belonging to Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias her businessman husband, Hugh Fletcher, were permitted to freely wade through Canterbury’s Lake Taylor, Hurunui river, and Lake Sumner despite abatement notices being issued  by ECan. An incident in January this year was repeated several times.

In one image, a cow was photographed wading through a river, a stream of brown ‘matter’ emanating from it’s rear;

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cow in river - dame sian elias

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The Station’s then-farm manager, Brian Anderson, called environmental rules  “ridiculous”.

Anderson’s lack of concern is by no means unique. Whether it be Key or Nick Smith, there is a distinctive short-sightedness that fails to see even into the very-near future when it comes to the negative implications of our dairy-intensive agri-economy.

The attitude of many (most?) in the farming sector, and their political-wing (the National Party), is to turn a blind eye to known environmental degradation; parrot “green” policies when under public or media scrutiny; and hope for the best.

None of which has come out well for this country.

Even the far-right blog, Whaleoil and it’s unhinged owner,  appears to belatedly understand the simple equation; Shit-Out (of the cow), Shit In (to our waterways);

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the greens said this would happen - havelock north - water contamination

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On 7 September, 2008, John Key said that “…we should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.

Indeed we should.

Thus far, by every measurement, including the polluted waterways of New Zealand and contaminated drinking water in Havelock North – National’s “environmental rhetoric” does not match its “environmental record”.

National has abrogated it’s responsibilities to safeguard our environment. Instead of placing priority on cleaning up our waterways, this is no longer “practical”, according to Nick Smith.

Instead, National has settled for second best.

When it comes to drinking water, second best is nowhere near good enough.

The frightening aspect to National’s indifference to our water quality and wider environmental concerns is not just the contamination of our water-supply. Nor our rivers, half of which are no longer of a swimmable standard.

No, the truly worrying possibility is when the international media will suddenly realise what has been happening in “clean, green” Aotearoa, and that our “100% Pure” brand is a clever scam.

When the documentaries exposing this lie begin to appear on TV screens in Britain, Europe, North America, and elsewhere,  our entire tourism sector will face a crisis. It will be a crisis not unlike the 1080 extortion-scare which impacted on our dairy exports to China two years ago,

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Industry counts cost of 1080 threat

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As the Radio NZ report said;

Dairy products are New Zealand’s biggest export earner with $14 billion’s worth leaving the country’s shores each year, and the industry says reputation is everything.

Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand chairman Malcolm Bailey said the threat cost the country millions of dollars.

The international community is already becoming aware that our reputation for being a supposedly “egalitarian” society is a myth and nothing more;

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New Zealand's most shameful secret We have normalised child poverty

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It is only a matter of time before the first foreign journalists and camera crews arrive on our shores. Only a matter of time before our dis-coloured rivers; semi-dead lakes; and cows wading and excreting into our waterways is all filmed. Only a matter of time before inhabitants of Havelock North are interviewed. Only a matter of time before a request for interviews with ministers land on their desks.

Only a matter of time.

Who will John Key blame then?

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***Update**

Water contamination has spread to Hastings and Flaxmere;

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TV1 News - Hastings, Flaxmere water supply found contaminated as infections rise

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The TV1 report  also confirms the Radio NZ story that farm animal-faeces was most likely the source of contamination;

Dr Snee says the results of yesterday’s DNA testing of the contaminated water were inconclusive – meaning authorities are no closer to getting answers to just how the water became contaminated.

The tests show bovine contamination, so most likely to be from sheep, cattle or deer.

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Addendum1

*  The Bluegreen Forum is the National Party’s pseudo-environmental “wing”. Realising that environmental protection was a critical ‘Achilles Heal’ of the National Party, the Bluegreen Forum was created so “that  environmental issues should not be monopolised by those on the left of the political spectrum“, as Key asserted in September 2008.

The “Bluegreens” are good at parroting environmental rhetoric.

By coincidence, or by supreme irony, blue-green is also the colour  of cyanobacteria, which can be a toxic consequence of heavily polluted waterways. According to Wikipedia;

Aquatic cyanobacteria are known for their extensive and highly visible blooms that can form in both freshwater and marine environments. The blooms can have the appearance of blue-green paint or scum.

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References

Scoop media: John Key – Speech to the Bluegreens Forum

New Zealand Yearbook: 1984

New Zealand Yearbook: 2008

TV3: Campylobacter confirmed in Havelock North water, 4100 affected

NewstalkZB: Thousands affected by Havelock North water contamination

Fairfax media: Inquiry to be launched into Havelock North’s contaminated water

TV1 News: Hard-hit Havelock North residents ‘want answers’ over water contamination

Radio NZ: Govt rejects call for Hawke’s Bay water emergency declaration

Radio NZ: Campylobacter most likely from livestock – Yule

Statistics NZ: Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2015

Dominion Post: Fish and Game hits out at farmers

Forest & Bird: 2011 AGM – Dr Mike Joy

Dominion Post: Ecologist at odds with PM on 100% Pure NZ

Dominion Post: Worries over toxicity of lake

Fairfax media: ‘100% Pure’ is like McDonald’s ad, says Key

Facebook:  Russel Norman – Mark Unsworth’s email

NZ Herald: No swimming – 52% impure NZ rivers

NZ Herald: Bill aims to plug pollution loophole

Forest & Bird: Resource Management Amendment Bill

Parliament: Vote – Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill — Second Reading

NZ First: Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill — Second Reading

RadioLive: Nats are sacrificing our environment… for what?

Fairfax media: Making every water body swimmable is ‘not practical’ – Nick Smith

Fairfax media: Cattle belonging to Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias’ repeat offenders

Fairfax media: More complaints about top judge Dame Sian Elias’ cows, but farm says rules ‘ridiculous’

Radio NZ: Industry counts cost of 1080 threat

The Guardian: New Zealand’s most shameful secret – ‘We have normalised child poverty’

TV1 News: Hastings, Flaxmere water supply found contaminated as infections rise

National: Bluegreen Forum

Wikipedia: Cyanobacteria

Other Blogs

Gordon Campbell on Havelock North’s water issues

Pundit:  Mike Joy answers the PM, with hard facts (2011)

The Civilian: Hastings gastro outbreak just marketing stunt to promote new documentary about Hastings gastro outbreak

The New Zealand story: 100% pooer! (2012)

The Standard: The Friday dump on Havelock North

Previous related blogposts

John Key’s “pinch of salt” style of telling the truth

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012 – environment

When spin doctors go bad

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milk prices-pollution

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 August 2016.

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

18 September 2015 18 comments

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cold and damp houses - newspaper magazine front pages

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Recent statements by Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett,  Minister Responsible for Housing New Zealand, Bill English,  Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith, and Prime Minister John Key, have been shown to be deceptively misleading – and in many instances, outright lies.

Their public utterances have been revealed  to be untrue after this blogger discovered a statement from Housing NZ, buried deep within one of their Annual Reports.

#1 – Nick Smith

On 25 April 2014, Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith, was indignant when he rejected a claim by the Labour Party that National was planning to siphon off  Christchurch earthquake insurance payouts to Housing NZ as government dividends.

As Radio NZ reported;

Papers obtained by Labour under the Official Information Act reveal plans to delay maintenance and redirect Canterbury quake insurance payouts to meet the Government’s demands for increased returns from state housing.

Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says Housing New Zealand has agreed to pay higher dividends to the Government by using some of its $320 million insurance payment and putting off repairs and maintenance.

Mr Twyford says the Government is robbing Housing New Zealand in Canterbury to fund dividends going into the Crown account. He says Housing Minister Nick Smith needs to explain why money that should have gone into the rebuild has gone into Government coffers instead.

But Housing Minister Nick Smith says it’s not a case of earmarking any particular income towards the dividend, but it’s not true to say it will come from the insurance payout.

He says insurance proceeds are going towards capital expenditure, including 2000 new houses, which will be under construction by the end of 2015.

Dr Smith says Housing New Zealand has always been expected to return a dividend to the Crown, including under the previous Labour-led Government. This comes from normal operating revenue, including rent and rent subsidies from the Government.

Housing New Zealand’s latest statement of intent shows $308 million in insurance money earmarked for capital expenditure this financial year.

#2 – Bill English

Barely five months later, Housing NZ announced a dividend of $118 million to be paid to the government for financial year – the largest since 2009-10;

Housing New Zealand returned a $108 million dividend in the past financial year, the third largest ever paid.

At the time the responsible minister, Bill English said the higher dividend would allow the Government to help more people with serious housing needs.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the idea the Government was continuing to make money off State housing when children were getting sick from living in those houses was unacceptable.

He said the Crown must rule out taking a dividend until all Housing New Zealand stock was up to standard.

“Given that Housing New Zealand homes are actually killing their residents, I think it makes no sense for there to be any dividend at all.

“Everything that they get should be ploughed back into making sure that their homes are safe.”

Minister Responsible for Housing New Zealand, Bill English justified the massive  dividend with the extraordinary statement;

“Housing New Zealand has sufficient cash to invest in new houses and at the level that we’ve specified, and to do its maintenance programmes. So really the dividend is about just a bit of pressure on them to be efficient.”

The cash-grab by National had been hinted earlier, on 24 March, when Bill English signalled that maintenance on HNZ properties would be deferred;

Mr English says the lack of maintenance on state houses is concerning and that in the long run the government will need to invest the $1.2 billion dollars in state houses to get them up to scratch.

However, he says that won’t all happen this year.

When asked why Housing New Zealand had not spent as much money as it should have on maintenance, Mr English put the blame partly on the previous Labour government saying they had chosen to build new state houses rather than fix up old ones.

Yet, that quiet admission did not stop both Paula Bennett and Bill English from repeating their ‘spin’ that Housing NZ had sufficient cash for necessary maintenance of their housing stock;

Bill English  – 5 June 2015

“They’ve done a very large scale programme – insulated every house that it can, which is 48,000 houses over the last four or five years.

It’s got to deal with the same limitations of process as everybody else, it’s got to get consents, it’s got to find a workforce, but it’s not short of money to do the job.”

#3 – Paula Bennett

Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Housing – 12 June 2015

@ 4.28

“What I will say is that it’s not, um, not a money problem. So there is enough money there for us to get that stock up.”

@ 5.42

“It’s not actually about the money. The money is there to be spent on the maintenance.”

Bill English – 8 September 2015

“Housing New Zealand has sufficient cash to invest in new houses and at the level that we’ve specified, and to do its maintenance programmes.”

Bill English – 9 September 2015

@ 2.36

“The constraint on repairs isn’t cash. They have enough money to do the jobs that they need to do.”

@ 4.28

“With respect to the maintenance. Ah, yes, if any tenant lets Housing NZ azbout any, what they call urgent maintenance needs, and they got 125,000 of those notifications, ah, in the last year or two, ah, then Housing NZ has the cash to act on those…”

@ 6.11

“In fact, our main challenge there is not [a] lack of money…”

@ 6.35

“So the constraint isn’t cash, it’s a lack of houses.”

All of which was  revealed to be dishonest spin by these two Ministers, when this statement was discovered from Housing NZ’s 2013/14 Annual Report;

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housing nz annual report 2013-14 maintenance cutbacks

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity.” – [p28]

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Perhaps English and Bennett forgot – or did not realise – that Housing NZ would disclose the true nature of their lack of funds for on-going maintenance of their increasingly dilapidated properties.

#4 – John Key

Perhaps English and Bennett both hoped that the media and public would buy their #1 deflection – that it was all a problem left over from the previous Labour government. Even our esteemed Dear Leader repeated the same spin in Parliament on 26 August this year;

“But what I can say is that this Government is proud of the fact that it is spending $300 million a year improving the mess we inherited from Labour. Its own house was never in order. It is not in order at the moment. No wonder we inherited-“

“It would be easier to take the member seriously if what Labour did when in Government was actually maintain the houses. But, in fact, not only did it not do that, it let them run down … It is a joke for the Labour Party members to come here and talk about this. They ran the housing stock down. They should hang their heads in shame—that is what they should do.”

“Where is the moral compass of an Opposition that just failed to upgrade and maintain houses? They were a mess under the Labour Government. They were a disgrace, and this Government has actually had to fix them up. It is the same old story all the time with Labour: hopeless in Government; roaring like lions in Opposition.”

“I am advised by the Minister responsible for HNZC that the previous Labour Government suspended the maintenance on those properties to build more properties. Labour let those houses run down, it let those tenants get sick, and now in Opposition it wants to pass the buck to someone else. It is a disgrace, Mr Little. It is a disgrace.”

In that one exchange, Key repeated the Blame Labour mantra four times.

During the 9 September interview on Radio NZ’s ‘Checkpoint‘ with Bill English, Guyon Espiner voiced his obvious disgust/weariness at that hoary old excuse;

“Ok, I think after seven or eight years we’ve had enough of you blaming the [previous] Labour government.”

Bennett and English did the same throughout various Radio NZ and television interviews.

At one point during the  9 September Radio NZ interview, English even  blamed tenants for the state of their run-down homes;

English: “And generally the reason a repair or an upgrade doesn’t happen is because they don’t –  is because they need to be told it’s needed, ah, they’re not in every house every week  but when, y’know as I said -“

Espiner: “So hang on, it’s the tenant’s fault, for not telling them, is it?”

Key used that blame-gaming on 26 August, in Parliament,  during his previously mentioned blame-game session;

“But also I will say that my mother took absolute pride in making sure that she kept the house clean, tidy, and ventilated.”

So, according to Key, English, and Bennett, the poor state of Housing NZ properties is due to;

  1. The previous Labour Government
  2. Tenants

Nothing to do with $664 million in dividends siphoned off by National to fund reduced tax revenue post-2009/10 tax cuts, which led to National demanding bigger and bigger dividends from SOEs such as Solid Energy; state-owned power companies, and social services such as Housing NZ.

If ever there was a clearer picture of transferring wealth from low-income New Zealanders to the top 10% of income earners and “high net worth” (ie; filthy rich) individuals – it is the financial gutting of Housing NZ.

Despite claims that Housing NZ has “the money is there to be spent on the maintenance” – the facts prove otherwise. Housing NZ’s own statement condemns two ministers and the Prime Minister as manipulative liars;

“To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity.”

# 5 – Nick Smith (again)

Perhaps the most tragic result of National’s cash-grab was the death of two-year old Emma-Lita Bourne, who died in a grotty, damp, cold State house. The death was preventable, as the Coroner, Brandt Shortland ,reported;

The coroner’s report into the toddler’s death, which was released on Thursday, says the poor condition of the state house in the South Auckland suburb of Otara was a contributing factor to Emma-Lita’s death.

[…]

“I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to Emma-Lita’s health status.”

Building and Housing Minister* Nick Smith, expressed his version of human empathy with this callous observation of the little girl’s short life;

“People dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new.”

Three lying ministers and an emotionless psychopath/automaton.

This is what we have for a government.

It also offers a third option for National’s blame-gaming spin when challenged on their failures;

 

  • The previous Labour Government
  • Tenants
  • Winter illnesses

 

No doubt National will come up with other excuses and others to point a finger at. This is, after all, the party of personal responsibility.

#6 – Memo to Mainstream Media

In the meantime,

Memo to Mainstream Media:

Next time English, Bennett, or Key claim that Housing NZ has sufficient money, after dividends are extracted, to carry out maintenance please ask them why HNZ stated in their 2013/14 Annual Report;

“To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity.”

Because we’d really like to know.

* National has not one, but three ministers for housing portfolios. And they still can’t get it right.

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Addendum1 – 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)

Addendum2 – Housing NZ dividends under Labour

Annual Report 2001/02 – $9 million (p51)

Annual Report 2002/03 – $3 million (p55)

Annual Report 2003/04 – $176 million (p50)

Annual Report 2004/05 – $44 million (p42)

Annual Report 2005/06 – $14 million (p71)

Annual Report 2006/07 – $20 million (p54)

Annual Report 2007/08 – $13 million (p51)

Annual Report 2008/09 – $2 million (p71)

Total: $281 million (over 8 years – no figures found for ’00-’01 period)

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1-in-10health

Source: Shelter.org.uk

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References

Radio NZ: Housing NZ not cash cow – minister

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

Radio NZ: Morning Report – English defends $118M Housing NZ dividend (alt. link)

Radio NZ: Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend – audio (alt. link)

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2009-10 (p86)

Radio NZ: State housing criticism valid, says English

TVNZ News: English concerned by State House deferred maintenance bill

Radio NZ: The state of state housing (alt. link)

Parliament: 2. Housing New Zealand Corporation, Minister – Confidence

Fairfax media:Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

National Party: About Personal Responsibility

Previous related blogposts

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

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Theres always a market solution - housing nz - bill english

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 September 2015.

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The Mendacities of Mr Key # 12: No More Asset Sales (Kind of)

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Lying National lying john key

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On 25 February 2014, Dear Leader John Key announced to the nation that his government’s asset sales programme was over;

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“Just as we did before the last election we’re making our position on share sales clear to New Zealanders before we go to the polls later this year. We’ve achieved what we wanted with the share offers in energy companies and Air NZ. We’re now returning to a business-as-usual approach when it comes to  [state-owned enterprises]. The truth is there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme, or they sit in the category that they are very large like Transpower but are monopoly assets so aren’t suited.”

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Like so many of  the Prime Minister’s promises, that “Key Committment” did not last long. Not even a year.

As Fonterra’s payout to farmers collapsed and weakening exports to China’s slowing economy began to impact on the government’s tax-take,   Bill English’s much-heralded promise of a Budget surplus sank deeper than the m.v. Rena in 2011. English promised almost exactly a year ago on 16 May 2014;

It’s a real surplus and it follows a string of improvements in deficits starting at $18 billion four years ago, this year about $2.5b and next year a surplus of $370 [million], and then bigger surpluses after that.

Barely three months after the 2014 elections, Treasury had bad news for English and the National government;

Treasury this morning delivered a body blow to the Government’s hopes of returning to surplus, saying it now expects a deficit of over half a billion dollars for the June financial year.

At this morning’s Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, Acting Treasury Secretary Vicky Robertson said despite solid growth in the economy, the Crown’s finances would take a hit from lower than previously forecast tax take.

That had seen Treasury change its forecast operating balance before gains and losses (Obegal) for the 2014-15 year from a slim surplus of $297 million to a deficit of $572 million.

Treasury said softer outlook for economic drivers of the tax such as lower dairy prices and interest rates had seen the expected tax take for the year fall by $600 million.

In the same Herald report, English and Key  were both frantically doing their best King Canute impersonations since King Canute took a day to go to the beach;

But Finance Minister Bill English was this morning still clinging to the hope Treasury is wrong and the books will indeed be back in black this year as he and Mr Key have promised for some years.

I’m hopeful we will,” Mr Key told reporters this afternoon.

The view of the Minister of Finance is that we can still achieve that surplus. There’s a lot of different factors moving around here at the moment.

By 2 May of this year, even  National’s spin-meisters had run out of steam, and on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, English was forced to admit that the world was indeed round and not flat; money-printing pixies did not exist; and dreams of a budget surplus were a Tory fantasy;

No, I don’t call it a failure. It is what it is, and that is for the 14/15 year, we budgeted $370 million surplus. It looks like it will be a $500 or $600 million deficit, and the surplus will be the next year. So we’re on track.”

So “the surplus will be the next year“?

The Minister had better be hoping that the Christchurch re-build; the Auckland housing boom; and renewed growth in China’s economy,  will continue to stimulate the economy. Otherwise, that “500 or $600 million deficit” will balloon into $1 billion or $2 billion or…

National’s expensive, multi-billion dollar 2009 and 2010 tax cuts may not have been such a clever move after all.

English, though, is not about to surrender. His government’s policies may be predicated on tax revenue from re-building a semi-destroyed city; an unsustainable housing boom in Auckland; and waning dairy exports – but National’s Finance Minister has other ideas up his sleeve.

In his 2 May interview on ‘The Nation‘, English committed the government not to cut spending;

Lisa Owen: Okay. Well, before on The Nation, you said that the Government would not make any cuts to reach surplus. Is that still your plan?

Bill English: That’s right. We’re not going to make any specific extra decisions now just because our tax revenue’s a percentage point – 1 percent down.

If past experience has taught us one thing about this government; if they promise you one thing, you can be sure that somewhere, in some back room; they are planning something completely different.

English has committed the government not to “make any specific extra decisions now just because our tax revenue’s a percentage point – 1 percent down”.

It’s just a shame we can’t believe a word of what he says. The cuts had begun long before English uttered his lies to Lisa Owen.

The story unfolds…

16 May 2014…

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Budget 2014 - Surplus real, says English .

National’s “economic whizz-kid” had promised the country a “$372 million surplus” – as well as “an increase to paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 18, free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children under 13,  extra money to ease the cost of early-childhood education, eligibility for paid parental leave extended, and the existing parental tax credit to  rise“.

Labour’s social policies had been nicked by National. English basked in political glory. Sceptics were ignored. The country went to the polls four months later.

20 September 2014…

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National Party wins third term

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And then reality began to reassert itself.

16 December 2014…

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No surplus this year - Treasury

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National’s core policy; it’s raison d’être; it’s reputation amongst New Zealanders who are only vaguely politically conscious – is it’s so-called “reputation for fiscal prudence and responsible economic manager”, and it was rapidly being sucked down a flushing toilet of indebtedness. If it couldn’t deliver on it’s promise of returning the books to surplus – as Labour’s Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, had done between 2000 and 2008 – then what good was it?

English looked at his options to cut spending, and to raise money without creating headlines that shrieked “panic” or “broken promises”.

28 January 2015…

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Up to 8,000 state houses could be sold under John Key's radical plan - asset sales

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So much for Key’s assertion that “the truth is there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme”.

Truth and John Key parted company a long time ago. Key’s announcement that up to 8,000 State houses could be sold came only eleven months after his earlier committment to New Zealanders that no further state assets would be sold.

13 April 2015…

John Key denies there is a housing crisis in New Zealand;

No, I don’t think you can call it a crisis. What you can say though is that Auckland house prices have been rising, and rising too quickly actually.

21 April 2015…

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No free GP visits for all children - Government - broken promises - health cuts - National - under 13s

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National’s broken promise flew in the face of committments made prior to last year’s general election, as then-Health Minister, Tony Ryall said;

Free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children aged under six will be extended to all children aged under 13 from July next year, Health Minister Tony Ryall says.

Budget 2014 is investing $90 million over three years from 1 July 2015 so primary school-aged children can go to a doctor for free, any time of the day or night, and get their prescriptions free as well, he says.

“National brought in the policy of free GP visits and prescriptions for children under six, including free after-hours visits. Thanks to our prudent management of the health budget, we are extending this policy to all children under 13.

This is what careful financial management can deliver to Kiwi families.

Interestingly, there was a very minor – but all-important word missing between two otherwise identical Facebook postings by John Key and the National Party;

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Facebook - free GP visits for all children - Government - broken promises - health cuts - John Key - under 13s

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Facebook - free GP visits for all children - Government - broken promises - health cuts - National Party - under 13s

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Note the one missing word – “all” – from Key’s Facebook statement.  Otherwise, the statement is identical to the National Party Facebook page. Someone in the National Party’s politburo obviously wasn’t keeping track of re-writing their election promises.

Green Party Health and ACC spokesperson, Kevin Hague, hit the nail on the head when he demanded;

If one in ten kids have to pay up to $38 to go to the doctor when they have an accident, then that visit is not free and that’s a broken promise. It begs the question: what other promises are the Government going to renege on this year in a bid to save a bit more money?  This shows how desperate the Government is to reach a surplus that it’s trying to pinch pennies from injured children.”

30 April 2015…

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Government offloads 2800 state houses to Auckland development company

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Attempting to justify the transfer, English announced;

Over half of the new houses will be sold to help offset construction costs, and the remainder will be retained as social housing. Our bottom line is that there will be at least as many social houses in Tāmaki as the 2800 there now.

As with previous promises, National’s assurances cannot be relied upon. Ministers will utter soothing reassurances one day – and weeks, months, or years later will find justification why they had to retract.

National ministers simply cannot be trusted to keep their word. Even if 7,500 new homes are built, there is no guarantee that “half of the new houses will be … retained as social housing“. National will find a reason to sell them.

English further stated;

The Government owns one in 16 houses in Auckland and we need to do a better job with them for the sake of tenants and aspiring homeowners, as well as for the neighbourhoods they live in and the wider city…

…This transfer of ownership of HNZC properties and the responsibility for tenancy management to TRC will enable faster construction of warm, dry and safe houses that better meet people’s needs.”

His comments are a repetition of National’s spin that NZ Housing properties are ‘badly run down and in dire need of maintenance’;

Finance Minister Bill English has confirmed the Government will need to spend $1.5 billion upgrading state houses as they are sold to social housing providers.

Mr English conceded many state houses were not up to standard and had not been properly maintained.

He said the cost of deferred maintenance had risen to $1.5 billion and that the matter had been raised during discussions with social agencies considering buying state houses.

“They’ve highlighted that. So part of the benefit of the process we’re going through is that these agencies are going to apply a very tight scrutiny to the state of the houses that maybe they might be looking at buying.”

Mr English blamed the former Labour-led Government, saying it had focused more on building new state houses than on maintaining existing homes.

English’s apportioning of blame to the previous Labour government is disingenuous.

The sole reason why Housing NZ has not been able to maintain it’s properties is that it has had to pay dividends from income (rent paid by low-income/beneficiary tenants) to successive governments. According to National’s Building and Housing Minister, Dr Nick Smith;

The average dividend under the 5 years so far of this Government has been $88 million. The dividend this year [2014] is $90 million…

Fairfax reported Nick Smith as stating;

Smith said the dividend had been been fairly consistent in the past several years – $71m in 2010, $68m in 2011, $77m in 2012 and $90m in 2013.

Four years worth of dividends – $306 million – were paid to the government’s Consolidated Fund. No wonder Housing NZ is unable to maintain it’s properties.

National was brutal in it’s expectations of huge windfalls from Housing NZ;

The letters reveal that on six occasions ministers asked for dividends to be hiked, or paid faster. In March 2010, Maurice Williamson wrote: “I expect . . . a significantly higher annual return to the Crown.”

Phil Heatley, when he was housing minister, asked that in 2011-12 and 2012-13 the dividend be $45m higher than that forecast in the 2011 Budget. Later he revised expectations upwards, to $251m over three years.

In July last year, Smith said “dividend levels should be significant enough to represent a challenge”.

These demands from National ministers were placed on a government department charged with housing the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Williamson, Heatley, and Smith were content to bleed Housing NZ and let tenants live in cold, damp, miserable conditions.

Williamson, Heatley, and Smith – National’s 21st century slumlords.

As with Solid Energy, National exploited government departments and SOEs such as ACC, as “cash cows”, with which to balance their books to return to Budget surplus. (see: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys )

It is also worthy to note that National Ministers are employing spin when it comes to state house  sales. English and other ministers use the term “transfer” and not sale.

On 6 May, Bill English stated that  houses would not be sold “unless tenants get better services and taxpayers get fair and reasonable value“.

On TVNZ’s Q+A on 10 May, Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett, admitted that her government was selling state housing;

@ 2.13

Corin Dann: “But the point is, they are going to get these houses, they’re going to be sold these houses, aren’t they? You say transfer but it’s a sale of houses at a discount, right?

Paula Bennett: “Well, I’m sure it’ll be less than the market value, yes.

These are sales, not a transfer. “Transfer” implies a change of ownership without cost or exchange of money. There is Big Money involved in state house sales.

[Incorrect information deleted. – FM]

6 May 2015…

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 Invercargill and Tauranga chosen for first state house sales

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The Great Sell-off of Housing continues under National – with the government disposing of all state housing in Tauranga and Invercargill. Radio NZ reported;

The Government has announced it will begin selling off up to 1600 state houses in Tauranga and Invercargill to social housing groups.

There are 370 state houses in Invercargill and 1250 in Tauranga and it’s understood all of them could be sold if buyers come forward.

Only vetted and registered community housing providers will be able to buy them and, depending on their negotiations with the Government, they may not have to pay the market price.

There is nothing to stop private developers from acquiring state houses through back-door means, as this report on a landlords website explained;

The state houses will only be available for sale to registered Community Housing Providers (CHPs).

However, Housing NZ Minister Bill English said that registered CHPs can partner with other organisations to acquire and develop social housing.

Any transfer of houses will not affect the rent tenants pay or their eligibility for subsidised housing, and properties transferred as social houses will also have to stay as social housing unless the Government agrees otherwise.  In both Tauranga and Invercargill, Housing New Zealand owns a significant number of houses so there is potential for more than one organisation to acquire houses for community ownership.

This means there could be scope for private investors to get involved in the provision of social housing – either by becoming a registered CHP or by partnering with a registered CHP.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A on 10 May, Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett confirmed that private investors could “partner” with Community Housing Providers to purchase state houses; re-develop the properties; and sell new residences at a profit.

On 6 May, English assured the public;

Any transfer of houses will not affect the rent tenants pay or their eligibility for subsidised housing, and properties transferred as social houses will also have to stay as social housing unless the Government agrees otherwise.”

Of course National will agree. This is a wholesale sell-off of state housing. Why wouldn’t they agree to new owners on-selling these properties for a profit? Otherwise new owners would be stuck with old, dilapidated properties, requiring expensive repairs, and soon getting into deep debt.

This is privatisation, by stealth,  through the back-door, using intermediaries. This is a whole new level of government subterfuge.

It also exposes John Key’s assurance – that state assert sales have ended – as a lie.

Conclusion

Finance Minister Bill English is desperately scrabbling for every dollar he can claw back. Miserly does not even begin to aptly describe this government’s actions.

It seems that the tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 are being paid for by paperboys and girls; sick children; welfare beneficiaries; and Housing NZ tenants.

It remains to be seen what further cuts in social spending Bill English has planned. His reassurances on 2 May 2015 – that there would be no cuts to social spending – are to be treated with the same contempt as other promises, assurances, and committments that have been made, and broken, by John Key, Bill English, et al.

Governments are at their worst and most dangerous, when desperate. And this is a desperate government.

Addendum1

Karol, writing for The Standard, has more on this issue. See: “Key Govt asset stripping state housing‘.

Addendum2

Registered community housing provider, Habitat for Humanity Invercargill-branch  chairman, Stephen Falconer, is an enthusiastic cheerleader for National’s covert privatisation programme. He told the Otago Daily Times on 7 May;

We’re a private organisation, essentially, and we think that private enterprise can actually do a better job than Government on most things.

Because private enterprise has done such a stirling job thus far in meeting demand for housing in Auckland, Christchurch, and elsewhere?

It is disappointing that an ostensibly community organisation like Habitat for Humanity has bought into the government narrative, complete with parroting neo-liberal cliches that “private enterprise can actually do a better job than Government“.

If it were true that “private enterprise can actually do a better job than Government“, then why does Habitat for Humanity exist?

Addendum3

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett is interviewed by Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A. Along with Bill English’s admissions, her comments are a disturbing indication where National is going with state housing.  See:  Govt social housing target 3000 homes

 

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References

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

John Key: My key commitments to you

NBR: Weak dairy prices prompt analysts to pull back Fonterra forecast payout for next season

The Independent: How China’s slowing GDP growth could drag down the global economy

TV3 News: National Party wins third term

NZ Herald: No surplus this year – Treasury

Fairfax media: Budget 2014 – Surplus real, says English

TV3: The Nation – Bill English

Fairfax media: Budget 2014 – Surplus real, says English

TV1 News: Up to 8,000 state houses could be sold under John Key’s radical plan

Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis

NZ Herald:  No free GP visits for all children – Government

National Party: Free doctors’ visits, prescriptions for under 13s

Facebook: John Key

Facebook: National Party

Scoop media: Govt breaks free doctors visit promise to kids

Fairfax media: Government offloads 2800 state houses to Auckland development company

Radio NZ: Govt to spend $1.5b fixing up state houses

Parliament: Hansards – Questions for Oral Answer — Questions to Ministers – 8 May 2014

Fairfax media: Nats milking Housing NZ – Labour

Fairfax media: Not much in the cupboard for English to dine on

NZ Herald: State houses in Tauranga and Invercargill to go on the market

TVNZ Q+A: Govt social housing target 3000 homes

Landlords – For Kiwi Property Investors: State houses to go on sale in Tauranga & Invercargill

NZ Herald: Budget 2012 – ‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour

Fairfax media: Invercargill and Tauranga chosen for first state house sales

Radio NZ: Tauranga, Invercargill state houses to be sold

Otago Daily Times: Invercargill among first state house transfer sites

Previous Related Blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

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)

“It’s fundamentally a fairness issue”- Peter Dunne

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

The Mendacities of Mr Key #11: Sorry, Prime Minister, what ‘mandate’ were you referring to?!

Other blogs

Polity: Housing horrors

The Jackal: Nationals housing failure

The Standard: Key Govt asset stripping state housing

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I will never turn my back on the poor

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 May 2015.

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