After 7.5 years in office watching housing prices creeping up steadily, National is trying to divert growing public attention from its failure to address the housing crisis with a massive $1 billion spend that will be focussed on Auckland and ignore the problem in other parts of New Zealand. The expenditure comes with strings attached as the Minister of Housing and the Prime Minister have said to local councils charged with issuing resource and building consents that they need to process consents faster. Yet these are the same councils where Government policy has stripped them of qualified resource consent planning and investigations staff because they are considered to be “bureaucrats” or “paper shufflers”.
Every year 40,000 new people arrive in Auckland, a city now more expensive than many places in Australia with housing prices far beyond what the average New Zealand family can afford. Not all are coming here to live, but that does not stop them investing in an overheated housing market as a means of having an offshore investment away from the prying eyes of authorities in their country of origin. When Opposition parties such as New Zealand First, the Greens and Labour try to challenge National Party policy on this, they are accused of racism.
New Zealand is being held back by not just by a Government that believes market economics should guide housing, but also an Opposition too scared to come up with comprehensive housing policy that will address a major crisis in our socio-economic health. The paralysis on the left is as much because Labour has forgotten its roots as it is because the same party has not yet grown the confidence to tackle Prime Minister John Key. Despite joining the Greens and New Zealand First in attacking Prime Minister John Key and his National-led Government, it has been unable to produce comprehensive policy of its own
The only party that seems to know where it stands is New Zealand First. Its leader Winston Peters has consistently attacked Mr Key over housing, and has long linked it to the high inflow of immigrants that the major parties seem reluctant to tackle. He has correctly pointed out that this inflow is not sustainable, is leading to overheating of the market and the only way to cool the market down is reduce the inflow.
Housing is an issue on which the fate of the Government of Mr Key could be decided. Mr Key is angling for an historic fourth term in office, and is looking for an issue where he can steal an undeniable gain on Labour. Mr Key knows history is against National getting a fourth term as the historical precedent only favours four-term Governments in war time. This issue is not going to go away, but with a paralyzed opposition that cannot produce better policy, Mr Key may make the mistake of thinking nothing needs to be done.
And that could be his downfall.