Prime Minister Bill English and Labour Party leader Andrew Little kicked off the Parliamentary year with exchanges on housing policy in the House of Representatives.
In tabled speech notes Tuesday afternoon, English promised to increase the supply of land for housing. Little promised to cut down on house purchases by non-residents.
English also outlined a range of policy initiatives for the National-led government this year, including increased transparency on KiwiSaver fees and a reduction in time for Overseas Investment Office applications (see more below).
In his actual address to Parliament, English said the government has a “comprehensive programme to improve the supply of housing.” He touted special housing areas, home start grants and a large-scale Crown building programme getting underway in Auckland.
He noted new policies requiring councils to take house land values into account when deciding on zoning and a NZD 1bn housing infrastructure fund currently under discussion between the government and councils nationwide.
“All of these are focussed on improving the supply of housing, and of course it takes some time for houses to get consented and built after their subdivisions have been consented and built, but we’re on the right track,” English said.
“Last year, 10,000 new houses [consented] in Auckland, because in the long-run, it is only more houses on the ground which will enable a reasonable housing market,” he said.
Labour Party leader Andrew Little responded by saying the current government had grown out of touch on house prices. Housing is the most important issue in New Zealand today, he said.
“Thousands of New Zealanders [are] still unable to afford their first home, not just in Auckland but around the country,” Little said. “It is time to have a genuinely comprehensive housing package for all New Zealanders, so that once again, all New Zealanders can genuinely hope to own their own home – at the moment a forlorn hope for too many.”
Labour will focus on removing “offshore speculators” from the housing market, Little said.
“We’re not alone in that. Six other countries party to an agreement that used to be called the TPPA – they got it, and we signed our rights away over that agreement to legislate for it; Now we’ve got it back,” Little said in relation to Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal talks having broken down after US President Donald Trump signed an order for the US to exit talks.
“Now, New Zealanders have the opportunity to seize the chance, do what’s right for the next generation,” Little said. He referred to Labour’s policy that non-residents and non-citizens should not be allowed to buy existing housing in New Zealand, but could choose to build: “if you want to live overseas and own a house, you’ve got to build a new house. What could be wrong with that?”
Labour’s policy to build 100,000 new homes of different sizes and types over 10 years, with half of them in Auckland, remains a central policy for the opposition party. “That’s what young New Zealanders are looking for,” Little said.
The Parliamentary exchanges drew heated interjections from all corners of the House. English began by praising New Zealand’s record high labour force participation rate, meaning more working age people than ever are either in work or actively looking for jobs.
The fact the rate can be burgeoned by a rising number of people looking for work but not in it was not lost on opposition MPs: “That’s because they need one [a job],” one bellowed across the House. “People can now see hope for a job,” English replied.
Little was not immune either. Talking about how New Zealand should be a country that is open to all types of people, from the government side of the house came: “even those with Chinese-sounding names?” in relation to Labour shadow housing spokesperson Phil Twyford’s 2015 release of data recording house sales to people with Chinese-sounding names.
PM Bill English's other comments from his tabled speech included:
Housing will remain a key focus for the Government this year, and work will continue to increase the supply of land for housing.
Legislation to reform the Resource Management Act will be progressed, to reduce costs and delays for homeowners and businesses, and the Government will also proceed with reform of the Building Act.
This year, the Productivity Commission will deliver its final report on the urban planning system. This will consider options for the long term replacement of planning legislation.
The Government will work with Auckland Council to ensure the successful implementation of the city’s unitary plan. Additional special housing areas will be established, and more underutilised Crown land will be made available to support an increase in residential building.
The Government is reforming the social housing sector to grow supply and get better outcomes for people and families most in need of housing assistance.
The Government will this year build and fund additional social and emergency housing places, having last year provided permanent funding to the emergency housing sector for the first time.
The Social Housing Reform Programme will progress this year, with the transfer of up to 2500 Housing New Zealand properties in Christchurch to Community Housing Providers. The reforms aim to drive more diverse ownership of social housing, engaging providers who can support tenants with additional social services, and redevelop social housing to better match tenants’ needs.
On Kiwisaver and financial advisors:
Regulatory changes will be made to increase transparency around fees in KiwiSaver annual statements, and legislation will also be progressed to strengthen the financial advisors regime.
On Trade and Overseas Investment:
The BGA is focussed on the six key inputs for businesses - exports, investment, innovation, skills, natural resources and infrastructure. It also captures three important cross-cutting themes – Māori economic development, sectors and regions, and regulation.
The Government will continue to support, update and implement the BGA this year.
This includes the Regional Growth programme, working with local communities to develop and implement economic growth Action Plans in Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Whanganui, Canterbury, Southland, Gisborne and the West Coast.
It also includes implementing the Investment Attraction Strategy to attract more high-quality foreign business investment to New Zealand.
Improvements to the Overseas Investment Office’s processes will continue, reducing the time it takes for applications to be processed while ensuring the rules are vigorously enforced.
The Government will continue to show leadership and make the case for open markets, and closer trade and economic ties. This year, the Government intends progress a range of trade negotiations, including with the European Union, the Gulf States, India and China, and complete the PACER-Plus Agreement.
The Government will work with Trans Pacific Partnership countries to explore options for advancing closer trade ties in the Asia-Pacific, including through the TPP. The Government will continue to look for opportunities to build closer economic ties with the United States, and discussions with the United Kingdom about a post-Brexit trading relationship will also be progressed.
Update includes further comments from English; response from Labour leader Andrew Little on housing: