Opinion: Government's handling of housing crisis lurches from chaotic to shambolic

National's persistent and longstanding refusal to acknowledge that the Auckland housing crisis is a crisis has been a textbook example of the kind of self-inflicted muddles that bedevil long-running governments and which ultimately destroy them.

The scheme, announced today, will cost $2.2 billion. Source: 1 NEWS

As long as they can pretend a problem is not a problem, Cabinet ministers can delude themselves into thinking they do not have to do anything about it.

By this stage of a government's life-cycle, long-serving ministers start believing in their own omnipotence regardless of the cold, hard fact that in National's case an election is just around the corner.

Ministers are always right. Everyone else is wrong.

Source: 1 NEWS

As the crisis worsens, ministers subscribe to short-term fixes and patch-work solutions in the hope those measures will do the trick.

They rarely do so. And never when the problem is as deep-seated, complex and intractable as the Auckland housing shortage.

To admit there is a crisis is to admit to failure. To refuse to admit there is a crisis is to leave yourself open to ridicule.

The upshot is that National's handling of the shortage of affordable new homes in Auckland has run the whole gamut between the merely chaotic to the utterly shambolic.

The stumbling and bumbling has put National very much on the back foot on the no.1 issue in a metropolis where elections are won and lost.

It is also the one area of policy where Labour has come up with a clear and coherent package of interlocking policies, the intent of which are difficult to criticise.

That was underlined by Andrew Little's use of the platform of his party's election-year congress last weekend to add further bite to his party's game-plan for tackling the housing shortage by promising to abolish tax breaks for those who own rental housing.

Labour's leader won deserved plaudits for flagging the removal of what amounts to a subsidy which not only fills the pockets of those in least need of receiving it, but which has also seen billions of dollars shunted into the property market at the huge expense of productive investment.

Such tax write-offs are indefensible regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum.

To attack Labour's decision to axe them meant siding with property speculators. That was hardly an attractive proposition for National.

Labour used its election year conference to unveil some more housing policy. Source: 1 NEWS

Finance Minister Steven Joyce correspondingly restricted his criticism of Little's promise to arguing that the elimination of tax breaks would be counter-productive because it would inevitably reduce the size of the country's rental stock, thereby exacerbating Auckland 's accomodation shortage and hiking rents to boot.

That was supposition on Joyce's part. There is no evidence this will be the case.

Rather than slagging Labour, Joyce and the Prime Minister have a more urgent priority - digging themselves out of a very big hole.

This week's announcement of National's intention to embark on what will initially be a state-funded house construction programme across Auckland on a scale not seen since the 1950s is a clear sign that the party is no longer in crisis-denial mode.

Tuesday's unveiling of the Crown Building Project which has a target of adding 34,000 new houses to Auckland's housing stock over the next 10 years marks a quantum shift in how National intends tackling the shortfall in new homes.

Labour first promulgated its KiwiBuild scheme back in 2012. Its objective is the construction of 100,000 affordable houses nationwide over ten years for first-home buyers.

At the time, National almost drowned in the sound of its own scoffing at Labour's plan.

Five years on, National is now copying it. And shamelessly so.

Labour is already accusing National of fiddling with the figures, saying the 34,000 target includes houses which have already been built.

That will not worry National. It knows voters find arguments over the accuracy of figures tedious and switch off.

National's target will not gazump Labour's intention to build 50,000 of its 100,000 homes in Auckland. But it will go a long way towards neutralising it.

Bill English says property speculators have largely been dealt with and houses are being built as fast as is possible. Source: Breakfast

National will not lose any sleep either from its effective acknowledgment that the state will always have a major role in housing New Zealanders and that the private sector cannot do it on its own.

The urgent need to build more social housing to accommodate the poor also raises questions about Bill English's mad-scientist experiment in creating a free market for state housing.

The programme had the unstated intention of running down Housing New Zealand. If anything, the apparent boost to social housing cited in the Crown Building Project would seem to give the state housing agency an enhanced role.

If you are looking for ideological consistency from National four months out from a general election, however, you can forget it.

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US President Donald Trump vows to inflict 'severe punishment' on Saudi Arabia if found responsible for journalist’s murder

US President Donald Trump has vowed to inflict "severe punishment" on Saudi Arabia if it is found responsible for the murder of a Washington Post journalist.

Jamal Khashoggi disappeared 11 days after entering Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the BBC reports.

The US President today said there would be "severe punishment", but ruled out the possibility of enforcing sanctions which could rule out hundreds of billions worth of arms sales.

"I actually think we'd be punishing ourselves if we did that," Mr Trump said.

"There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong, and we'll do that. Now, as of this moment, nobody knows what happened - as of this moment.

"We're looking into it very seriously - Turkey is looking into it at a very high level, at the highest level, and so is Saudi Arabia."

Mr Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in order to obtain papers for his wedding - his fiancee waiting outside - but was not seen leaving the building.

The Saudi Interior Minister dismissed claims Khashoggi's body was dismembered as "lies".

Turkish police have been barred from searching the Saudi consulate.

Jamal Khashoggi disappeared 11 days after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: BBC

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Greens call to legalise safe drug testing before summer festival season begins

The Green Party wants to see safe drug testing legalised before the summer festival season begins.

Testing has already been taking place at some events, but the practice exists in a legal grey area.

"So no one here is saying that drugs are cool or fun, but we're saying that after decades of trying to say, 'Don't use them,' the reality is that they are being used and they do exist," Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said. 

"Mums and dads, when they're sending their kids off to festivals, obviously, we'd hope that their kids aren't using these substances, but if they are going to use them, surely, you want to ensure that they're doing so in a safe way where harm is minimised."

Ms Swarbrick is confident that law changes can be made in time for summer, as Health Minister David Clark has already requested advice on what legislative change would look like.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick wants to see safe drug testing legalised before the summer festival season begins. Source: 1 NEWS

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Government has room for improvement to curb mental health crisis, Mental Health Foundation says

It's a good start, but there's more work to do to curb the mental health crisis, the Mental Health Foundation says.

Described as a nationwide "epidemic", the issue took centre stage during last year's election and was a major drawcard for Labour.

Prime Minister and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said at the time, "If you're going to talk about hope, then my view is we need to do something about mental health in this country".

One year on, Ms Ardern says the Government has "moved as quickly as we can" to improve mental health.

Part of the changes include dedicated mental health support in Kaikoura and Canterbury primary and intermediate schools; a $10 million cash injection to pilot free counselling services for under 25s and extended school-based health services to decile four schools.

Mental health campaigner Mike King said the Government "deserves more praise than we are giving them".

However, some say there is still room for improvement, including on the topic of suicide prevention.

Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson said, "Now that's definitely been kicked for touch until the inquiry comes back. It does make sense in some respects, but there are probably some things that they could have done".

An overstretched workforce is also proving problematic.

"You know, it's all very well to say, 'We want services' or 'we want to put mental health workers into schools', but are those workers there?" Mr Robinson said.

The Prime Minister recognised the "workforce issue", and said the Government has "tried to scale it up as quickly as we could".

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick has spent the past week talking to university students, where education has also been a recurring concern.

"When somebody falls over and breaks their leg, you know that you call an ambulance, but when somebody's having a mental health breakdown, we currently don't have a go-to resource," Ms Swarbrick said.

The independent inquiry into mental health and addiction - due to report back next month - will form the backbone of the Government's response to the issue. Those on the frontline are keen to see what's implemented - and how quickly.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a new ship," Mr King said.

"What I fear is going to happen is we're going to continue to throw patches on the old boat."

The Mental Health Foundation says there’s room for improvement in the government’s work on mental health. Source: 1 NEWS


Good Sorts: Meet the Good Sort who failed to finish cross country...twice

This week's Good Sort is Phoenix Horo from Rahotu School, a 45 minute drive from New Plymouth.

Phoenix was nominated by his teachers for failing to finish his school cross country not once, but twice.

Hadyn Jones explains all in the video above. 

Phoenix Horo from Rahotu School was nominated by his teachers. Source: 1 NEWS