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.

'We'll be throwing everything at it' - ministry determined to contain myrtle rust after it is found in Taranaki

Myrtle rust has been found in a Taranaki plant nursery, the Ministry for Primary Industries has confirmed.

Symptoms of the devastating fungal infection were found on young plants in a nursery in Waitara yesterday, and MPI confirmed the presence today.

Myrtle Rust has been found in five pohutukawa seedlings in Kerikeri.
Source: 1 NEWS

Like the nursery in Kerikeri, movement controls have been placed on the Taranaki property, MPI's myrtle rust response incident controller David Yard says.

"The earlier we locate a new infection, the greater the chance of doing something about it," he said.

"As with Kerikeri, we'll be throwing everything at it to attempt to control it, but we are realistic that it is a huge challenge, given how readily the spores are spread by the wind."

Last week plant nurseries at risk of myrtle rust infection in Kerikeri were placed under legal control by the MPI.

The fungal plant disease was located in a Kerikeri nursery in early May, before spreading to a neighbouring residential garden.

All plant producers and retailers in the Kerikeri area, as well as 45 additional nurseries nationwide, must follow these protocols, which increase the chance of early myrtle rust detection.

Myrtle Rust has been found in pohutukawa trees on Raoul Island. Source: 1 NEWS

More than 100 government staff are working to contain the spread, and have been handed a blank cheque for their mission.

Myrtle rust attacks native trees, such as pohutukawa and rata, and could cause serious damage to manuka trees, used in honey production.

There is no known method for controlling it in the wild, other than applying fungicide in very small areas.

Mr Yard has thanked the Taranaki nursery owner for being responsible and calling in the threat.



Police make arrest in probe into death of biker killed on his way to a wedding

A Bay of Plenty man has been arrested over a homicide investigation into the death of a motorcyclist last year.

Don Henry Turei Junior died on 26 November in a crash at Te Kaha. The burnt out vehicle was found near the banks of the Raukokore River not far from where Mr Turei died.
Don Henry Turei Junior died on 26 November in a crash at Te Kaha. This burnt out vehicle was found near the banks of the Raukokore River not far from where Mr Turei died. Source: NZ Police

Police say Don Henry Turei Junior was hit by a Honda Odyssey while riding his motorbike with his brother to a wedding reception in Te Kaha on November 26.

The Odyssey then sped off and was found burnt out near the banks of the Raukokore River near Te Kaha, a short distance away.

A 33-year-old Te Kaha man was arrested in Wairoa yesterday and has been charged with being an accessory after the fact of murder. 

He will appear in the Gisborne District Court today. 

Facebook posts indicated Mr Turei had been a Tribesmen gang member.