Labour turns to hous­ing again

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

When in hous­ing.

Labour leader David Shearer seems to re­gard hous­ing pol­icy as his one re­li­able means of ap­peal­ing to the wider pub­lic, while also sat­is­fy­ing Labour’s sup­port base. It has worked for him be­fore. Late last year, Shearer’s rout­ing of his col­league David Cun­liffe af­ter the last Labour an­nual con­fer­ence hap­pened to vir­tu­ally co­in­cide with the re­lease of Labour’s prom­ise to build 100,000 new state houses over the next 10 years.

For that one giddy mo­ment, Shearer looked ca­pa­ble of suc­ceed­ing in the lead­er­ship role.

With his lead­er­ship once more on the ropes, Shearer has again reached for hous­ing pol­icy as a life­line.

Labour is promis­ing to pre­vent for­eign­ers from buy­ing houses



about here, al­though this con­di­tion would be waived for Aus­tralians be­cause of re­cip­ro­cal ar­range­ments we have with them.

In re­ject­ing any sug­ges­tion of racism – by pan­der­ing to an­tiAsian sen­ti­ments – Shearer as­sured the Q&A tele­vi­sion pro­gramme that many coun­tries (in­clud­ing many in Asia) place sim­i­lar re­stric­tions on for­eign­ers be­ing able to buy hous­ing from over­seas..

‘‘What we want to do is to make sure that first-home buy­ers are Ki­wis, and they have the best chance,’’ Shearer ex­plained, stress­ing that New Zealand’s cur­rent open-door pol­icy on hous­ing was the ex­cep­tion, and not the rule.

‘‘We’re the mug­gins who says, ‘Come in here and spec­u­late on our hous­ing mar­ket’.’’

Though it seems doubt­ful that for­eign hous­ing spec­u­la­tion is a ma­jor driver of this coun­try’s short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing, any­thing that takes steam out of house prices – es­pe­cially in Auck­land – would be wel­come.

Still, the darker as­pect of the pol­icy an­nounce­ment is that many vot­ers might not make any dis­tinc­tion be­tween over­seas buy­ers – who would be out­lawed – and im­mi­grants, who would pre­sum­ably still be able to bid and buy.

Al­ready, some com­men­ta­tors have been view­ing the an­nounce­ment purely as a po­lit­i­cal gam­bit, one that signals Shearer’s ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to seek sup­port from among the anti-Asian fol­low­ers of Win­ston Peters.

Not so, Shearer has main­tained, re­peat­ing that any govern­ment he led would merely be ex­pect­ing of other coun­tries the same kinds of con­di­tions that they im­pose on New Zealan­ders.

What­ever its po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion, would such a pol­icy re­ally achieve much?

The Labour-lean­ing blog The Stan­dard has con­ceded that this one con­di­tion wouldn’t cure our hous­ing woes.

Yet when com­bined with Labour’s prom­ise to build 100,000 new homes, and a cap­i­tal gains tax to dampen spec­u­la­tion, the en­tire pack­age could go a long way to re­solv­ing the af­ford­abil­ity prob­lem, for some at least.

The more telling crit­i­cism of Shearer’s pro­posal is that – as with the Ki­wibuild pro­gramme it­self – the prime fo­cus is on bridg­ing the home own­er­ship gap faced by the strug­glers within the mid­dle class.

Lit­tle or noth­ing is be­ing pro­posed to as­sist the work­ing poor or ben­e­fi­cia­ries, for whom this tin­ker­ing leaves the prospect of home own­er­ship as dis­tant as ever.

That’s the larger prob­lem. The mass of alien­ated lower-in­come vot­ers re­mains the sleep­ing gi­ant on our po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

If Labour could de­velop more pol­icy aimed at im­prov­ing their lot – rather than com­pet­ing to woo the mid­dle class – then Shearer’s own lead­er­ship po­si­tion and his party’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes might be look­ing a whole lot health­ier.


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