Labour turns to housing again
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.