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Q+A: Transcript of panel discussions

Published: 4:23PM Sunday June 26, 2011 Source: Q A

In response to PHIL HEATLEY interview

PAUL It's time to welcome the panel. This week Dr Claire Robinson, Associate Professor of Communication Design from Massey University; Mark Solomon is chairman of the Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu tribal council, responsible for over $450 million of investments and assets-

MARK SOLOMON - Chair Ngai Tahu

700.

PAUL 700 now? Gosh, you're good. Sandra Lee, former Alliance cabinet minister and a diplomat. So, first of all, some impressions on what Phil Heatley's been talking about - the end of state housing for life. You've got an objection that?

SANDRA LEE - Former Cabinet Minister

Well, the minister's being honest. The reality is that even if you're in the A category, it be incredibly hard, given the housing crisis that New Zealand's been facing for decades now, to actually get in the door of a state house in New Zealand. The days of the '50s and '60s, where you were guaranteed once you got in that door a state house for life, are over. You know, the A category has to be looked at very carefully. These are people living in sheds, bringing up children in cars.

PAUL There are 3500 people in the As and Bs. 3500 people on the waiting list.

SANDRA Incredible plight.

PAUL Yeah.

SANDRA Sheds, cars, caravans, tents.

PAUL Have we got a housing crisis in some parts of this country?

SANDRA Yes, most definitely.

PAUL OK.

SANDRA All our major cities have a housing crisis. Housing New Zealand itself has not recovered the loss of a large number of its units that were sold off in the 1990s. But I think having said that the minister's doing the honest thing in saying that people can't assume in this mean, lean economy that we live in now a state house for life, there are other things, quid pro quos, if you like, that the government will have to do if they're going to make this call. They have to deal with rack-renting landlords, probably by regulation, to stop them absorbing up the accommodation supplement. What about a property tax for the speculators who purchase residential houses en masse and pay no tax at all?

PAUL These other things will have to be dealt with, that's right. What do you think, Mark Solomon, of what he's proposing?

MARK I think it is wrong having people on 80,000-plus in a state house. I have known families that have spent their whole married life in a state house and have actually died in the state house, and they've been on better salaries than I've been on. So, yes, I think you have to look at it. My sense of unease of what the minister has said - not once did he put on the table what the threshold is. He talked about those that are under severe disabilities are guaranteed. Again, we don't know what the threshold of disability will be allowed to be in a state house. So there's too many unknowns, but the concept that he's talking about I think is correct.

PAUL But it seems odd that we don't insist on asking what a salary is before, you know- when somebody comes along to get into a state house. What do you think?

CLAIRE ROBINSON - Political Analyst

Well, I think that the interesting thing from a policy perspective is that this idea of a state house for life, which used to be quite strong in New Zealand and people felt very emotional about, it is no longer, perhaps, so important. So for a National government, which is introducing a policy which has been so closely held to the New Zealand heart, to be introducing it, but for it to be acceptable to community groups, to other providers of social housing, is really- there's a big sea shift going on in housing, which is- and it's all around the concept of fear, because everyone now thinks that it has to be fair that you allow people on the waiting list to get into those houses.

PAUL Well, do we accept the rationale, then, that there are too many - 27,000 houses, actually - in the wrong place? There are too many which are the wrong size that we have to rejig to get the very urgent people into state housing.

SANDRA I don't fully accept that argument. What they're saying is that Cs can get in in provincial New Zealand. The risk around selling those state houses-

PAUL I don't think he's talking about selling them, is he?

SANDRA Well, if they are sold, as Janet Mackey's pointed out in the Gisborne example, all you do is you shift that problem and those people to the cities where there's already a crisis.

PAUL What I'm saying, though, is that Housing Corp seems to have been quite dysfunctional. It hasn't planned for the demographic changes which have been happening in New Zealand for a very long time, so it's easier to get a state house in Timaru, say, or Ashburton than it is in Manukau city.

SANDRA I don't think the blame can be really shafted at Housing New Zealand in fairness.

PAUL We haven't got the stock in the north.

SANDRA You know, selling state houses can be a very controversial thing as well. I think the fundamental problem exists because of the asset sales and state-house sales. When I was the MP for Auckland Central in the 1990s, they were selling state houses here in Auckland Central where they were most desperately needed and still are today. So that can't be-

PAUL I suppose what he's saying is that you can sell them as long as you don't pour the money straight into the consolidated fund, that you build more stock.

SANDRA Well, that's an important point, and the minister didn't mention that Housing New Zealand is expected to pay a dividend to the Crown on an annual basis. That dividend needs to be actually reinvested where housing's needed.

PAUL What are the implications of what Phil Heatley's talking about for Maori, Mark, do you think?

MARK Ngai Tahu has 1800 families living in the eastern suburbs. A good number of them are on the lower socioeconomic ladder. There will be impacts depending on the thresholds that they set and the level of rental that they set.

PAUL He's talking about getting third parties to run some of the stock.

CLAIRE Yeah, I think that's an interesting concept.

PAUL Salvation Army, IHC.

CLAIRE The Salvation Army - they were part of the advisory group that actually proposed this proposal, and I think that they- for them, they can see that there'll be a holistic view about how you look after a person. You take the family into a house, but you can provide all sorts of other services which the Housing Corporation doesn't do - the childcare, the health services, so I think for them, it's a really good idea.

PAUL You bring up a very interesting thing, politically. Two things, really - this is not driven by a rabid National Party; this has come from a clever advisory group across the board that they set up. But what about the politics of this? This is a National government three, four months out from an election talking about radical reform of one of the fundaments of the welfare state - the housing stock, the social housing.

CLAIRE But that's because it-

PAUL How confident are they?

CLAIRE Well, I think they're pretty confident, and I think it's really- but it comes back to that whole notion of fairness, because the current system isn't fair, and people on the far left would also agree it's not fair, so something has to be done. So at least they're doing something to address it. It may not be perfect, but it's, you know- it's helping.

PAUL But politically, my friend, I mean, it's very risky. It would normally be suicidal for a National government to start tinkering with the social housing months before an election.

SANDRA Look, it's the honest thing to do and say, and I think the minister has to be acknowledged for that. And that has been advice that he's been receiving and predecessors for a long time from Housing New Zealand. But as I said earlier, unless quid pro quo of making sure rack-renting landlords are regulated, ensuring that there's less speculation in the residential housing market, making real demonstration, partnerships with not just the Salvation Army, but iwi and others, then I don't think that the problem is really going to be completely addressed. I think they're open to that, and it needs to be done.

PAUL And, of course, we are shocked, I suppose, all of us, with the realisation there are 3400, 3500 desperate families trying to get housing.

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In response to BOB PARKER interview

PAUL Welcome back to Q A and to our panellists Claire Robinson, Mark Solomon, Sandra Lee. And, of course, I must say that Gerry Brownlee has phoned us and wants to clarify this no building in the next 12 months. He meant no building in the CBD. And given the huge number of buildings that have got to be taken down in the CBD, we can understand why there would be no building in the CBD for 12 months, so that's what he meant. He wanted to clear that up. All right, let me see. Well, the announcement last week seems to have calmed the horses, Mark.

MARK Yes, it has. I think the government's response has got the people at heart.

PAUL A generous response?

MARK I think it's generous. There will be some that are paid well above GV when they bought their homes. They will be affected, but anyone can play in that market, and they've made their decision. I think what it's given the people that are in the red zone is surety.

PAUL Yeah.

MARK They've got a platform to go forward on.

PAUL So, people talk Gerry Brownlee down a bit, don't they, but, I mean, he held his nerve and made a convincing presentation with the Prime Minister.

SANDRA I wonder the government is seriously underestimating the cost of the rebuild, though, over time. I'm not sure how robust their calculations of the seven billion is. I suspect it may prove to be a lot more than that. And also you've got to have some empathy for those who are saying at the rateable value, at the government valuation, supply and demand kicking in, it's going to be incredibly hard to get a section. The government can put some controls around that if they're of mind to, and that may well need to be looked at.

PAUL Yes. Of course, Ngai Tahu- You know, you are big property holders in Christchurch.

MARK Yes.

PAUL You're going to have a big role in the redevelopment of Christchurch. You've got five- What do you see your role is going to be, Ngai Tahu's?

MARK Well, when it comes to sections, potentially we have about 5500 sections that could be available to the rebuild.

PAUL Now, what's the status of those at the moment?

MARK Some of the subdivisions are underway now and had been for quite some time.

PAUL You've got one going out at Lincoln. You've got one-

MARK One at Wigram.

PAUL The old Wigram Airfield.

MARK The airfield, that's underway, and we've got another big area that's just being granted permission out at Preston's Rd, which is in the eastern suburbs, but we've had it tested out. There's been absolutely no liquefaction or any sign of earthquake damage.

PAUL Interesting the red zone follows the river, isn't it, essentially?

MARK Yes.

PAUL I mean, it was there to be seen, wasn't it?

SANDRA Yes, it was.

PAUL Yes, so you're going to be a big developer in Christchurch. Is Ngai Tahu therefore going to be a beneficiary of the redevelopment?

MARK No. As I say-

PAUL Well, you'll be selling sections.

MARK We're selling sections, but 1800 of our families live in the eastern suburbs where all the damage is, so, no, we're not a beneficiary. We're a victim, and our job is to try to give as much support to our own and to others within our community.

PAUL Interesting, Claire, it occurred to me last week, you know, we became aware of this anger building in Christchurch. One announcement, John Key shows up, does it nice and friendly, matter-of-factly, and the anger gone.

CLAIRE Yeah, and I think that the government was worried about making an announcement too soon, but, yeah, it has defused a lot of tension. I think it gives the people of Christchurch some indication of what's going to happen, so as the various zones start to be released, it'll follow a similar pattern. And I think that, yeah, it's added a lot of comfort, except, of course, a lot of people will now be looking at their own individual circumstances and some will benefit, some will lose, and, yeah, we're going to get a lot of individual stories that are not necessarily supportive.

PAUL Another thing Gerry Brownlee said the other day - he made a curious remark. He said, 'These are very robust boundaries between the zones.' But then you started to get comments on the newspaper websites of fellows saying, 'I'm in the green zone, but I've got worse liquefaction than the fellow over the road who's in the red zone.' I wonder if you'll start to get some resentments boiling.

MARK I think you possibly could. I mean, in some of the red zone you have people in a cul-de-sac where half of the cul-de-sac is in the red zone and the other half is not. They've both got the liquefaction, but they're separated, so there will be some issues raised.

PAUL How many homes are going to have to go, do you reckon, Mark?

MARK I've heard various figures. The first substantial figure put on the table was around 10,000 homes. I've since heard that that's up to about 12,000. But until they actually get out there and do the full assessment, we're really not going to know. And there are still people that have not seen anyone.

PAUL When you say Ngai Tahu's been a victim as well, I should pick up on that. I mean, have you lost buildings? Have you lost-?

MARK No, I'm talking about the people. No, we've been extremely lucky with our building stock that we own in the city. The worst affected in my understanding is the courts, but they're still repairable. The police station is, and I'd say much to the disgust of the police, has been green-stickered again, so they're still in there. All of our other buildings have come out of it quite well. The biggest concern, I suppose, at the moment is we're locked out of Hereford St possibly for two years.

PAUL That's your building.

MARK Until the Grand Chancellor comes down.

PAUL Oh, because it's right next to the Grand Chancellor. We don't want the Grand Chancellor coming down on our heads. No, that would be a terrible thing. What about the future of the city? You know, Bob Parker, as is his job, talks it up. Do you think we can see an exodus from Christchurch - people taking their cash and just running if these seismic- you know, aftershocks continue?

CLAIRE Yeah, but I think that- and, again, it'll affect the people that feel like there is nothing more for them, but I think the substantial majority of Christchurch people - a lot of them haven't been affected, their homes, their lives, their histories are their, and they still feel very committed to Christchurch.

PAUL What is the mood? And just to finish, what is the mood in Christchurch?

MARK Well, I think the mood's pretty up. I mean, we had that poll this week about business, and Christchurch was the most upbeat about the future of any place in New Zealand.

PAUL How does that work? (laughs)

MARK (laughs) We're very stoic people.

PAUL Very good.

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In response to HONE HARAWIRA interview

PAUL So, let's talk about the implications of this. What are they? I mean, they're fighting words, 'Yes, I can work with them, but they slapped us.'

SANDRA Hone Harawira said on the campaign trail this week, I think, 'I do not claim to be a chief,' but he's certainly proven himself to be some kind of warrior. He held his seat against the might of the Labour Party machine, and that's not to take away the massive reduction in his majority by Kelvin Davis. And I'd like to mihi, if I may, to Solomon Tipene too for his stoicism and grace throughout this campaign. That poor kaumatua got dropped in the hot seat, and I thought he did his very best. But the olive branch has been put out, but I don't think it's going to happen. This campaign has been focused on the personalities in the contenders, but the reality is there is a significant ideological difference between the Maori Party and the Mana Party. As asset sales and the government's programme kick in for this election, I can't see any kind of peace, love and brotherhood really genuinely breaking out any time soon.

PAUL What do you see the political implications of Hone Harawira's victory as being? I mean, the Maori Party vote collapsed up there.

MARK Yes. But then I did expect that the Maori Party would have a hard road in Te Tai Tokerau. I think they'll have a stronger possibility in the other areas. I think we're going to see more fighting, to be honest.

PAUL More fighting and, I suppose, to a great extent that, well, that vote was for Hone.

CLAIRE That vote was for Hone. It was not for the Mana Party, because currently, you know, officially there is only a Mana Party for the last two days or three days. But, yes, there's no policy, there are no portfolios, there are no people, so, yeah, it's difficult. But moving forward - I think this is the interesting thing - he's talking about getting a few more MPs. To get that, he has to move the party vote for Mana, which currently only exists around him - 5500 votes - to 20,000 to 40,000 votes in three or four months' time. That is a very hard ask.

SANDRA I think Labour will be very interested in this. What it's shown, in my opinion, is that the north for all time has gone for the Maori Party, but also that a lot of the votes that Labour has lost historically in the Maori seats are potentially retrievable. And I think about Te Tai Tonga - you've got a vibrant Tirikatene standing there; the irrepressible Shane Jones in Auckland. There's going to be a real battle this time on their hands.

PAUL Yeah, they're going to be fascinating to watch. Now one out of the box just to finish. Alasdair Thompson - should he survive?

SANDRA He should be made the chief executive of the Flat Earth Society

LAUGHTER

PAUL What do you think?

CLAIRE I think he will survive because even though it was a dickhead comment, at least he- you know, the rest of his job carries on. He operates competently in the other areas of his job, so I think perhaps the old boys' network will still rally around him and say, 'Oh, yeah, Alasdair, you're doing a good job, but you're a bit of a dickhead.'

PAUL Yes, he should have just closed up once he'd make the remark. And quick, Mark.

MARK I think he made an absolute fool of himself. He needs to come into the modern world. He's like an old dinosaur. And to be honest, when rushed at the reporter, all he showed was a form of violence.

PAUL Thank you very much for coming along and being on Q A.

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