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May 29, 2017 | by  | in Politics | [ssba]

Political Round Up


Housing affordability featured heavily in National and Labour’s weekend conferences on May 13–14. Both parties scrambled to build on policies dealing with the nationwide housing shortage in what is a particularly crucial issue for the upcoming general election in September.

Last year Labour pledged to build 100,000 houses over the course of a decade and ban foreign property investors from buying New Zealand houses in its signature “Kiwibuild” policy. Until recently, National had rubbished these ideas, preferring instead to tinker with the Resource Management Act to increase housing supply.

Sensing that housing affordability is becoming a major concern in the latest opinion polls, National announced this month that it will build 34,000 houses in Auckland to ease the city’s rampant house prices.

The policy is a clear U-turn from National’s previous criticism of government-run building programmes. Minister for Building and Construction Nick Smith said late last year that the National Government “do[es] not agree that the only way to have houses being built is to have them built by the government.”

National’s announcement followed a gaffe by Associate Social Housing Minister Alfred Ngaro during its weekend conference. Ngaro implied he would cut off funding for new schools being developed by Labour’s Willie Jackson if Jackson continued to criticise the Government on its social housing policies. “Do not play politics with us,” Ngaro said. “If you get up on the campaign trail and start bagging us, then all the things you are doing are off the table.”

The implication that Ngaro would use his ministerial powers to cut off funding for political purposes was seen as highly unethical. Labour leader Andrew Little said his comments “are very disappointing,” a sentiment shared by Bill English who said “we don’t work like that.”

Ngaro, facing an investigation ordered by the PM into whether his funding decisions for social housing during his tenure were politically biased, eventually said his comments “were a bit naive, poorly worded.”

In an upcoming election that will likely be fought over housing, the Government cannot afford to lose too many political points to the opposition as it did with Ngaro’s speech. Nevertheless, National’s well-timed new building policy will give voters plenty to consider in September.


Trans-Pacific Partnership

When Bill English met his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe at a joint conference in Tokyo on May 16, they spoke of the similarities their countries shared such as a commitment to democratic government, and their experiences of major natural disasters in recent years.

But the main similarity that both leaders sought to highlight was that Japan and New Zealand are the only countries that have ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the free trade deal between nearly a dozen nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The TPP, signed by Trade Minister Todd McClay on February 4 last year, attracted widespread protest in 2016. Critics believed that it gave multinational corporations the ability to sue the government if it reneged on deals arranged during previous administrations.

TPP negotiations were strained this year when US President Donald Trump announced that the US would no longer participate in the agreement, creating unease among Southeast Asian countries whose ultimate goal was to gain free access to US markets through the Partnership.

In meeting with the Japanese PM, English attempted to reopen the TPP negotiations with countries that had not yet ratified it, and reassure participating nations that the Partnership could still go ahead even without the world’s largest economy.

Shinzo and English knew that it would take more than economic arguments to reassure the hesitant countries, however. During their meeting the leaders reframed the TPP as a strategic partnership, rather than just a free trade deal. Additionally, the PMs both condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests, and urged the countries embroiled in the dispute over the South China Sea to settle the matter peacefully. English said in an interview that the TPP has “taken on a bit more relevance as a strategic agreement […] when they’re all feeling a bit threatened and destabilised by what’s going on with North Korea.”

By May 21 the other countries who had not yet ratified the TPP made clear that they would proceed with the Partnership, even without the US. Convincing the remaining countries to ratify the TPP is a foreign policy victory for the National Government, which, facing a general election this year, must highlight its achievements in opening up world markets to New Zealand trade.


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