Wellington, June 28, 2019
National says that Phil Twyford’s demotion is an admission that KiwiBuild could never work, and argues the government needs the opposition’s expertise on housing.
Ms Ardern is changing tack with the housing portfolio, taking the responsibility away from Phil Twyford, and instead sharing the load between a team of five – to be headed by Megan Woods.
Time for change
Mr Twyford remains part of the team – as do his former associates Nanaia Mahuta and Jenny Salesa – while Cabinet’s newest recruit Kris Faafoi has also been brought into the housing fold.
KiwiBuild was Labour’s flagship policy heading into the 2017 election, but for Mr Twyford it has been more flop than fly.
After 18 months and few KiwiBuild houses to show for it, Ms Ardern decided it’s time to try something new. She has been quick to correct media that this was not an admission that Mr Twyford has failed.
“No, it’s an admission though that it was a huge job, it was a job too big for one Minister and it’s an admission we know we’ve got things wrong with KiwiBuild. We do want to bring in a fresh pair of eyes because we’re not giving up on the housing crisis and we know there’s more work to do,’’ she said.
In the new team Mr Twyford handles urban development, Mr Faafoi takes on Homelessness and Social Housing, while Ms Mahuta carries on with Māori Housing and Ms Salesa stays with Building and Construction.
So how will the separate portfolios and responsibilities work?
Any detail or explanation was less than forthcoming with both Mr Twyford and Dr Woods refusing media interviews, instead sending out short written statements.
And with a three-week recess now underway little light will shine on the unanswered questions anytime soon.
ACT leader David Seymour said it was the beginning of what would inevitably be a complete lack of transparency.
“It’s now not obvious whose fault it is, when for instance, the cost of rent that New Zealanders pay goes up or the number of houses built goes down. Because you’ve got three different ministers with overlapping responsibilities who can all say the other one’s responsible,’’ he said.
National Party Housing Spokesperson Judith Collins said KiwiBuild was never going to work and Ms Ardern’s reshuffle was simply an acknowledgement of that.
But she has extended an olive branch, saying it was time Labour and National got on the same page over housing.
“So, what they should do is talk to us about urban development, [Resource Management Act] reform and how to get stuff done. And I think a whole lot of people in New Zealand would like Labour and National to be sitting down talking … the same language so we don’t constantly keep changing the way in which we operate,’’ she said.
Ms Collins told Morning Report she had some sympathy for Mr Twyford.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of property developments over the years, I know how hard it is… it’s hard for me to see this happening, and thinking I can just play games with this which is easy for me to do, but actually it does need to get sorted out.”
Modern approach needed
Mr Seymour said Labour’s attempt at fixing the housing crisis has been illogical and needed to shift focus to land-use planning and infrastructure funding.
He said a modern approach was well overdue.
“Megan Woods should be really honest and say, ‘Prime Minister, we have campaigned on KiwiBuild because it fitted the folklore of Michael Joseph Savage, but he was a Labour Prime Minister over 80 years ago.’’’
As for Ms Collins’ new sparring partner in the House – she said she could not be more excited.
“Megan Woods from my point of view is actually quite a good opponent because she gets really angry, really fast.
“I don’t know what it is about me, it just seems to make them lose their temper,’’ Ms Collins said.
Other changes in yesterday’s reshuffle include Poto Williams being promoted to Minister outside Cabinet, and Mr Twyford picking up Economic Development, which lightens the load of Trade and Environment Minister David Parker.