Labour Confronting Important Issues

The Labour Party has added to its promises for the upcoming election with another set of policy announcements centred around the growing housing debate and the issue of mental health in New Zealand. These plans represent the start of what Labour hopes to develop into a coordinated effort to present a possible future under a Labour government.

Perhaps the biggest issue in the upcoming election is how the new government would work to reduce the problems induced by the ever growing housing prices. One of the greatest divides over the housing issue has been whether to call it a crisis in the first place. Labour, as the opposition, has been highly critical of the choices made by the government.

So what are the housing plans put forward by the Labour Party?

Labour plans to build 100,000 houses over the course of 10 years under the ‘KiwiBuild’ initiative, half of them in Auckland. These houses will have set prices based on their location and size, which Labour believes will provide housing affordability. Standalone houses in Auckland are set to be sold for between $500,000 and $600,000. In other areas of the country the houses are to be sold for between $300,000 and $500,000. These houses will only be able to be purchased by first home buyers and will have a five-year condition of sale.

Labour proposes to pay for these houses with an initial $2 billion injection into the Affordable Housing Authority, which will continue to be used as houses are sold and will be granted back to the government at the end of the housing plan.

Labour also has other national initiatives concerning the affordability of housing including a ban on foreign speculators buying currently existing homes and transforming Housing New Zealand into a public service as opposed to a state-owned enterprise. The argument over foreign speculators has been an often debated one throughout the housing crisis and it constantly carries the dangers of straying into racism, for example recording the numbers of ‘Chinese sounding names’ of property owners in order to determine the number of foreign buyers, as Labour has infamously done before. Nonetheless, we also have to acknowledge the impact that all speculators have on our market and that legislation surrounding this issue is sorely needed.

In contrast, National seems complacent about what they call the housing “challenge” and points to the increase in the number of houses being built under their government.

The plan put forward by National first aims to deal with the infrastructure issue with a $1 billion injection into the Housing Infrastructure Fund in order to support the needed growth in the capability of roads and water services.

They also aim to accelerate the current housing development by creating special housing areas with independent Urban Housing Authorities in order to further accelerate the building of houses in high demand areas.

The National Party also intends to build 34,000 houses within the next 10 years, although this commitment has been viewed with cynicism by both the Labour and the Green Party as “too little, too late”.

These different policies ultimately put forward two differing opinions about how to deal with the housing problem facing our country at a time when many New Zealanders cannot afford homes. One fights it directly by building houses and cutting back on speculators, the other seeks to further incentivise non-government elements.

There are also other issues that will be contentious in the upcoming election. Labour has recently proposed expanding School Based Health Services to all public schools and providing funding for nurses at a rate of 250 hours per hundred students. This comes after Labour introduced similar services to decile 1-3 schools in 2008, which led to depression and suicide rates dropping by up to two-thirds in some places. These policies join others surrounding mental health, such as providing increased resources to certain health care workers. These policies represent a much-needed response to New Zealand’s growing mental health problem; our country has the highest suicide rate in the developed world.

While criticised for the supposed impracticability of these policies, the conversation around this subject needs to proceed and National’s objection to providing any counter policy to combat this problem only serves to exacerbate the issue.

The reason that the housing crisis and the problem of mental health should be worrying is because it indicates a much larger systemic issue that has faced the government: A growing complacency about the changing environment in New Zealand. National has no answer for the growing problem of mental health issues among the youth just as they have no solid answers for their complacency throughout the housing crisis.

This article first appeared in Issue 13, 2017.
Posted 11:48am Sunday 28th May 2017 by Jack Pacey.