It seems every party has a solution to the issue of housing affordability. The problem is that the solutions seem to be built to specifications set by polls and focus groups, and bear little relation to what is actually possible.
Labour's KiwiBuild policy certainly reflects that tension, as Claire Trevett strongly critiques in Boomfa - Shearer forced to face home truths. She points out that 'having scoffed at National's idea of $485,000 "affordable homes" at Hobsonville as unaffordable, Labour's own figures were getting perilously close to the same price'. The reality of Labour's 'affordable' homes is that they will be apartments, 'compact' terraced housing or a 'prefab in Mangere'. If your family is living in a garage in Papakura, of course, a chance to own a new prefab in Mangere probably sounds good - but less so to the swinging voters whose home ownership dreams (for themselves or their children) Labour are trying to plug into.
The Greens are trying to be both helpful and realistic by offering solutions that fit a $300,000 Auckland budget, but, as Patrick Gower reports, their concrete examples are considered 'an embarrassment' by Labour - see: Parliament debates the 'True Blue', affordable house. But leftwing social policy analyst Charles Waldegrave has today criticised Labour and championed the Greens' policy as more relevant to those who actually need help - see: Finding a real answer to the housing affordability crisis.
The firepower being directed at Labour's housing policy by the government - including a new minister and sustained attacks by John Key and Bill English - is clear evidence that it is working for Labour on a political level writes Vernon Small in National ahead in setting tone for 2013. Labour activists should be celebrating rather than fighting amongst themselves says Brian Rudman: 'When was the last time, two years out from an election, an Opposition party policy pledge got a minister sacked?' - see: Labour needs to build on its housing policy. Rudman quotes the Finance Minister's own brother, Conor English, who is critical of the government push for more urban sprawl, and questions why the obvious solution of building up instead of out is so resisted. Rudman adds, 'It's as though Prime Minister John Key is terrified that Auckland Mayor Len Brown is going to force him out of his Parnell palace, into the servants' quarters above the garage, while the rest of his property gets divided up for poor unfortunate terrace house dwellers'.
Ex-National minister Wyatt Creech argues that politics (in the form of a huge voting population in Auckland) is trumping an obvious solution to encourage population and economic growth outside of the city, where housing costs are already much lower. Can't afford a house in Auckland? There's a whole country out there.
A further sign of how seriously National is feeling the pinch on housing might be seen in today's news report by Lois Cairns: Brownlee slams council 'inaction' on housing. The earthquake minister points out that the Christchurch City Council - 'the second-biggest landlord in the country' - has received $21m to immediately start fixing its social housing, but since April last year has only repaired five units.
Continuing to blame local councils is unlikely to provide an adequate political response. Colin James says that Labour's housing policy nicely illustrates to voters the party's new 'active' ideology, and as with Labour's noises about the exchange rate, it will resonate with many because it sounds more forceful than National's approach - see: "Active" versus "results": this year's contest.
Apart from the political gaming over what an affordable house will look like or which suburb it will be in, there are some commentators looking at the wider reasons why home ownership has become out of reach for so many. Bryan Gould identifies a fundamental shift in our economic and political culture from when adequate housing was seen as a collective responsibility to a reliance on market forces, even when they are clearly failing to deliver - see: Blame ideology for housing crisis.
Is the problem with housing costs at all? Dita De Boni suggests that 'It's not that housing is unaffordable, it's that wages are too low and that surviving on them, which many in the community do while raising a family, is an almost impossible ask' - see: Homing in on the real Kiwi crisis. She concludes that, 'as the political year kicks off, we have the Band-Aid answers to problems that require radical, bold solutions; an overhaul of the game-changing kind our economy hasn't had for a good 30 years. Vague promises to house the poor and kick local authorities into action seem anaemic by comparison'.
In other recent articles of interest:
* The Labour leader needs to stop trying to be someone he isn't says Brian Edwards in Why David Shearer should give up acting: He's just no good at it. Edwards thinks Shearer needs to walk the walk: 'This week John Key gave him a lesson in strength. He sacked two under-performing ministers, in all probability ending their parliamentary careers. Yet he's taken little or no flack for what seems like a pretty brutal thing to do. Maybe that's because he didn't act the strong leader, didn't say much about it at all, was matter-of-fact about a necessary decision. Maybe that's the lesson.'
* Shearer may be preparing to take that advice according to a post at The Standard entitled A new broom?. Tipped for demotion are Maryan Street, Su'a William Sio, and Nanaia Mahuta while Chris Hipkins, Shane Jones and, maybe, even David Cunliffe could get promoted.
* Are there still simmering tensions in the Labour leader's office? See Pete George's Does Shearer have a problem with Mold?.
* Brian Easton looks to slay a few conventional economic wisdoms in Economics for New Zealand social democrat. He argues there is no evidence governments can accelerate sustainable economic growth or that economic growth itself increases wellbeing generally.
* For a better idea of where Shearer gets his speech ideas, watch 'David Shearer vs Ed Milliband', a video mashup by Cameron Slater.
* A different take on current Maori politics, and a defence of the Maori Party is put by Rawiri Taonui in Sharples key to Maori Party's run.
* Does 'boring' capture the zeitgeist of contemporary NZ politics? - see John Armstrong's Boredom high and blows low - welcome back to Parliament.
* The Dominion Post takes a strong line against bailing out private schools in Is a school worth more than education?. David Farrar's attempt to defend the policy (Editorial misses the alternate costs) comes in for criticism by Will de Cleene in Charter House Rules, and also by a number of critical comments on Kiwiblog from free market proponents disturbed at the $3 million subsidy for a financially failing private school.
* Meanwhile in the 'free' public system, Jody O'Callaghan looks at the increasingly desperate measures schools use to extract funding from parents: Ploys to get voluntary school fees. Such payments have long since ceased being for 'nice to have' items: '25 schools in the lower North Island yielded an overwhelming consensus that government funding was not enough to provide even the basics, and fell far short of paying for increasingly essential computer technology'.
* It's generally agreed that the New Zealand dollar is currently strongly over-valued. But is it really? Looking at the latest Economist magazine, Michael Field reports Big Mac index says kiwi dollar rate perfect.
* The Government's work for prisoner scheme is supported by the Labour Party, according to today's Press editorial Get prisoners working, which also strongly supports the new policy. But today's Herald editorial suggest the scheme is just a populist gimmick with too many problems - see: Work in jail scheme will do more harm than good.
* Could taxpayers be liable for billions more to fix Christchurch's earthquake damaged roads and underground services? A report in the Star Canterbury by Shelley Robinson says a secret meeting with the city council was held by Gerry Brownlee because 'the Government is now worried that figure could balloon several times over because of the extent of the unknown damage' - see: Christchurch rebuild cost warning.
* The latest Roy-Morgan opinion poll has support for the two main parties relatively unchanged. This is incredibly disappointing according to a post at The Standard: Another flatlining Roy Morgan. The blogger complains, 'I'm sick of hearing from Labour "just wait, it'll get better". Well it's not. You've been stuck in the early 30s now for 4 years. So stop making excuses'. It is also pointed out that 'the government confidence rating' is sharply improving again. Also, on the Standard there is a complaint about Labour's Foolish games yesterday in trying to install Trevor Mallard as Speaker.
* Being a second term government means having to face up to the consequences of your own decisions says Tim Watkin in Why karma will keep on koming for National.
* Tributes are flowing for departing Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith. See, for example, John Armstrong's Too much referee's whistle but Smith will be missed and Toby Manhire's A Lockwood house: six of Smith's best
* John Ansell says he doesn't object to Aotearoa-New Zealand being adopted as the coutnry's official name, but asks when and how this was decided - see: When did we vote to change our name to Aotearoa New Zealand?.
* Finally, Toby Manhire is establishing himself as New Zealand's top political satirist. His latest is brilliant: Yeah, nah: It's a nation of cringeing clichés.