PM opens election year with housing cost plan

By Audrey Young

Helen Clark will start Parliament's election-year debates today with a proposal to use Crown land to reduce the cost of housing by increasing the supply of homes.

She will also unveil measures to give non-Government organisations more certain funding for services contracted by the Ministry of Social Development.

The Prime Minister's statement to Parliament, the first big set piece for the year, is expected to be delayed by parliamentary tributes to Sir Edmund Hillary from party leaders.

Housing Minister Maryan Street last week announced a project in Tamaki that would encourage the private sector to build low-priced homes for first-home buyers as part of a state housing redevelopment.

Helen Clark said yesterday that there would be some surprises in her statement, but only "pleasant ones".

She sought to dispel any suggestion that the new regulated period for political advertising - virtually the whole year - meant she was already in election mode.

Because of New Zealand's short electoral cycle - three years between elections - "it is not appropriate and it is certainly not the Government's intention to hang up its boots at the start of the third year and go off and campaign".

The Government had a major policy programme with new initiatives.

The speech is an important part of Helen Clark's bid to recapture her reputation for competent management, battered last year by a series of Government crises and controversies.

Social policy will get top billing in today's speech, showing Labour's heartland supporters that although the party has bowed to pressure for personal tax cuts, it won't be at the cost of bread-and-butter social policies.

Debate on the Prime Minister's speech will end next week in the first confidence vote of the year, which the minority Government is expected to easily win.

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