Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Govt's housing quick-fix turns into shambles as Labour hijacks debate

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson said the filibuster was the Government's fault. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Finance spokesman Grant Robertson said the filibuster was the Government's fault. Photo / Jason Oxenham

An apparently straightforward, quick fix to a housing policy has turned into a shambles for the Government today.

National is attempting to rush through all stages of a housing bill this week, after going into urgency yesterday afternoon.

But the debate has been hijacked by Opposition parties, which have taken advantage of a slip by the Speaker to filibuster the legislation.

It has led to Parliamentary Question Time being cancelled for the first time in eight years.

In response, Housing Minister Nick Smith has accused Opposition parties of "immature" behaviour.

Some of the Government's Special Housing Areas in Auckland will lapse within nine days, and the bill being debated will extend them for another six months.

When the bill was introduced yesterday, Labour attempted to have it split into two parts, arguing that it dealt with two distinct changes which should be debated separately.

Speaker David Carter declined the motion, saying that both parts of the bill related to housing affordability and should be debated together.

That ruling was so broad that it opened the door to Opposition MPs to put up amendments with any passing relevance to housing affordability.

As a result, Opposition parties have now tabled a series of hastily-written amendments which promote their own housing policies.

Labour has put up amendments to build 10,000 affordable homes a year, to ban foreign buyers, and to extend the bright line test beyond two years.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson said the filibuster was the Government's fault for introducing "rushed, poorly thought-out" legislation.

"It's opened the window for a wider debate on housing which we welcome," he said.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said Labour's response to the bill was immature and hypocritical.

"The party was only two weeks ago crying a state of emergency had to be declared over housing.

"And here we have a bill ... that will get at least several thousand homes built and they want to play games on it in the House.

"I think that's disappointing and I actually think it does them no good."

The filibuster will not affect the Special Housing Areas. The legislation has the numbers to progress and does not need to be passed until September 15 at the latest.

Labour supports the extension to Special Housing Areas, but is concerned about a change to Government's obligation to "offer back" public land to its original owners before it is developed for housing.

The Government says it already has this power, and the law change simply clarifies it.

But Labour says it is an infringement on private property rights and deserves closer scrutiny.

Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee tried to put an end to Labour's game-playing, seeking leave to end the debate so that Question Time could take place.

But Labour objected, meaning the games will continue this afternoon.

- NZ Herald

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