Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Housing crusade fits well with Labour's history

Labour's deputy leader, Annette King.
Labour's deputy leader, Annette King.

On Tuesday Labour's deputy leader, Annette King, turned up at her caucus meeting proudly gripping the Labour Party's 1963 housing manifesto.

That manifesto included policy to build 28,000 houses over six years.

Today is Labour's centenary, which the party intends to celebrate by releasing its 2016 housing manifesto.

That will bear some resemblance to the 1963 one but adjusted for inflation.

Instead of 28,000 houses, Labour is expected to extend its 2014 policy of more than 100,000 houses.

Housing is a historically appropriate focus for Labour - it was the first Labour Government in 1935 which embarked on the state house programme.

It is also politically appropriate. The housing crisis is a godsend for Labour. It is the one issue they have managed to get National on the back foot over. And for once, the usually nimble National Party has failed to corner quickly.

Labour leader Andrew Little's promise his party would deliver a "comprehensive housing package" in three tranches over the next three days prompted National to refer to its own plan of attack on housing as "comprehensive".

That caused an outbreak of mockery on Labour's benches, which prefer to describe National's solutions as "piecemeal".

In truth, both sides' packages will consist of many moving parts, not least because they are designed to address the various strands of the housing problem - from homelessness to affordability.

Labour has laid claim to the "comprehensive" label mainly because it will announce all of its parts at once. National on the other hand has announced its parts separately and over a lengthy period of time.

That lends to the perception they are "piecemeal". That perception has not been helped by rushed announcements of things such as "flying squads" to identify the homeless, pre-fabs for emergency housing, plans to utilise underused crown land, and John Key's last-minute plea to the Reserve Bank governor to make life harder for property investors.

That looked like a panicked plea even though Key was likely already well aware of what the Governor was going to say and was trying to pre-empt it to make it look like it was what he wanted all along.

But for all the mockery, the success of Labour's plan in part depends on the success of National's plan.

Labour cannot build its houses without land to build them on, roads and drains around that land and a trained (or imported) team of builders to build them.

That means it wants the crown land National is tagging for housing development to be opened up, the urban limit to be gone, infrastructure under way into those areas and builders, plumbers and so on in situ.

Today Labour is also expected to set out its solution to homelessness including a major boost to the numbers of emergency beds.

It has also agreed to conduct an inquiry into homelessness with the Greens after National MPs rejected a bid for a select committee inquiry.

Opposition inquiries are usually futile - they do not have the resources needed to have any real impact. The Greens and Labour are no doubt hoping it will embarrass the Government.

That job has already been done.

Homelessness is not a new issue. In 2014, Paula Bennett was under fire about families living in caravan parks. She said at the time "there is absolutely no way that people living in garages, people living in cars, people living in overcrowded situations and in caravan parks that are, at times, are quite poorly run is by any means suitable".

She even suggested the Government could buy a caravan park in West Auckland, where some families were in one-bedroom cabins, to provide a solution.

Quite how National managed to get blindsided on the same issue two years later is unclear.

Labour will have some hope that its housing policy of 2016 smiles more favourably on its fortunes than in 1963. The 1963 election was the second term in what ended up being a four-term stint for Keith Holyoake's National Government - a feat the National Party of today desperately wants to repeat.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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