Labour and National tend to do policy deals when both judge their credibility is completely shot on an issue.
After nine years of broken promises by the Lange and Bolger governments, the 1993 Superannuation Accord by National, Labour and the Alliance is the last that was as dramatic as this week's housing deal negotiated by Housing Minister Megan Woods and her opposite number, National's Nicola Willis.
Signed three months before the 1993 election, the accord inoculated National from the harshest criticism, gave the Alliance credibility by scoring a big pile of cash out of Ruth Richardson, and thus allowed Jim Bolger to scrape in for his second term. It lasted three years.
The very fact of the Woods-Willis deal underlines the Ardern Government's complete failure on housing. Having made such hay in Opposition about John Key's housing crisis, Jacinda Ardern's performance on house-price inflation is by far the worst of any Prime Minister since Norman Kirk.
In her four years in power, the real median house price has risen by $198,000, or 36 per cent, an impressive 8.0 per cent tax-free annual return.
In contrast, over the nine years of the Key-English Government, the real median price rose by $120,000 or 28 per cent, a mere 2.8 per cent annual return — admittedly deflated by price falls after the global financial crisis and Christchurch earthquakes.
Not even Helen Clark's failure on house prices comes close to Ardern's, with the real median price rising by 65 per cent over nine years, or a 5.8 per cent annual return.
A first take on the Woods-Willis deal is that National is foregoing mercilessly lampooning Ardern in 2023, not just on house prices but also over the flow-on effects to inequality and child poverty, which she claims most motivates her.
But whatever the actual data, voters perceive the Key-English Government was at least as responsible for the housing crisis as Clark and Ardern.
National strategists calculate that the Woods-Willis deal will frame housing as no longer about the comparative performance of the Key and Ardern regimes but about Ardern's performance against the next National Government. By that measure, it's impossible National could do any worse.
Moreover, National can claim credit for initiating the deal, after Judith Collins wrote to Ardern on January 26 proposing they work together "to solve what has become a national emergency".
Five months later, Woods and Environment Minister David Parker wrote to Willis and National's Environment spokesman Scott Simpson agreeing to talks, which proceeded in secret over the past three months.
Willis was able to dress not for the job she has, but for the job she wants — which at this stage is Woods', not Collins'.
National strategists believe being prepared to deal constructively with its mortal enemy demonstrates to voters — and particularly to Aucklanders under 40, among whom Curia recently had it polling just 16 per cent — how deeply it believes in New Zealand remaining a property-owning democracy, including them buying first homes without their parents re-mortgaging.
Along with committing to the same targets to build additional state houses using the same measures as Labour, National thinks this is a major step towards voters being prepared to listen again.
As important, National believes it has won the intellectual argument that the housing crisis is primarily a supply, not a demand issue.
Labour's demand-side moves to ban foreign buyers and introduce an effective capital gains tax on rental properties by extending the bright-line test to 10 years have clearly failed. National believes it has forced Labour to acknowledge regulatory constraints are the main issue.
It now plans to push forward with more ideas to stimulate supply, such as extending the tax regime for the booming retirement village sector to the build-to-rent sector and exempting such developments from overseas investment bans.
National looks to Germany, where investors build large-scale developments near major amenities, to rent and professionally manage, rather than flicking them off.
National believes that would radically increase supply of residential units that investors have an incentive to properly maintain, providing higher-quality housing for younger people saving for a house deposit. Even more important given its "property-owning democracy" line, it thinks expanding the high-quality build-to-rent sector will lower prices of new homes intended to be owner-occupied.
Expect Willis to push such ideas mainly to Woods rather than Parker, who she fears may be wary of anything he thinks might threaten the ideological purity of his foreign investment and resource management reforms.
Like Bolger with superannuation in 1993, Labour strategists sound relaxed about what amounts to a public admission that they have failed on housing and are now bereft of ideas. They say they look forward to the blue-rinse brigades of Remuera, Karori and Fendalton descending on Parliament with pitchforks to protest the loss of amenity value in their neighbourhoods, and sending Willis out to meet them.
In fact, it would be Act's David Seymour who would greet the protesters.
Act is deeply sceptical of the Woods-Willis deal, arguing that if providing auto-consents was the answer, the 2017 Auckland Unitary Plan — which promised 420,000 new dwellings — would already have delivered.
Act strategists say neither major party understands that resource consents are one thing, but building consents, builders, materials and infrastructure are another. As Labour used to mock National: "You can't live in a consent". Auckland developers of the 100-unit invest-to-build projects National wants to encourage say resource and building consents, while annoying, aren't really the problem.
The bigger issue is that it can cost over $2 million and take two years for Watercare to install freshwater, wastewater and stormwater connections, and $700,000 and perhaps 12 months for Vector to put in electricity. In contrast, the privately owned telcos are cheaper and faster.
Act thinks the Woods-Willis deal will no more deliver than the unitary plan has.
But the centre-right is now nicely hedged.
If the Woods-Willis deal and Willis' further ideas for cross-party agreement deliver the extra construction and lower prices promised, National will get the credit. If it fails, then Act can say "I told you so" and offer alternatives, including its long-established plan to split the GST on new houses between central and local government, helping the latter to fund infrastructure.
Either way, it's unlikely the Woods-Willis deal will save Ardern from the housing debacle the way the 1993 accord saved Bolger from his broken promises.
• Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant.