Falling house prices were welcomed this week by Act leader David Seymour, his deputy Brooke van Velden and National’s Epsom candidate Paul Goldsmith.
The surprise confessions came during candidate debates in the electorates of Auckland’s leafy eastern suburbs. Seymour and Goldsmith are contesting the Epsom seat and van Velden is standing in neighbouring Tāmaki.
Both seats have 65 per cent home ownership, which suggests their voters might prefer house prices to be rising.
In Epsom, moderator Tim Watkin asked all the candidates to raise their hands if they agreed it was good that house prices had been falling.
Seymour and the candidates from Labour, the Greens and TOP immediately raised their hands. Goldsmith was hesitant, but eventually put his hand up as well.
Watkin said he was surprised at the response. “Don’t your voters want house prices to keep rising?” he asked. Was there a gap between what the voters want and what the candidates think is morally right?
Seymour responded by saying: “A lot of people in Epsom are not wealthy. They live here because of the schools.”
Epsom includes much of Auckland’s “Grammar zone” and some prominent private schools.
At the Tāmaki meeting, National MP Simon O’Connor deviated from Goldsmith’s line. He said he knew homeowners would want to see values appreciate but he also knew many people were struggling to buy a first home. Lower house prices would help them.
“So I celebrate with them both!”
Van Velden seemed momentarily nonplussed by that, but she was clear in her position. “I do think it’s good that prices have fallen,” she said. “People cannot afford to buy a home.”
She also criticised National’s plan to tax foreigners who buy a home worth more than $2 million, saying it would raise house prices.
“People in real estate I’ve talked to have said, ‘If you’ve got a $1.8m home I can guarantee you it will become a $2m home’.”
Yesterday, CoreLogic released data that shows house prices in Auckland have started to rise again, after falling for almost 18 months.
The two debates were very different, even though both electorates vote solidly on the centre-right and are among the wealthiest in the country.
In Epsom, the candidates met in the Presbyterian Somervell Church in Remuera. Strong feelings were frequently expressed, but the tone remained respectful. It was a church, after all, complete with tea and bikkies.
The Tāmaki event was hosted by the Taxpayers’ Union (TU) at a bar in Mission Bay and was altogether rowdier. You get that in a bar, especially with the TU.
O’Connor and van Velden were the only candidates there. Both said they want their parties to form a new government together, but they’re in a serious fight with each other over the seat.
“If you’re on the left,” said moderator Martyn Bradbury, “it’s like watching a fight between Voldemort and a Dalek.”
Results of a poll, conducted by Curia and the TU, show just how close this contest is. O’Connor has lost 50 per cent of the support he enjoyed in 2020 and is now at 35 per cent. Van Velden follows closely, at 33 per cent. The pollsters stress this is well within the margin of error.
O’Connor pitched himself as the “moderate” choice, which seemed to surprise van Velden. He’s a very conservative Christian. She’s a “social liberal” who believes her social views correspond more closely to middle New Zealand.
But she did give O’Connor some ammunition for his claim. Asked why she wanted to legalise the sale of sub-machine guns, she said: “It’s not right to go after farmers who need them for their work.”
O’Connor said: “Labour throws money about while those on the right of National want to cut, cut, cut. That’s why we’re the middle ground.”
Bradbury asked him how that fitted with National’s plan to cut public service spending by 6.5 per cent.
“It’s a number,” said O’Connor. “We can change that if required.”
His leader, Christopher Luxon, has not put it like that.
O’Connor added: “The public service are people too. You can’t just target a number. We will work with the CEOs.”
Bradbury invited the audience to marvel at the National MP who felt it necessary to say public servants are people. Then he asked van Velden why Act wanted to “steal workers’ rights” by abolishing the public holiday on January 2.
She replied that it was a rebalancing act after the Matariki holiday was created in 2022. “We’ve just said, ‘Let’s readjust the calendar’.”
Over in Epsom, although Seymour and Goldsmith are also both trying to win the seat, they did not attack each other. That was left largely to Labour’s Camilla Belich and TOP’s Nina Su.
“We’re addicted to selling property to each other,” said Su. “Wealth has increased but it’s not because of productivity.” TOP proposes a land tax.
“If we tax farmers,” said Seymour, “they’ll go broke.”
Belich defended Labour’s housing density rules, saying they make it easier for people to develop their own properties. National and Act’s policies, she said, would lead to urban sprawl, requiring more expensive infrastructure and making carbon emissions worse.
“Compact cities are the future, all over the globe.”
In Tāmaki, O’Connor co-opted the climate debate to his theme of moderation. “National will listen to the Climate Commission,” he said, “listen to farmers, listen to everyone, and we will govern for all.”
He also praised the electorate’s “great new cycleway”.
“Is that another first?” wondered Bradbury.
Van Velden said the way to deal with climate change was to empower the Emissions Trading Scheme “and get out of the way”.
She pointed to scientific advances in agriculture as evidence little more was needed. “Stop talking about doom and gloom,” she said.
“But,” said Bradbury, “you can’t rely on science unless you listen to what scientists are saying. They want much more action.”
O’Connor talked about his family’s chickens, worm farm and recycling. “And the bees! If you want bees, we have a lot of bees!”
This story originally reported comments made from the audience to “Get rid of Matariki”. These were incorrectly attributed to Rachel O’Connor, the wife of National MP Simon O’Connor. The Herald apologises for the error.
Simon Wilson is a senior writer covering politics, the climate crisis, transport, housing, urban design and social issues, with a focus on Auckland. He joined the Herald in 2018.