Pick your way through the latest batch of just-released Cabinet papers dealing with the future of state housing and you will find the reason why the National minority Government is struggling to sell the virtues or otherwise of its radical reform of the bottom end of the housing market.
It comes down to simple bricks and mortar. Or the lack thereof. The officials who wrote the documents talk of ministers intending to give "external audiences" the constant message that the "conversation" about social housing needs to change from being focused on how many houses will remain under Housing New Zealand's control - and thus in state ownership - and how many will be sold to "community housing providers".
National is trying to shift attention to its objective of getting better housing outcomes for "poor and vulnerable" New Zealanders - and that it no longer matters who owns the house or who provides the accommodation-finding service.
There is an adage that if you're able to frame the argument on your terms, you are halfway to winning it.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Try as it might, National has been unable to reframe this particular debate. National is handicapped by the sheer complexity of its bold plan to establish a market for social housing where voluntary organisations register as community housing providers and compete with a pared-back Housing New Zealand.
The model's success will hinge in large part on the private providers securing sufficient housing stock to create something approximating a market. But that puts the focus straight back on state houses - and how much the Government will get from sales of such properties to those providers.
While making noises about getting "good value" for taxpayers, the Cabinet papers confirm that "almost certainly" the price the Government gets for its houses will be lower than the book value in its annual accounts.
Labour - or to be more exact the party's housing spokesman Phil Twyford - has understood the importance of keeping the focus firmly on the fate of state of housing.
That is not just because state house tenants are Labour voters. Or that the building of state houses has a unique place in Labour Party history.
It is because the status quo is simple and easily understood. And it has worked. By stressing those attributes, Twyford can exploit people's fears of the unknown by contrasting the safety of the status quo against something which has yet to prove its worth.
Debate on this article is now closed.