A week after being sworn in, David Parker has found a way to ban foreigners from buying houses without wrecking New Zealand's international trade agreements.

Justice Minister Andrew Little is working on a plan for re-entering the Pike River mine by March.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has given a firm assurance that fee-free university courses will start on January 1.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hasn't put a foot wrong in her numerous media appearances and has a deft grip on policy issues across a raft of portfolios.


There are things that will go wrong down the track and National hasn't yet had the chance to take on ministers in Parliament, but the first week has been a good one for the new government.

Parker's achievement is the most impressive. He's going to include residential property in the "sensitive land" section of the Overseas Investment Act.

That will mean existing homes can't be sold to anyone who isn't a citizen or a resident without ministerial approval, which will be automatically refused. The Government can do this without falling foul of the provisions in the TPP, or TPP11 as it now is, providing it changes the law before the agreement comes into force.

Parker doesn't believe it would be possible to do it afterwards. And it doesn't affect any other free trade agreement except the one with Singapore, which the government believes can be dealt with relatively easily.

The previous government presented a very different picture. It said a foreign buyer ban couldn't be done without renegotiating the trade agreements, and it didn't want to impose one anyway.

Questioned about this now, ministers are obscure when it comes to what advice they were given and say they didn't consider using the Overseas Investment Act.

Labour believes they were given the same advice as the new government received but didn't want to do anything about it. The ban may not have much impact, and there's always been a dispute about how many homes are bought by foreign speculators.

The previous government said it was around three per cent of sales, the current government believes it's much higher than that and National never wanted to accurately measure it.

David Parker has a plan to tackle foreign house buyers, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has yet to put a foot wrong in her new role.
David Parker has a plan to tackle foreign house buyers, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has yet to put a foot wrong in her new role.

Regardless of the impact, Parker's point that it's wrong for homes to be used as chips in the international investment game is one which most Kiwis will agree with.

Little, the new justice minister, has been given special responsibility for a manned re-entry of the Pike River mine. He's made a determined start, but his forecast that it could happen as early as March seems optimistic.

The previous government refused to consider sending men into the mine, saying owner Solid Energy considered the drift was unsafe. It chose to work on sending a robot in by the end of the year, but on taking office Little discovered it hadn't been built and no one knew whether it would work.

"It looks like the plan for an unmanned re-entry isn't much of a plan," he said.

Before anyone gets into the mine there's going to be a bust-up in parliament. Opposition leader Bill English says it can be done - but either the mine has to be exempted from workplace safety laws or an entity has to be created that takes responsibility for any harm that might come to the re-entry team.

"I can tell you, taking all the steps to meet a legal threshold for (going into) Pike River is a huge task," he said.

English has appointed Amy Adams as Little's opposite number in parliament, she'll be watching whatever he comes up with. The fees-free first year of tertiary education was always going to happen because it was one of Labour's flagship election policies.

But saying it would kick in on January 1 - a date chosen to attract the student vote - has given the new government a very tight deadline. Hipkins on Thursday gave an assurance it was on track, which was a relief for thousands of families with children about to start university.