The Prime Minister moved into damage control yesterday on the leaky buildings crisis, 24 hours after dismissing the issue as a Herald "beat-up".
On Monday, Helen Clark told Newstalk ZB host Paul Holmes that she had not taken much notice of the Herald's coverage of rotting homes because the newspaper was well known for "banging on" about issues of no substance.
In a statement to the Herald yesterday, she said the matter was a "serious issue" for affected home owners.
Helen Clark: " ... I think it's ridiculous for people to even suggest that a couple of letters is sufficient advice to a minister, and the minister did get a couple of letters and he sent them off through his officials, no doubt Department of Internal Affairs officials, they refer them to the Building Industry Authority and a fob-off letter duly came back for the minister to sign, it wasn't until April that the minister was given any idea by the BIA of the seriousness of the situation. Having said that, the seriousness of the situation appears to be a fraction of what the beat-up of the New Zealand Herald implies - last time I looked, which was about a week ago, there were about a thousand calls that had come into the hotline established by the Government, a fraction of what the Herald suggests might have been the case, now what we had done of course is set up the assessment service of the dispute resolution service so that those who have undoubtedly been harmed by the leaky building syndrome will get some resolution of the problem."
Paul Holmes: "There must have been some serious concern, before the minster claims he was informed about it because in February of this year the BIA launched that inquiry headed by Don Hunn himself, no less. Could Mr Hawkins not have known there was serious concern about leaky buildings in New Zealand if the BIA went ahead and set up an inquiry headed by Don Hunn?"
Helen Clark: "Well, not necessarily, because as a minister you do act on advice and he simply had none, and I think if you look at what the Building Industry Authority has been saying in recent days they appear to be conceding that they did not properly fulfil the function of keeping the minister informed."
Paul Holmes: "Did they deceive him?"
Helen Clark: "Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say deceit, but I think that the key function of keeping the minister informed was not properly carried out.
Paul Holmes: "Should they go, the BIA?"
Helen Clark: "Well, I'm not prepared to draw a conclusion on that at the moment. I think we need to study the letter which they sent to Mr Hawkins at the end of the week, and see whether it's appropriate that they stay to fix the mess or whether they go."
Paul Holmes: "It seems when you look at that documentation that they not only failed to inform him they may also have been interested in covering things up from him ... "
Helen Clark: "I find all that really extraordinary because, as a minister, you know from time to time one does go down to see the semi-autonomous board for the set-up. Government appointees carry out functions in the public interest, and you would normally expect the agenda for such a meeting, even just a meet and greet, to include a briefing on the key issues that they're facing, and why they didn't do Mr Hawkins the courtesy of giving such a meeting is a mystery."
Paul Holmes: "What do you think of those newspaper reports, Prime Minister ... shouldn't Mr Hawkins, because he is a minister, shouldn't he have heard?"
Helen Clark: "Well, I'm not sure that he should have heard though, I mean what we know about the Herald is that it does bang on about things often of no substance, but I can't say myself as a regular reader of the Herald that I gave the bang on about that particular issue a great deal of notice because I don't pay a lot of things that are reported in the Herald a great deal of notice.
Paul Holmes: "If you lived in a villa you might have."
Helen Clark: "Well, fortunately I live in a villa built the best part of 100 years ago, [laughter]. I think there is something to be said for the trade training standards of those days."
"It is completely incorrect to allege that the Government is treating the leaky building issue lightly.
The Government has acted to ensure that people with leaky buildings get access to a proper assessment service and dispute resolution service.
For the affected home owners it is a serious issue.
The point I was making was that coverage in the New Zealand Herald has tended to magnify its extent.
As of Thursday, 21 November, a total of 1062 people had called the toll-free number for people affected by leaky building problems. A total of 358 had registered with the assessment service by that date.
Public comments from major city councils like Manukau, Tauranga and North Shore suggest that of the many permits issued by their councils very few have resulted in complaints of leaky buildings.
The Government wants all those affected to come forward and contact the new Weathertight Homes Resolution Service so assessments can be carried out and dispute resolution processes begun.
We fully recognise the seriousness of the issue for those affected by it.
The review of the Building Act that is presently under way will be informed by the leaky building problem.
In addition, the Government has already made the decision to move oversight of the Building Industry Authority from the Department of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Economic Development, which has more experience with industry and occupation regulation."
* If you have information about leaking buildings,
or fax (09) 373-6421.