It has been an even more awkward week than usual for Housing Minister Nick Smith, who has had to explain how he came to conduct a tour of potential housing sites only to learn that one part wasn't the Government's to sell.

Naive iwi took umbrage, having believed in their innocence the Government had stopped stealing land from Maori yonks ago and therefore the plot should have been offered to them. Unlike the iwi, fortunately, most of us have grown used to politicians showing us things that aren't really there.

In fact, one piece of the surplus land had been notified under Right of First Refusal provisions which makes Smith's error even more mysterious.

How did it happen? Brook bloody Sabin, that's how. The 3 News reporter - yes, they still have some - had put Smith under "enormous pressure" to provide examples of land the Government could use for housing.


I've never been on the receiving end of an interrogation from Sabin, but I can just imagine how terrifying it is having him bear down on you with his spectacles flaring and his vowels fully modulated. Smith won't be caught out again, though.

"Next time you push me hard I'll need to tell you to be more patient so that we can get all the i's dotted and t's crossed," he seethed to the reporter.

Asked by Sabin if this meant it was all his fault, Smith elaborated on what he meant by i-dotting and t-crossing: "I'm saying next time you push me I'm going to push back harder."

I suppose it could have been worse. Smith could have got nasty and threatening.

I often get flustered into thinking things belong to me when they don't. At least, that's what I'll be telling the judge when the case comes up.

Smith has a way with definitions. Defining potential housing land as "surplus" for instance makes the idea of building on it much more palatable. "Surplus" land is obviously land no one wants - with the possible exception of the Australian developers who accompanied Smith on the tour. If it were called "open land" - which is what it is - we might feel differently about plastering it with homes taking up more space than they need to.

Smith's definition of affordable, however, leaves something to be desired. He was forced to defend his description of homes costing between $485,000 to $550,000 as "affordable", based on the premise that scrimpers can get together a 10 per cent deposit and thus only have to borrow between $436,500 and $495,000 to live in Hobsonville.

He is also keen to spruce up the Resource Management Act to make it easier for houses to be built. He has identified, for instance, that pesky environmental regulations boost the cost of a new home by $15,000, which would account for roughly the amount of the property taken up by the letterbox.


It's rumoured he would also like to change the definition of "house" to include cars, garages and those big boxes that washing machines come in.

And please don't divert him from his mission by raising embarrassing subjects such as deaths attributable to poor housing conditions. You're wasting your time. He is beyond embarrassment.

In the context of the deaths of Soesa Tovo, 37, and Emma-Lita Bourne, 2, from housing-related causes, his remark that "people dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new" took some by surprise. But for this Government, callousness on that level is not new either.

It's true people die in houses all the time but it used to be from old age and other natural causes, not because they were poor and had to endure shoddy conditions that any minister should be ashamed to know exist on his or her watch.