Week in Politics: Parliament in recess but there's plenty of action

5:34 pm on 7 July 2019

By Peter Wilson*

Analysis - In the first week after the cabinet reshuffle housing was again in the news with figures showing the waiting list for state homes had risen to 11,655.

That's the highest it's been for at least a decade and not far off the record 12,195 reached in 2004, Stuff reported.

A state house in Northcote

A state house in Northcote. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The statistics released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development showed an increasing number of individuals and families wanting homes despite the government adding 1780 new places during the past year and an intensive building programme that is delivering state houses at a much faster rate than the previous government.

The figures illustrate just how hard it is to get on top of the problem, which Labour signalled as a priority before the election. It attributes the increase in part to the "hidden homeless" who didn't come forward when National was in power. The opposition says a raft of new rules and regulations imposed on landlords has led to many quitting the market. With fewer properties available, rents have increased beyond the means of many families.

Justice Minister Andrew Little made headlines twice this week for different reasons - he was stopped and handed a trespass notice and was outraged by Google giving him the brush-off over its breach of a suppression order.

Andrew Little speaks to media at parliament 30 April 2019

Justice Minister Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

In the first incident an aggrieved hapū member https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/393523/trespass-notice-an-act-of-lunacy-little cut off Mr Little's limo near Ōpōtiki, blocked the road and issued the notice].

Ngai Tamahaua, a division of Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Whakatōhea, claimed responsibility and said the action had been taken because of the way the minister was handling the iwi's Treaty settlement claim.

"He is an existential threat to the sovereignty of the hapū and a threat to our survival and our future," hapū deputy chair Tim Herewini told RNZ.

Settlement negotiations are caught in a tangled web of hapū disagreement over mandate authority which Mr Little is trying to untangle. He described the protest as "an act of lunacy by a lunatic". Police are investigating.

He was also more than a little annoyed with the way Google treated him after he had taken it to task for breaching the suppression order covering the identity of the accused in the Grace Millane murder case.

After promising six months ago that the issue would be followed up, Google had to be contacted twice before anything happened - and then it sent him a very brief email with a link to one of its support pages. Mr Little released the email this week to demonstrate Google's attitude, telling reporters that "clearly, they are not taking it seriously".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister for Children Tracey Martin were embroiled in the controversy over the attempted removal of a Māori baby by Oranga Tamariki, which is the subject of several inquiries since Newsroom published a video of it.

Tracey Martin 13 May 2019

Minister for Children Tracey Martin Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Neither Ms Ardern nor Ms Martin watched the video, and at Monday's post-cabinet press conference they were asked why.

Ms Martin said she had been told about it and suggested it had not accurately portrayed the situation. It had also gone beyond what the parents wanted known, she said. The minister previously told Morning Report the 45-minute video didn't properly capture the 36-hour action to try to remove the baby from its mother in Hawke's Bay Hospital.

Newsroom hit back with an article headed "Sorry Minister, you're wrong on the video". Newsroom said Ms Martin's comments had been met with astonishment by those who were there.

Ripeka Ormsby said she was the midwife in the case. "I was with her during her pregnancy, with her at the birth and throughout the attempted uplift," she said. "I am amazed by the inaccuracy of Minister Tracey Martin's statements. She has no idea what she is talking about."

Ms Ardern's admission that she hadn't watched the video was said to have shocked Māori leaders. The prime minister told the press conference she had experience of what went on regarding the removal of children because of her portfolios when Labour was in opposition.

PM talking about Euthanasia Bill

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / DOM THOMAS

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was sufficiently concerned about the fight between the Reserve Bank and the four main retail banks over increased capital holdings to issue a statement appealing to them to listen to each other.

This has been going on for months and it's a serious issue. The Reserve Bank proposes requiring banks to hold considerably more capital than they do at present, collectively amounting to about $20 billion.

The big banks don't like that and have been pushing back hard - ANZ in particular. It has hinted at reviewing the scale of its New Zealand operations if the proposal goes ahead.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr believes the banks need more capital to be safe in the event of another catastrophe like the Global Financial Crisis, and he isn't backing down.

At a recent hearing held by Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, Orr was questioned closely about the need for a capital increase of the extent he proposes.

He told MPs: "When the question is asked 'what has happened since the GFC' I think the answer is 'not enough'."

Orr said he had often been told the banks had sailed through the GFC but he didn't see it that way.

"The government of New Zealand put in a $133 billion guarantee, almost overnight, to hold the banks," he said. "The Reserve Bank cut interest rates by 575 basis points, we had a wholesale lending guarantee of $10 billion and the bank itself had to buy $8 billion of debt off the banks to provide them with liquidity just to survive."

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Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr Photo: NZ Super Fund

However, he also doesn't think the world is in a better position now to survive another GFC than it was then.

"Global debt levels are actually higher, global financial concentration is as tight, global interest rates are lower and governments have high higher public debt. It is not a more superior position."

* Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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