Dirty Politics gives way to policy

10:34 am on 29 August 2014

John Key officially launched the National Party's election campaign in South Auckland on Sunday, keen to put two weeks of negative publicity about Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics behind him.

It was no accident National chose South Auckland for its launch. Its message to the Labour Party is it can no longer take it for granted that it is Labour territory. To drive home the message National bussed in supporters so that Mr Key spoke to a crowd of 2500. It was, National believes, the largest political meeting in Auckland in 40 years.

Compare that with Labour's launch two weeks earlier on Auckland's waterfront. It attracted 1000 supporters.

Mr Key also used the launch to announce an extension to the policy aimed at helping first home buyers. National will double the Government grant for people building a new home and allow all first home buyers to withdraw their members' tax credit, as well as their other contributions, from their KiwiSaver accounts to go towards their deposit.

John Key and Bill English (centre) at the National Party's election campaign launch.

John Key and Bill English (centre) at the National Party's election campaign launch. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

National rejects criticism it will simply lead to higher house prices - as a similar scheme as done in Australia - but also lifted the price caps at which it would provide such support.

In Auckland, for instance, people using the scheme will be able to buy a house priced up to $550,000. Under the scheme a couple with a joint income of $100,000 to $120,000 a year could scrape together a deposit of $50,000 to $60,000. They would still have to borrow up to half a million dollars.

While the policy is aimed at helping first home buyers Mr Key denies there is a housing crisis and says it is no more difficult for a young couple to buy their first home than when he and his wife did so in the 1980s. Back then though it was possible for people to spend about double their household income on buying a home. Now, particularly in Auckland, house prices are four or five times or more average household incomes.

At his news conference after the launch Mr Key was happy answering questions about National's housing policy. But as soon as talk turned to Dirty Politics and the role of his Justice Minister Judith Collins his mood turned dark. After just one or two questions an irritable Mr Key left, refusing to answer legitimate questions about Ms Collins leaking information about a public servant to rightwing blogger Cameron Slater.

His mood would surely have got darker later in the week when Ms Collins declared the Privacy Commissioner had cleared her of any wrongdoing when John Edwards had clearly not. The commissioner had simply refused to investigate a complaint from the Green Party on the basis that the public servant at the centre of the controversy had not complained.

Not longer after this was pointed out on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme Ms Collins quickly issued a statement saying she had misinterpreted media reports of the Privacy Commissioner's response to the Greens' complaint. It seems extraordinary that the Justice Minister, who is also a lawyer, would make such a novice mistake.

Mr Key got more bad news in the latest 3News-Reid Research poll when 63 percent of the respondents said the Prime Minister should stand Ms Collins down. Only 28 percent believed he should do nothing.

National's support also fell but was still at 45 percent, while in the Herald-Digi poll released a day later its support was at 50.8 percent Labour remained mired near the mid-20s in both polls.

David Cunliffe standing in front of a campaign bus.

David Cunliffe standing in front of a campaign bus. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

Meanwhile, both Labour and the Greens also released housing policies this week. In Labour's case it was a re-announcement of its KiwiBuild policy which promises to build 100,000 affordable homes over the next ten years. Under the policy it would fund the building of new homes and once they are sold off reinvest the money in further developments.

National has attacked the policy, saying it is not up to the Government to build homes. Equally Labour points out National's proposal has failed in Australia and it released documents it obtained under the Official Information Act revealing the Treasury was also sceptical.

In the Greens' case it would set up a warrant of fitness and star ratings system for all rental houses. A voluntary warrant of fitness system would become compulsory in 2017 and rental properties would be inspected once every three years to ensure they met basic standards, such as insulation, heating and weather-tightness. The party would also limit rent increases to once every 12 months and ensure tenants had the right of renewal on any tenancy.

It has already announced it would build and buy 3000 new State housing units a year for the next three years.

This week Labour revised its alternative budget in response to the opening of the Government's books last week. It says it will no longer proceed with six yet-to-be-announced policies because the latest forecasts showed the Government's income falling short of the Budget prediction.

John Key dismissed Labour's change of plan and accuses it of getting its numbers wrong. But David Cunliffe says no Opposition has produced as comprehensive and robust set of costings before an election as Labour has this year.

The two men then went head-to-head on Thursday night in the first televised leaders' debate on One News.

So despite Dirty Politics still casting its shadow over the campaign the parties have been debating policies this week.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

Visit our Election 2014 page

  • Leaders tussle over tax, housing
  • Labour's house-build plan a 'wish list'
  • Greens make rental WoF promise