7 Sep 2016

Labour hijacks urgent housing debate

7:04 pm on 7 September 2016

Parliamentary question time has been cancelled for the first time in eight years because of urgency, as MPs continue to debate new housing legislation.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Labour's housing spokesperson Phil Twyford used a ruling by the Speaker to introduce new sections to the government bill. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Parliament went into urgency on Tuesday afternoon to pass the legislation, which would extend the life of Special Housing Areas, through all of its stages.

But the Labour Party hijacked the debate and introduced new parts to the government bill after the Speaker declared it an omnibus bill.

The legislation would allow Special Housing Areas, which make it possible to fast-track development, to be created for another three years.

Under the current law, the power to establish them lapses on 16 September.

The bill was expected to pass through all of its stages by late Wednesday morning, until Labour realised it could capitalise on a potential mistake by the government.

Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said it was a strategic decision after the Speaker ruled two different aspects contained in the bill could be in the same piece of legislation.

That opened it up to other parties to table new parts to the legislation as long as they related to housing affordability and supply.

Labour's housing spokesperson Phil Twyford led the way by introducing a new section.

"Part three of this bill, which I will dub the KiwiBuild part of this bill, would actually result in the construction of thousands and thousands of new high-quality, affordable homes," he said.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the move showed Labour wasn't serious on housing policy.

"Because it exposes for everybody to see what a bunch of flakes they are when it comes to housing policy."

Labour went on to introduce at least half a dozen new parts to the bill and indicated it might introduce more to keep the debate rolling on.

ACT forces changes

Earlier, the ACT Party had threatened to withdraw its support for the bill, forcing the government to make changes.

Mr Smith said an amendment was put through that clarified changes to the Public Works Act around whether land could be offered back to its former owner.

The legislation would allow land obtained by the Crown for public use to be used for housing developments.

Nick Smith

Housing Minister Nick Smith Photo: RNZ

Oppositions parties and ACT said that would strip the rights of the former land-owner to buy the land back from the Crown.

Dr Smith said he met ACT over the matter and the party agreed the buy-back offer should be exempt for when the land has been developed.

"The government has agreed to an amendment put forward that provides for 10 years, through to the 15th of September 2026, in which it is possible for those changes to the Public Works Act."

The bill will continue to be debated today.