The Week in Politics: China's move against Australian coal is a warning to the government

6:42 am on 25 February 2019

By Peter Wilson*

Analysis - China holds up Australian coal shipments, the government faces a soaring state house waiting list, and another bad poll for National.

coal mine

The government will have taken notice of China's holding-up of Australian coal shipments, Peter Wilson writes. Photo: 123rf

China is holding up Australian coal shipments and as a result, Chinese agents have stopped buying it.

The official explanation is reported to be "risk assessment" for environmental reasons.

This story slipped behind the headlines as the proposed capital gains tax dominated the media last week, but the government will have taken notice.

Reuters reports that customs clearance for Australian coal usually takes between five and 20 days. Now it is taking more than 40 days. Chinese coal agents say they've halted purchases because they don't know how long the restriction will last.

Australia has banned China's communications giant Huawei from supplying its telecom networks - and our government is deciding whether to do the same.

The Government Communications Security Bureau doesn't want Huawei involved in the new generation 5G network, and a final decision is still to be made.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says security concerns around Huawei equipment will be carefully assessed using the same procedures as British authorities.

Jacinda Ardern speaks to media after her first major speech of the year to a business audience at a central city hotel in Auckland.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand has to make its own decisions about Huawei. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

That's taken an interesting turn, because the head of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, says rigourous testing has taken place and revealed nothing of concern.

In that, Britain is out of step with its Five Eyes partners in the international surveillance network. Like New Zealand, it has still to make a final decision.

Another development the government had to handle this week was the news that the number of people on the state housing register had soared by nearly 5000 in a year to reach 10,712.

This is not good for a government that vowed before the election to deal with the problem, and loudly blamed National for creating it.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford is still doing that, although not as vigourously as he did during the campaign.

Mr Twyford says the real figure was above 10,000 when National was in power but it concealed the "hidden homeless" by cancelling two categories of housing need.

The Salvation Army says the spike in the number of homeless people was predictable because the market for low income families has collapsed.

There are fewer homes available and rents are so high they cripple poor families.

Labour MP, Phil Twyford Minister of Transport, Housing and Urban Development

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has admitted the government could do more about the state housing register. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Auckland Action Against Poverty says the government inherited a broken system but that doesn't absolve it from responsibility.

"They're giving the least priority to state housing - two-thirds of current developments are for private housing," said spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March.

Mr Twyford has admitted the government could do more but says it's not easy.

No-one ever said it would be.

The latest figures coincided with a report about a broken down motel that was being used for emergency housing - one of many that are costing huge amounts of taxpayer money.

A Stuff inquiry revealed the Auckland Astro Motel had received $3.1 million in government funding.

One of its tenants, Bravewin Faumuina, received a weekly grant of $1250 a week to pay for his "dingy one-bedroom box", Stuff reported.

The carpet was riddled with stains, the smell of human waste wafted up from an uncovered pipe, the shower had never been fixed, and he didn't have a table.

Another tenant said there were maggots and cockroaches in the fridge when she moved in.

An urgent investigation by Auckland Council building inspectors revealed the motel had not been signed off as compliant with building codes.

National didn't have much to be happy about this week either. A second opinion poll confirmed the bad news - it has slipped behind Labour and is perilously close to the 40 percent mark.

This week's 1 News Colmar Brunton poll had National down four points to 42 percent and Labour up two points to 45 percent.

It followed Newshub's Reid Research poll the previous week which showed National down 3.5 points to 41.6 percent and Labour up nearly five points to 47.5 percent.

Both polls showed National's leader Simon Bridges performing poorly at around five percent support. The first poll put Judith Collins above him, the second had them both at 6 percent.

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Polling has shown Judith Collins performing as well as Simon Bridges, if not better. Photo: RNZ

There haven't been any indications of serious caucus concern so far, and Mr Bridges' MPs continue to assert their confidence in him.

That won't last if the polls continue to deliver bad news, and if the party drops below 40 percent Mr Bridges will be in trouble.

And one of his MPs could be in a spot of bother - allegations made against Maggie Barry have resurfaced.

She has been cleared of bullying claims but Auditor-General John Ryan wants the Parliamentary Service to investigate allegations she asked her staff to carry out party political work.

"My understanding is that a specific investigation into whether there has been a breach of appropriation (wrongful spending of taxpayer money) has not yet been carried out," he told the service.

"We therefore consider that further investigation into the concerns is necessary."

*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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