27 Jun 2019

David Cunliffe says Megan Woods will be effective housing leader

9:13 pm on 27 June 2019

Former Labour leader David Cunliffe says he believes Megan Woods will be effective in leading the housing team as the newly appointed Housing Minister.

Megan Woods

newly appointed Housing Minister Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today announced a Cabinet reshuffle with Megan Woods becoming Minister of Housing and leading a team, consisting of Kris Faafoi (for public housing) and outgoing housing minister Phil Twyford (for urban development).

Mr Cunliffe, who spent nearly 20 years in parliament and left politics altogether in 2017, said Dr Woods had a particular set of skills from her experience as the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission and the Minister of Greater Christchurch Regeneration that make her a great leader for the housing team.

"She's brought people together across the private sector, the construction sector, the public sector, local government, central government and she'll bring that experience to the housing portfolio.

"I think this is a transition from policy design you do in Opposition and selling your early days in government, to the hard yards of delivery and Megan Woods is very good at that. She will be a very effective team leader for that expanded team."

In a statement, Dr Woods said she had received the portfolio less than 24 hours ago and was taking time to bring together a work programme.

"KiwiBuild isn't working like we had wanted, so we will be changing it. People want their government to be honest when things aren't working, and try something else instead," Dr Woods said.

"We need to tackle the housing crisis and make sure every New Zealander has somewhere they can call home. When something is important like this, you don't give up.

"I'll be taking a paper to Cabinet and will have more to say in due course."

In comments about Dr Woods' statement after the announcement, Mr Cunliffe said: "That was indicative of her style, she is very clear, very direct, she will lead that team in a very no nonsense, and I think a very business-like, way while being able to talk across that divide of public private sector."

David Cunliffe

Former Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

However, Mr Cunliffe said it was too early to determine whether her actions would be a success or failure for the KiwiBuild scheme.

"It's too early to put a label on it. Clearly, the government has found headwinds in implementation, this is a really tough job to do but it's a little too early for the jury to come back and say it's a failure or success."

It was evident in the prime minister's language, on the other hand, that there was a shift "away from the focus on KiwiBuild as the first layer word to housing as the first layer word", he said.

Mr Cunliffe said he suspected there would be less emphasis on the total KiwiBuild target and more emphasis on the total housing target - a mix of state, community, and KiwiBuild houses.

"Many of our poorest New Zealanders, the people who are most vulnerable, aren't in the position to be first-home buyers. KiwiBuild isn't going to solve their problem.

"That's why the government is regearing to put more emphasis on social housing .... [Dr Woods] will drive that team hard to deliver more appropriate houses for people who need it most - KiwiBuild will be a part of it."

KiwiBuild troubles vs Twyford

Mr Cunliffe reaffirmed the prime minister's speech - that the troubles KiwiBuild faced in reaching its target was not just an issue related to Minister Phil Twyford, but a more broader problem.

"It's easy before you confront the hard realities of a complex problem to underestimate just how difficult it is," he said.

"Let's remember this is not a new issue, the previous government, I think it's fair to say, knew from at least the middle of their term that the housing crisis was getting worse - they didn't do anything about it."

He also pointed to the challenges facing the construction industry as contributing factors.

Phil Twyford answers questions at the Select Committee.

Outgoing housing minister Phil Twyford. Photo: Photo / RNZ

"The market isn't functioning well, the contracting system is not working too well and the private sector risk gets passed to the [sub-contractors] ... there's a skills shortage in the construction sector that's holding the sector back, and I don't think the depth of all of that was foreseeable for a government before it took office."

In a statement after Ms Ardern's speech, Mr Twyford said he had put his all into KiwiBuild and was proud of what he had achieved in housing to date, but admitted that efforts to tackle the national housing crisis were bigger than one person.

"I'm as frustrated as anyone else that we have not been able to deliver as many KiwiBuild houses as we had hoped," Mr Twyford said.

"But I look forward to continuing to help Megan Woods and the other housing Ministers by focusing on legislative and regulatory tools we need to facilitate affordable house building."

He said he was pleased to be part of a team working to address the problem and looked forward to getting his teeth into the Economic Development portfolio.

Housing Minister's fellow team members

New associate Housing Minister Kris Faafoi said it was a privilege to be helping the government improve public housing.

Incoming Digital Services Minister Kris Faafoi.

Incoming Digital Services Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mr Faafoi said he knew from personal experience how important access to public housing could be.

"I grew up in a state house and having that privilege of a state house has meant a lot to me and my family, so taking over that challenge is something I'm looking forward to," he said.

"This is core to who I am ... and I think if I can some of those families who have struggled to have affordable housing available to them, you know, you find yourself in Cabinet."

Mr Faafoi said he was giving himself some time to get into the role before outlining how he planned to go about building more public houses.

He told Checkpoint it would be fundamental to his role in accelerating public housing available to coordinate efforts alongside KiwiBuild plans.

"That's why working alongside the minister of housing who has responsibility for KiwiBuild is extremely important, we're going to have to coordinate those efforts as has been the case to date as well, but making sure we get the right mix of both the increase we need for public housing and KiwiBuild houses."

He acknowledged his plan was going to be a mission but was hoping in the coming time to find out "where some of the hold ups or blockages might be to increase the supply of public housing available."

Asked whether he would be recommitting to Mr Twyford's pledge to eradicate homelessness in two terms, Mr Faafoi said: "In the time that I'm going to have the portfolio, I'm going to try my best to chip away as much as I can on the homelessness problem, I don't want to see anyone in those positions."

However, he stopped short of saying he would be able to accomplish Mr Twyford's pledge.

"I'm just two hours into this job and I want to make sure that I get a good idea of where things are at."

Poto Williams reacts to promotion

Labour MP for Christchurch East Poto Williams is being promoted from Assistant Speaker to a minister outside of cabinet, taking over the vacancy that was left by Meka Whaitiri, who was sacked last year.

Kris Faafoi and Poto Williams.

Kris Faafoi and Poto Williams. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Ms Williams has been appointed Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector.

She said this reflected her background.

"It's a sector I'm familiar with and I've spent 20-odd years in various roles," she said.

"I think I bring some strength, particularly around mental health and community health, and my family violence experience, to really helping this government deliver on its Wellbeing Budget."

Ms Williams has also been appointed Associate Minister for Social Development, Immigration, and Greater Christchurch Regeneration.

She said her experience as Assistant Speaker has helped prepare her to take this next step.

"[The role] isn't as easy as it looks, managing some really difficult personalities in the House," she said.

"I think having that kind of fortitude has really stood me in good stead."