How KiwiBuild turned into a PR disaster

by Jane Clifton / 07 November, 2018
Phil Twyford and Judith Collins: bombast and sound bites. Photo/Getty Images

Phil Twyford and Judith Collins: bombast and sound bites. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - KiwiBuild pr disaster

The KiwiBuild announcement was not about getting the poor out of cars, garages and doorways. It was a middle class lottery win.

When Michael Joseph Savage helped lug furniture into the first state house in Miramar in 1937, he would little have dreamt that a future version of his welfare state’s housing provision could entail the installation of outdoor pizza ovens, Scandi furniture and giant-screen TVs.

It would have saved a lot of misunderstanding and unpleasantness had the Government shelved the title KiwiBuild and called that particular avenue of its housing policy DeveloperRescue.

This PR debacle is what happens when politicians get addicted to photo ops while boasting and swaggering under hard-hats on building sites. KiwiBuild was rhetorically styled as Savage’s second coming, but it was always a rather more limited and expedient operation than simply housing people on low incomes.

New-build supply in Auckland’s bonkers housing market has been stalling because some developments have fallen over. The Government, rightly thinking “waste not, want not”, took over some projects that happened to be at the upper-midpoint of the market, and has presented the early fruits of this as part of KiwiBuild. This has been hopelessly confusing. Housing Minister Phil Twyford’s bombast has helped stoke the impression that KiwiBuild was all about low-income battlers and starter homes, when some of the projects are a bit flasher than that. Further muddlement had it that these were “state homes”, or that the taxpayer was actually gifting them to people.

National’s Judith Collins kept reminding Twyford in Parliament and via TV sound bites about the “failed development” aspect of KiwiBuild. To her delight, she couldn’t save him from himself. “High-vis” Phil resolutely behaved as though it was all his own beneficent work. Come the grand launch, when news footage showed conspicuously flash homes balloted to people so ascendantly middle class they might not even qualify as battlers, there was public opinion hell to pay.

This was not getting the poor out of cars, garages and doorways. This was granting a lottery win to people who looked as though they could get themselves into a home without a state leg-up.

Unfair enough

None of these perceptions of KiwiBuild are fair, but they’re understandable. The “housing the poor” stuff is happening elsewhere in various ministers’ portfolios, but it’s not happening fast enough for building-site photo ops and boastful press releases. The Government has made the best of a bad situation in ensuring these stalled developments went ahead. It tried to justify state involvement by building some price and resale limits around the properties – fair enough – but also by rebranding the exercise as some form of social housing. It’s barely most people’s idea of that.

It would have been better to frame KiwiBuild as the state stepping into places the private sector had failed – incidentally, not a bad message for any of the governing parties’ voter bases.

Instead, KiwiBuild is more like an overwrought infomercial. “Aaaaannnd … here’s one I built earlier! In easy instalments – $649,000 and a bonus mandarin tree from the Prime Minister. Send no money now!”

Cartoon/Chris Slane

Cartoon/Chris Slane

As they also say, “(Results may vary)”. Middle-income battlers was not a space the Government would have prioritised so noisily itself. But its alternative option was to let the developments fail, which would have helped no one.

Suffice it to say, Government MPs would be better off making their next building-site appearances as actual builders’ labourers rather than to be filmed. The quicker some actual new state and starter-homes can be produced, the likelier this PR disaster will recede in voters’ memories.

Meanwhile, the ink’s barely dry on the waka-jumping bill and it’s having the effect of a rogue GPS device that keeps suggesting routes to brick walls, culs-de-sacs and unbuilt bridges.

The Electoral Act amendment had the legal and human-rights firmaments rending their hair, and is now disappointing them in new and ingenious ways. To its detractors, it’s a nefarious provision that will cruelly smite any MP righteous enough to stand up against their own party. The first waka-jumping martyr has been eagerly awaited. For a minute there it looked as though Jami-Lee Ross would be thus ennobled. The Electoral Act now gives a party the power to remove a caucus renegade such as Ross from Parliament altogether, under the premise that nothing should distort the election-day will of the people as to the proportionality of the House.

Is there a martyr in the house?

Trouble is, Ross’ primary beef was not some high-flown principle, but his own lack of promotion. His secondary fit of conscience about the handling of party donations may yet have some validity, but for now he is neither martyr nor whistle-blower, but a guy who has gone untidily off the rails after behaving badly towards women. And being hors de combat receiving mental-health treatment, he’s no poster boy for or against iniquitous threats to democracy or individuals’ rights just now.

But National, too, found itself unexpectedly off-track when it realised it could only stop Ross drip-feeding allegations under parliamentary privilege by triggering the waka-jumping clause – after months of having spoken so pompously against it.

That dilemma has now been solved for it. Sort of. Although Ross has resigned from the caucus, he does not have to withdraw his vote from National. He could just assign his now-independent vote to it by proxy, and thus protect the proportionality of Parliament and make himself unexpellable. This week, he confirmed he is doing just that.

Now, whoa – a new dead-end: National is considering declining to accept Ross’ proxy vote. This is daft upon daft. It means that National, not Ross, would be mucking up the proportionality of Parliament. Could the act be invoked to sack the 55 remaining National MPs for this misdemeanour? Hardly. But while Ross remains on leave, if his vote is left uncast while National has the option of casting it for him, it is the one in the wrong.

Once Ross is back, National won’t be able to stop him casting his vote with it, the party he has vowed to discredit. As for the hypocrisy of voting with the party he opposes, that’s just one of those costs of doing political business. Ross has ducked worse criticisms.

There may, after all, be something psychologically self-protective in MPs’ addiction to wearing hard hats.

This article was first published in the November 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wrongful convictions
108539 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Crime

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wr…

by Mike White

Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations in talks with Scott Morrison
108570 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations…

by Craig McCulloch

PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.

Read more
How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their identity
108572 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their…

by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.

Read more
The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh removal
108377 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh remova…

by Ruth Nichol

Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.

Read more
A beautiful mind: What people with Alzheimer's can teach us
108544 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

A beautiful mind: What people with Alzheimer's can…

by Fergus Riley

North Auckland farmer Fergus Riley has uncovered many important lessons in caring for his father Peter, who has Alzheimer’s.

Read more
Instagram's trial to hide the number of 'likes' could save users' self-esteem
108617 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Psychology

Instagram's trial to hide the number of 'likes' co…

by Joanne Orlando

Instagram is running a social media experiment to see what happens when it hides the number of likes on photos and other posts.

Read more
The Hawke's Bay farm producing meat of uncommon quality
108594 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Food

The Hawke's Bay farm producing meat of uncommon qu…

by Simon Farrell-Green

Duncan Smith and Annabel Tapley-Smith weren’t satisfied with producing meat of uncommon quality. So they bought a butchery.

Read more
When biodegradable plastic is not actually biodegradable
108562 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Planet

When biodegradable plastic is not actually biodegr…

by Isabel Thomlinson

A study on biodegradable plastic bags found they were still intact after three years spent either at sea or buried underground.

Read more