It has been an even more awkward week than usual for Housing Minister Nick Smith – who has had to explain how he came to conduct a tour of potential housing sites only to learn that one part wasn’t the Government’s to sell.
Naive iwi took umbrage – having believed in their innocence the Government had stopped stealing land from Maori yonks ago and therefore the plot should have been offered to them. Unlike the iwi fortunately – most of us have grown used to politicians showing us things that aren’t really there.
In fact one piece of the surplus land had been notified under Right of First Refusal provisions which makes Smith’s error even more mysterious.
How did it happen? Brook bloody Sabin, that’s how. The 3 News reporter – yes, they still have some – had put Smith under ‘enormous pressure’ to provide examples of land the Government could use for housing.
I’ve never been on the receiving end of an interrogation from Sabin – but I can just imagine how terrifying it is having him bear down on you with his spectacles flaring and his vowels fully modulated.
Smith won’t be caught out again, though.
‘Next time you push me hard I’ll need to tell you to be more patient so that we can get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed’ he seethed to the reporter.
Asked by Sabin if this meant it was all his fault Smith elaborated on what he meant by i-dotting and t-crossing: ‘I’m saying next time you push me I’m going to push back harder’.
I suppose it could have been worse. Smith could have got nasty and threatening.
You hum it; Nathan Guy will sing it. Frank Sinatra may have crooned about there being an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. The Minister of Primary Industries this week came up with an equally illuminating observation – that there is an awful lot of sand in the Saudi Arabian desert.
It is now more than a month since the Budget was delivered. The subsequent glow that the document’s success gave to National is on the wane. It is business as usual. The business of governing – that is. It is a matter of knuckling-down and getting through the winter with the party’s poll ratings unscathed.
For Cabinet ministers dealing with one distraction after another in their portfolios – it is like wading through molasses – a slow messy process where unwelcome things keep popping out of the woodwork. Or – as Steven Joyce will attest – from out of the Tasmanian ash veneer liberally applied in the joinery which added even more thousands of dollars spent on fitting out the new headquarters of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Joyce’s ignominy in the face of such extravagance is a lesson that even the most careful minister can be derailed by momentarily forgetting to always be wary of the unexpected. While the ministry’s chief executive will have to carry the can – Joyce will be asking himself why his normally acute political antennae failed him in his own backyard.
Meanwhile John Key and Nick Smith combined to further tangle the already tangled web surrounding use of Crown-owned land for housing and iwi rights of first refusal if and when some goes up for sale.
Smith’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to portfolio management has its advantages in giving the perception of action. But when it comes to tackling the Auckland housing crisis Smith seems to be running out of options. But the problem is only going to get bigger – according to the Productivity Commission’s latest report.
It’s so cold they all sleep in the lounge – huddled together in the only carpeted room in the house.
The curtains are hopelessly thin – the floors in the hallway and bedrooms are vinyl. It’s no place to call home – let alone raise a family.
Amelia’s husband Soesa – a security guard – died of pneumonia and lung complications last year aged just 37. The district health board – local doctors – and the family’s school principal all wrote letters urging Housing NZ to move the family.
Their pleas were ignored. It was so cold the family would take Soesa to his father’s house at night to keep him warm. Even after he died – and after more requests to move the family were made – Housing NZ still continued to do nothing.
Housing NZ was negligent as a landlord. Chief executive Glen Sowry has apologised – and has promised to find the family a new – warmer home – but only after media attention this week forced the agency to get its act together.
If anyone needed proof of how bad this house is – it is to undergo renovations – including new drapes and carpet and other significant maintenance – before the next family moves in.
Housing NZ is embarrassed. They should be.
The problem is no-one sent the memo to Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith. His reaction to another death in a state house was colder than the house itself. Smith has demonstrated what a callous man he is by claiming: ‘People dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new’.
Poor form indeed from a mean indifferent Cabinet minister. It reminds me of the nasty penny-pinching 1990s – when Jim Bolger linked the health system with dying.
Last week I wrote about another death in a cold state house – the case of toddler Emma-Lita Bourne. A coroner linked the living conditions in her home to her death from pneumonia-like symptoms.
That case certainly sparked a lot of debate about personal responsibility – and whether it’s a family’s job to provide a safe warm home versus how much responsibility Housing NZ should take as landlords.
Well the Tovo family met their side of the bargain. The house I visited was neat and tidy. I could see small traces of mould that the family had regularly wiped away.
Soesa Tovo worked fulltime. He was not on a benefit. The children went to school.
The reality is landlords have responsibilities too – including Housing NZ – and we simply have too many leaky cold and damp houses. It’s a national shame.
The poor condition of state houses has been blamed for the second death of a tenant in a week – but the Housing Minister says people dying from respiratory illnesses is not new – and the Government can’t prevent them all.
Toddler Emma-Lita Bourne died of a brain haemorrhage in August 2014, which the coroner found could partly be blamed on the poor condition of the state house she lived in.
Her family had been given a heater but could not afford to run it.
Soesa Tovo, a father of six, died on August 15 last year despite his doctors and the district health board making numerous requests that he be moved from his Papakura HNZ home.
The 37-year-old was being treated for heart and lung problems as well as pneumonia and had been admitted to hospital.
Housing New Zealand chief executive Glen Sowry said Tovo’s case would suggest there were things ‘we could have done better’ the Paul Henry Show reported.
But Housing Minister Nick Smith said housing was just part of a broader picture – and the Government had put huge effort into improving the quality of housing.
‘The state of our Housing New Zealand homes – very clearly – is substantially better than houses in the private sector’ Smith said on the Paul Henry Show.
‘People dying in winter from pneumonia and from other illnesses is not new’.
(ed:..can he/this govt. really be so glib/uncaring..?..i watched smith uttering those words – and my mouth was half-open in disbelief – the man has cloth-ears..)