It’s hard to suppress my feeling that Green Party MPs inhabit another planet. Their policy announcement at the weekend that they would introduce rent controls and hold increases to 3% pa told me that they know nothing about the history of housing or rent controls, either in New Zealand, or anywhere overseas. The Greens’ great nostrum for helping low income people in 2023 was first tried using a series of Rent Restriction Acts during World War One, more than a century ago. The idea proved to be disastrous. And when revived by the First Labour Government it was no more successful.
Many private investors who owned rental properties in 1914 and who found their rents frozen at below the inflation rate, sold their houses, and invested elsewhere. This severely reduced the stock of rental housing. Thirty years ago, I went carefully through the official records of the then Department of Industries and Commerce and briefly included some details in my book The State in New Zealand, published in 1998. There are other sources of information in Wellington that are easily accessible to the Greens which give no encouragement to their brainwave. After an initial decade of rent controls came the question of what was a “fair rent”. Efforts to legislate this did nothing to ease the growing shortage of rental houses. And this lack of rental houses, due to the law of supply and demand, pushed up rentals on any that were still available. To get any sort of decent rental housing in Auckland, families had to pay to landlords exorbitant amounts of “key money” up front. Difficulties in this area were one of the factors in the First Labour Government’s decision to construct state houses. They enabled ministers to bypass the private sector. In Europe where a higher proportion of homes have always been rented, experiments in rent controls proved even more futile. In many cities the private rental market collapsed. A Swedish economist observed in the 1940s that only pattern bombing had done more damage to Europe’s cities than rent controls!
But the Greens don’t bother to do any research about issues. Its MPs react to problems instinctively; they blurt out those reactions and then label them “policies”. The Greens, of course, have reason to be worried. With the Labour Party fading before their eyes, suffering from collapse within the Cabinet – think Stuart Nash, Meka Whaitiri, Michael Wood, Jan Tinetti, Kiri Allan – the Greens haven’t yet been gathering strength from Labour’s decline. They have obviously decided to make a bold strategic play for extreme left-wingers who are as ignorant and unreflective as they are themselves.
What with a depleted Labour Cabinet struggling to survive, which is obsessed with all things Maori, and a rag-tag Maori Party that can’t string three sentences together intelligibly and makes up grievances on the run, it is clear that one of our options on election day is a Coalition of Chaos. But before we get too excited about the other option – National and ACT - let’s analyse what they stand for. At its King’s Birthday conference ACT presented an array of policies that tackled many of today’s problems. Whether National is yet sufficiently enticing to inspire voters remains to be seen. There was plenty of noise at its recent conference but little of substance emerged. We know that National is opposed to rent controls, and is generally sounder on economic policy. Despite efforts to dismiss Christopher Luxon’s law and order policy by the Herald’s Claire Trevett, Audrey Young, and Michael Neilson, all of them seemingly charter supporters of Labour, this is an area where the centre right clearly outdoes the Coalition of Chaos.
But what of National’s stance on Labour’s never-ending crusade to ram Maori advancement at us every which way we turn? Day in, day out we have people who to the naked eye are almost entirely European in appearance, adopting Maori names, mokos and tattoos, and claiming unverified tribal connections, seeking to advance causes from which they stand personally to benefit. Newspapers, Radio New Zealand, and both television stations have become captives of Labour’s woke agendas. Nonsense “principles” of the Treaty of Waitangi; Gobbledegook titles for institutions that we once related to; confusing road signs; and a false name for New Zealand have all leapt out at us since the 2020 election. Yet what National intends to do about it all is anything but clear at this stage. A promise to slash the funding for the Maori Language Commission would be a promising start. Putting English titles first in a language spoken by nearly every resident of this country, rather than in a language largely being created daily by the Commission, and understood by virtually no one, would also be reassuring. And I haven’t even started on the big-ticket items like unscrambling Three (or is it Ten) Waters and healthcare where chaos rules in our hospitals because a succession of Labour ministers convinced themselves that a poorly-thought-through structural overhaul of the hospital system in the middle of a pandemic would benefit Maori. There was some National mumbling about getting rid of Te Whatu Ora, and slowing moves towards co-governance, but I’ve seen few specifics. And what about the future for the amendments to the Resource Management Act, all 1,300 pages of them that Labour says it intends to rush through?
Having slammed the Greens for their off-the-top-of-their-heads announcement on rent controls, perhaps I should be pleased that National seems to be being super cautious? But the clock is ticking towards Election Day and more clarity from the centre right is surely necessary?