A red-zoner on Lab’s Chch policy

Written By: - Date published: 12:11 pm, October 2nd, 2011 - 5 comments
Categories: disaster - Tags:

Gerry Brownlee has, predictably, been incredibly high-handed and insensitive in his handling of the Christchurch earthquake, especially when it comes to the red-zone. He created a clumsy, one-size fits all, buyout system and a Catch 22 for homeowners wanting to appeal by denying them access to the geotech data they need. Labour’s done much better. Here’s a Red-zoner’s view from the AvonsideChch blog.

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Scrutinising Labour’s policy

All political parties and policies deserve to be given close scrutiny, and critiqued as required. Some political policies have titles as strident, and meaningless, as headlines in the tabloid news. What lies behind them needs to be teased out. In doing this a balanced and informed approach is essential. One item in particular in Wednesday’s Press showed little enthusiasm for the latter part of this approach.

In the Perspective section of the Press (page A19), there is a piece prominently headed Stinging criticism of Labour’s generous Christchurch offer. In it the writer looks dismissively at Labour’s proposals to intervene in the property market and make land available at “affordable” prices. He is similarly dismissive of the proposal to intervene in the insurance industry. The overall supposition is that the policy is broadly interventionist, would exploit almost war-like powers, likely to become messy if Labour were given the chance to implement it, and likely to annoy those unaffected by the earthquakes.

While the article is in the nature of a comment, rather than insightful analysis and perspective, that is no excuse for inadequacy. The arguments put forward in discussing or dismissing the proposals demonstrate no understanding of either the past or the present.

The Past

Nothing in Labour’s Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Plan is unprecedented in New Zealand. Perhaps it is now unknown that New Zealand (and the Labour Party) has a rich, if not always glorious, history of government participation in the areas of land, housing and insurance. Much of the intervention of the past has been in the face of strong political and vested-interest opposition, and yet has worked when the chance was available.


Government support for, and provision of, affordable land and housing has been a policy platform for a number of political parties since the 19th century. Affordable land and housing for servicemen was a significant factor in the rural and urban development of New Zealand. Land was balloted by the government for those who returned from wars. Not everyone was successful, but a scarce resource was distributed as fairly as could be done. Those who preferred to settle in urban areas after WWII had cheap mortgages made available via the government. From the 1930s many families who could afford neither home ownership nor private rentals had housing provided to them by the government.

All of these were interventionist policies based on enabling principles. Various government agencies came into being for these purposes: the Department of Housing Construction (building state houses along with Fletcher Construction), State Advances Corporation (low cost housing finance and management of state housing), Housing Corporation of New Zealand.

As for insurance – New Zealand has had government insurance companies since the second half of the 19th century – State Insurance, now since sold, and EQC which remains. The reasons for which government insurance was set up in the 19th century exist again today, and the Victorians were no less market oriented then than the National party is now.

Omitting the experiences and successes of the past makes the article seem plausible. However, in light of what has been achieved in the past, it may well be that what is envisaged is achievable. True, the policy does not spell out the detail but, as is the nature of all initial announcements of political policy, they are designed to paint the big picture. An attempt at a balanced article would have traversed this.

The Present

As far as the present is concerned, the writer says that intervention would not be popular with developers faced with losing an opportunity for profit. Quite understandable, but is it really a big issue? Why? The article continues:

“Labour leader Phil Gough talked about ‘price gouging’ and ‘profiteering’ among developers, but new sections are usually more expensive simply because they are bigger and, compared with quake-hit suburbs, safer.”

The first claim regarding price and size is a distortion of what is happening. For the amount being paid on land,  sections of a similar value are either unavailable or much smaller than those being abandoned in the Red zones.  Land of the same size is priced much higher than the value of that being left behind. In many cases sections can be both smaller and more expensive.

The claim that the sections now available are comparatively safer doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: safety isn’t an issue, stability is. Either way, not a single section is being sold with any guarantee that it is “earthquake safe”, so how can the price reflect this?

The article

The article is headed in large bold type “Stinging criticism …” as if this were the case. Despite this headline the article makes no mention of stinging criticism, let alone where it came from. As an aside, it is the biggest headline in the whole of that first section of the Press and so perhaps intended to be significant? Pity the content wasn’t as substantial as the headline that accompanied it. Despite the shortcomings of this article, there was an example of much poorer political journalism in Wednesday’s Press.

The editorial on page A18 called for more substance, and labelled Labour’s policy as “a fine-sounding wishlist”. Many of us would agree with these sentiments. However it is an odd observation to make, as all political parties turn out policies that are fine-sounding wishlists. The editor, after stating the Labour party has performed a useful service in putting forward ideas for discussion, then decrees that “This is largely driven by the party’s poor showing in opinion polls”.

It is both cynical and sordid to make the accusation that the policy exists primarily to boost popularity, rather than the result of any compassion or desire to help those who have suffered from the earthquakes and their aftermath. This is particularly so when aimed at a party that has a better history than any other of trying to help those in need. Unless evidence can be produced, such accusations should not be made. This tabloid-style approach to a complex and emotional subject ought to be left alone.

It is to be hoped this is not what our fare will be from now until the election.

5 comments on “A red-zoner on Lab’s Chch policy”

  1. bbfloyd 1

    “it is to be hoped that this is not what our fare will be from now until the election”… so what makes anyone think that the tactics, and agenda that has been standard practice for well over a decade will suddenly change?

    do we have any political journalists left here with any shred of independence from the corporate teat who have access to mainstream propaganda agencies? not to my knowledge…..

    do we have any senior journalists/presenters on our main tv channels that aren’t comfortably bedded deep within the national party structure? not to my knowledge…

    do we have newspapers that are “independent” from corporate oversight? … apart from possibly the otago daily times, none to my knowledge…

    do we have population willing, and open to “mature” political debate that uses reality as a basis for discussion? not that i’ve noticed…. but that says more about the decades of deliberate trivialising of serious issues for political gain by the corporates themselves than any lack of ability on the part of ordinary people…

    the fact that we have had labour governments at all is a herculean feat considering the lengths that the monied classes have gone to in order to bury the message under layer upon layer of self serving bullshit, and misapplication of the principles of true democracy…

  2. Cloaca 2

    Who sold off State Insurance to the Poms (who on-sold it to the Aussies) ?

  3. John Dalley 3

    Would that be ACT’s Roger Douglas in a Labour Party discuise?

  4. If I had the time I’d like to do a ‘discourse analysis’ of the politics-related headlines in The Press over the past months and on through to the election.

    Without being conspiratorial, the sub-editors seem to have an uncanny knack of minimising the positives and maximising the negatives when it comes to Labour policies and polling.

    The recent Fairfax poll, for example, was on page A7 with the headline “Poll’s slight lift cold comfort for Goff

    Compare that with the August (Aug 31st) front page story headlined “Greens gain as Labour dips” followed by these paragraphs:

    “The Greens have leapt to 11 per cent in today’s Fairfax Media-Research International Poll – and their rise has come at the expense of Labour, which has slumped to 25.7 per cent.
    With 86 days until the election, there are echoes of 2002 in the latest poll results.
    That year National crashed to a disastrous 20.9 per cent vote on election night, with their supporters panicked into voting strategically for the minor parties, particularly NZ First, after deciding Bill English had no hope of victory.” (emphasis added)

    Guess how far Labour ‘slumped’ in that poll from the previous one?- 3%

    Guess how much of a ‘slight lift’ Labour got in the latest Fairfax poll compared to its previous poll? – 2.4%

    It would seem that 0.6% (in a poll with a margin of error of 3+%) is the difference between a ‘slight shift’ upwards and a ‘slump’ downwards. And, of course, the ‘slump’ and the ‘echoes of 2002’ deserve front page billing whereas the ‘slight shift’ only merits page 7 – after stories on flesh-eating bugs, $43,000 spent by several council staff on credit cards and “Smelly slick catches rider out” (about a motorcyclist coming off his bike because of some excrement on the road) on page 2.

    Even then, the story is all about Goff’s – and Labour’s – bleak prospects. 

    Just as well it’s all merely a number of arbitrary differences that only the paranoid would get concerned about. 

  5. Pro_Rata 5

    Manly have just won the final, so Key cannot vicariously feed off the winning mana of the Warriors.

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