National’s triple backward summersault on RMA reform

Written By: - Date published: 10:40 am, May 30th, 2023 - 26 comments
Categories: chris bishop, Christopher Luxon, housing, national, nicola willis, same old national - Tags:

The focus groups have spoken.

National has performed a complete reversal on the bipartisan changes to the Resource Management Act amendments designed to improve housing supply and introduced only 18 months ago.

I have never seen such a comprehensive backtrack on a policy that a major party originally milked for all that it was worth.

I mean this is significant.  Eighteen months ago National was in there boots and all.  In fact the bill can be traced to a letter that Judith Collins wrote to the Government proposing the changes, an offer that the Government then accepted.

But after Christopher Luxon became leader he started the walkback.  As I said in December 2021:

He is busily walking back the party’s proposal to allow further housing intensification in a joint approach with the Government.  The leafy suburbs of Remuera have spoken.

It was not hard to spot.  The owner of eight separate pieces of real estate thought that the market was doing fine, and what was needed was a market that delivered price increases.

His comments from the time were:

Luxon said National will listen to feedback from local government and experts on what changes could be made.

“We will digest that feedback. We want to make some amendments to the Bill and we’ll be talking with the Government about that, because I think if they can come on board with those amendments, great, but if not we’ll revisit it.”

His comments were weird.  They were made on December 1, but the bill had its third reading two weeks later.

According to Nicola Willis who championed the legislation National did consider the feedback and changes were made to the bill.  She said this at the second reading:

We had hundreds of submissions from experts, from local authorities, from residents’ associations—from people impacted by this bill. We gave those submissions detailed consideration. The select committee considering this bill has meet for more than 56 hours, and we have done so because we want this legislation to work as well as possible. I want to thank the submitters, whose observations and whose expertise will make sure that this bill can be much more enduring into the future. Their thoughts and their concerns have been addressed in a number of amendments which are in the Supplementary Order Paper that the Minister has discussed.

She thought the select committee process was an “exemplar of how Parliament can work together to make legislation better”.  She thought that New Zealand “can do density well and we should do density well”.

Her concluding words were these:

This is a bill which will make a difference, not just next year or the year after; this is a bill that will allow for more responsive housing supply in New Zealand for generations to come. It is appropriate that the select committee have studied the details carefully and have made a number of very thoughtful amendments. National is proud to support this bill.

Scott Simpson said the bill was “effectively, National Party policy and it’s the sort of thing that we have campaigned on now for several elections”.

Of opponents to the bill he said this:

Giving property owners the right to build is a fundamental National Party principle, because we on this side of the House believe in private property rights, and it’s been fascinating to see some parties that we thought believed in private property rights actually dancing on the head of a pin and trying to find every possible reason not to support this legislation.

Gerry Brownlee lambasted Act for opposing the bill:

I never thought I’d come to the House and hear the ACT Party passionately pleading for more rules to be inflicted on people in New Zealand. I’ve normally got quite a bit of time for Mr Court. I think he’s a very intelligent man who makes great contributions. But, man, oh man, where did that speech come from? Here we have a bill that is going to allow a whole lot more flexibility for people who want to use some of their surplus land or use a section that might be cleared for that purpose to create more houses for New Zealanders who desperately need them.

At the third reading Scott Simpson said:

This is National Party policy that we campaigned on, and I’m surprised that that has come as a surprise to some people who have been commentating and passing criticism about this legislation.

There are many other examples but I am sure that you get the drift of what is happening.

But then the complete reversal occurred.

Their new policy would allow major Councils to opt of the Act out but only if they allow current development of all of their future zoned growth areas immediately is a recipe for urban sprawl, and huge infrastructure bills that councils simply cannot afford even though National has promised some funding.

And the funding will come from, you will not believe it, cancelling funding for projects helping poor people, such as the Affordable Housing Fund, Kiwibuild, the Housing Acceleration Fund and most concerningly Kaiangaroa’s Land Acquisition fund.

Take that poor people.  National clearly prefers to make it easier for speculators than ordinary people when it comes to the housing market.

It appears to be policy on the hoof by Luxon with Bishop and Willis having to grin and bear it.

So the walk back is weird.  As said by Simpson this was core National Party policy, private land rights and all that stuff.  To be so enthusiastic about the bill but to then drop it like a hot potato when your leader is asked a question at a meeting is really strange.

It highlights that National is prepared to sacrifice anything if it thinks there will be a political advantage in doing so.  And how National’s supposed principles are always subservient to its perceptions of political advantage.

26 comments on “National’s triple backward summersault on RMA reform ”

  1. Tiger Mountain 1

    The Natzos are really pushing it here given the role of Deputy Willis in formulating a bipartisan approach. Developers, Real Estate, Finance Capital, Building Industry and influential Tory NIMBYs must have really been rattling Baldrick Luxon’s cage is all I can say.

    Bernard Hickey has some good comments on the MDRS backflip…

  2. tc 2

    By political advantage you mean it's gone for now but once elected it's business as usual.

    Like no assets sales in 2017 they'll say whatever to get elected then do as they please once in.

    • tc 2.1

      Doh I meant 2014 of course where state houses were sold off knowing what the situation in housing was.

  3. Patricia Bremner 3

    I think Luxon and a small group of Nats have fired a warning shot across Nicola Willis and Judith Collins bows, as Luxon was being pressured n his Leadership.

    He has caused a huge distraction which also over shadowed Chris Hipkins as well, and the media mates started mocking Hipkins sausage roll and pie persona.

    Meantime the National Party have the conversational topic "No Housing Accord"de jure.

    It was CL's usual off the cuff comeback which has become a major distraction as it ran counter to all earlier Nat positions. imo.

  4. tsmithfield 4

    Yes. It was a back-flip. But not an unsurprising one. That policy was about as popular as a turd sandwich.

    Watch for Labour to tack in sequence, and back-flip as well.

    • AB 4.1

      We have to admit that densification of existing suburbs doesn't create the engaging, visually beautiful, mixed-use, walkable, urban environments that many affluent NZers flock to Europe to experience and rave about. It just creates uglier, more congested and horrible suburbs. That chance was lost in the 1950s as car-dependency became the ruling principle because there was profit for private enterprise in land-banking, road-building and car importing – and Councils were thoroughly captured by business interests. The wealthy know this and have spoken – "leave our leafy suburbs alone, house the poor and middle class in vast, sprawling, monotonous acres of scraped-bare hillsides beside motorways. If we want urban beauty, then we'll go to Berlin in September".

    • Jack 4.2

      Yep, ball in Labours court on this one. Rather than give a robust defence of the policy Wood and Hipkins over the weekend were all please come back to the table, we may take a look at it … they seem hardly convinced it’s a great deal.

      Maybe the better analogy for Labour on this one is snooker rather than tennis. They have been well and truly snookered – having to take this turd to the election or do their own backflip.

      • mickysavage 4.2.1


        Aren’t you even slightly embarassed by National’s duplicity on the issue. Trying to suggest that it is Labour’s problem takes Chris Bishopesque quality dancing on a pin.

        • tsmithfield

          The reason Labour needed National's support on this is that they knew it would be really unpopular. If it were a popular policy, no way would they have sought National's support.

          So, of course Labour will ditch it as well. Or be stuck with it.

          Or beg National to play nice. Tough chance of the latter in election year.

          I am not embarrassed in the slightest. I was more embarrassed that they did the deal in the first place, because I thought it was a terrible policy.

          Areas where there are to be high rise apartments etc should be designated specifically for that purpose, so people don't have to worry about a three story building suddenly popping up right next door to them and blocking out the sun, and making nude sun-bathing not so appealing.

          • newsense

            Unpopular with a bunch of oligarchs in Remeura.

            The man with 7 houses wants to sell a couple.

            National happy to suck up to the farmers and sell out the future. Billions required for infrastructure, housing and to recover from cyclones and to pay our climate change commitments.
            Won’t be the wealthy agribusinesses helping with the consequences of their industry, nor the rapacious housing investors, if the Nats get their way.

            As well, it rather looks like a woman has done a great detailed, principled and thorough job, only to have it ripped up by a new boss, and his old boy mates reckons.

            Oligarchs need bringing to heel in a democratic society, not having it designed around them.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 4.3

      Yes. It was a back-flip.

      Yes. There's that pesky matter of trust popping up again – and again, and again…

      'They trust me': Christopher Luxon says there's no need to release Sam Uffindell report details [20 Sept 2022]
      Everyone trusts Maria, and they trust me. They trust me to represent the findings.

      "Mr Luxon says New Zealand needs to trust National. But to earn that trust, he needs to be upfront on the price of the tax cuts – who will bear the cost and what services will go as a result?"

      I remember when, after 'only' 9 years of a National-led government, PM (and Nat leader 2.0) English decided it was time to campaign on lifting Kiwi children out of poverty.

      National digs itself into child poverty hole [20 February 2018]

      Is that also a priority for Luxon and Willis, or are they more focused on how to deliver tax cuts that favour the deserving wealthy, e.g. Luxon and Willis.

      Luxon refuses to say if tax system unfair: 'Wealthy aren't the problem'
      [26 April 2023]

      Will it play out any differently if NAct get up this election, or will it be their usual modus operandi of 'the devil take the hindmost'?

      National and Labour are sharpening up campaign attack lines
      [11 May 2023]
      It revealed 53% saying they trusted Hipkins; 27% said, nope, don’t trust the guy. For Luxon, the corresponding figures were 37% and 44%. Which gives Hipkins a net trust rating of plus-26 points, compared with seven below zero for Luxon. Little wonder, then, that Labour is tapping the trust nerve.

  5. Stephen D 5

    I think this is more correct.

    "It highlights that Luxon is prepared to sacrifice anything if he thinks there will be a political advantage in doing so. And how Luxon's supposed principles are always subservient to his perceptions of political advantage."

    The onus now is on the more moderate caucus members to find some spine.

    • newsense 5.1

      Or who he’s been listening to that week. Or perhaps what might benefit a man with 7 houses?

  6. joe90 6

    So the walk back is weird

    A whois/linkedin tutū turns up the taxpayer union and cronies so not so weird.

  7. James Simpson 7

    As others have noted, this is hardly surprising. It was an unpopular policy, devised in Wellington but opposed at a local level.

    Christchurch City Council in particular pushed back very hard against it.

    It looks like Labour has recognised that and is looking for a discussion. That discussion needs to involve the communities it affects.

  8. SPC 8

    The Greens explained why the bill was wrong and then supported it.

    Green MP and chair of the Environment Select Committee Eugenie Sage said there was a risk the bill would allow for more urban sprawl without encouraging people to densify urban centres enough.

    True, allowing three storey build citywide simply ended urban planning – enabling developers to determine zoning.

    The Green Party supported the bill but have argued against the shortened select committee process and have pushed changes that would see more urban trees protected and taller buildings encouraged.

    National have provided them with the chance to re-visit the issue and they should welcome this.

    The reasons why the developers charter was wrong was exposed during the floods.

  9. SPC 9

    Some states in the USA have reduced their housing problems with the granny flat onto the section.

    “The ability to be able to remove barriers and support the creation of ADUs has been a very important strategy in our ability to expand the supply of housing,” said Lourdes Castro Ramírez, California’s secretary of Business, Consumer Services and Housing. “I’ve been very pleased to see how communities have embraced this approach, and I think that folks have been able to recognize the social, economic and community benefits of ADUs.”

    The numbers tell the tale: More than 23,000 ADU permits were issued in California last year, compared with fewer than 5,000 in 2017 — which was around when ADU permitting began to take off thanks to legislative and regulatory changes in the state. The state now requires faster permit approval by localities, and establishes that cities must allow ADUs of at least 850 square feet — though many are much bigger. A number of other bills are being debated in Sacramento, including one by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D) that would allow property owners to sell their ADUs separately from their main houses.

    Los Angeles dwarfed other cities last year in ADU permitting, issuing 7,160 in 2022, compared with 662 in San Diego, the city with the next-highest total of ADUs. By comparison, just 1,387 permits were issued in L.A. last year for single-family homes. The number of ADU permits issued in L.A. was second only to the 13,400 permits issued for multiunit structures.

    Something similar here – would be legislation to allow for easier on site or factory built small build granny flats, and in an emergency such location for mobile small homes or camper vans.

    Some nationwide standardisation of rules – building codes for dwellings to reduce the time and cost of the consent process (pre-approved factory built standard categories, set-down mobile homes, on-site mobile homes, distinct from sleepouts/caravans etc.

  10. These pillocks should be tarred and feathered for trying to sabotage NZ.

    Tried to wreck our pandemic response

    Don't care about the climate or dairy pollution

    Made the housing crisis worse while filling up Auckland with McMansions owned by foreigners

    Screwing up the transport system for the sake of ego projects

    etc etc

    Never trust a Nat

    • newsense 10.1

      It’s a betrayal of young New Zealand, hopefully for the final time, after a decade of wealth transfer. It’s barefaced class and generation war.

  11. Ad 11

    Back in my day we had a Metropolitan Urban Limit and the Auckland Regional Council defended it in the courts against metro councils like it was the Ukraine front.

    Also back in my day we had a majority shareholding in the Auckland Airport that enabled effective governance control of New Zealand's largest and wealthiest developer.

    Also back in my day we had councils that central government took notice of, as if they had a place in the ordering of society.

    Then the Nats come in, term after term, and just keep stripping the power from the citizen at every turn.

    There's not even a point showing that they are funded by real estate agencies\

    National are just an incoherent disgrace.

  12. Mike the Lefty 12

    I sense National trying to attract ACT leaning voters by aping ACT's policies. Must be getting spooked by the looming election and that they are looking nothing like a credible alternative government.

  13. adam 13

    Who in their right mind think that mob can run a school bake sale, let a lone a country.

    FFS I'm no supporter of labour, but bloody, bloody, the Tory's are a mess. Robs mob of economic slugs, or the act party who act like 14 years olds who have just finished annie randy, full of bluster thinking libertarian economics will work.

    It's almost every day from these gaggle of guess whose.

    Te Pāti Māori looking better than good, against this backdrop. Two ticks.

  14. newsense 14

    Need to get Red/Blue billboards out into the countryside:

    The parties think this should be:

    (National) (Labour)

    City. Country.

    Labour. Better for the country.

    (National) (Labour)

    Urban sprawl photo Green Sward/native bush/
    status quo

    Labour. We don’t know how lucky we are!

    What should be here:

    (National) (Labour)

    Our cities Our farms

    Labour. Better for the country.

    Remember when National would just say any old thing during the pandemic? Now that’s all their policy!
    Cities spread into our green farming lands, they’re confused about street signs, superannuation, spending cuts, prescription charges and a whole lot more.
    Labour. With a free trade deal with the EU and the UK done, Labour is better for the country.

  15. Heather Tanguay 15

    This shows Luxon's complete lack of knowledge in the way parliament works. To change policy after a question at a public meeting is unbelievable. To have broken the Housing Accord, with no discussion with any of his party and to throw his colleagues under the bus is disgusting. It shows a man who is completely out of touch with anyone but himself, and that is questionable!

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