Opinion: Loose lips sink ships, Mr Joyce

Steven Joyce (Simon Wong / Newshub.)
Steven Joyce (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

There's an old saying: "loose lips sink ships". This week, National's Steven Joyce has the loosest lips in the game.  

No matter what way you look at it, his 'announcement' (read: slip of the tongue) that Housing New Zealand (HNZ) would forego paying a $92m dividend to the Government's coffers was bizarre and shambolic.

It wasn't planned. It looked like a U-turn. It looked like National was buckling to Labour's pressure.

Not only did Mr Joyce reveal it after Labour re-announced its policy of reinvesting any dividends back into HNZ, but he did it on Twitter.

There was no press release, no press conference, no big 'hoo-ha' like you'd expect from National when making a big move like this.

It would have been spun as being compassionate and pragmatic, despite the fiscal implications of nearly $100m disappearing from its bottom line.

It would have been a good news story for National when it's doing so poorly in the housing area.

I can just hear Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett announcing it, saying something like: "These are vulnerable people, and those dividends are better spent re-investing into new houses for those in need".

But no. Steven Joyce tweeted it out on Sunday and Monday following Labour's announcement and no one knew what he was talking about.

I thought it was spin. Labour said he was lying. The Budget clearly stated $38m in dividends this year, and $54m next year.

But no, Mr Joyce was right. The Budget was wrong. The Budget was outdated. He'd seen what's called a Statement of Performance Expectation. It's a secret document which said HNZ would prefer not to pay the dividends, and instead, use the cash to build more houses.

What's more, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett had no idea about the debacle when she appeared on RadioLive for her weekly panel with Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson. She was blindsided by what Mr Joyce had been doing. To put it lightly, she would have been pissed off.

She played it down of course, but I'm sure there would have been some tense phone calls or texts between the two last night. Social housing is Ms Bennett's baby.

I'm sure Bill English is brassed off too. HNZ is his portfolio responsibility, and surely he'd want to announce the dividend U-turn himself, especially because he's the finance minister as well.

National's been hammered for weeks on housing and this latest defensive blurting from Mr Joyce shows he's panicked about Labour nailing his party on housing.

Mr Joyce is usually a sleek, calculated operator within National. But he's been outplayed.

Forgoing two years' worth of dividends is an admission they got it wrong.

It's an admission social housing is broken.

It's an admission of failure they'd never make.