Opinion: Labour 'state of emergency' call insensitive and idiotic

Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford (Getty)
Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford (Getty)

Labour's call for a Civil Defence "national state of emergency" on the housing crisis is insensitive and idiotic.

That's because under the current law there has only ever been one other national state of emergency - for the Christchurch earthquake.

Yes, Civil Defence says the only time New Zealand has ever made the official declaration under current legislation was the deadly February earthquake. The one that killed 185 people. The one that broke Christchurch.

And now Labour's housing spokesman, Phil Twyford, wants to use Civil Defence Emergency Management Act (CDEM) 2002 to declare one over the housing crisis - "a homelessness state of emergency". 

A look at the history books doesn't help Twyford much either - there was a state of emergency declared for the 1951 waterfront dispute when the army and navy were called in when Prime Minister Sid Holland thought New Zealand was "at war".

In my opinion, trying to elevate homelessness to the levels of Christchurch as an emergency is both insensitive and idiotic.

Twyford's call is insensitive when you think about all the people who lost loved ones in what was a true natural disaster.

And it is idiotic to think that putting Civil Defence on alert would help fix the housing issues. 

Firstly, let's take a look at what it means - here is Parliament's definition of a national state of emergency: 

"An emergency that requires parliamentary action of some description will, of its nature, be an event of national significance, posing a serious threat to public safety or threatening the destruction of or damage to property. A severe earthquake or an outbreak of foot and mouth disease are the most obvious examples of this."

Of course housing is a crisis for many people. But is it an emergency? 

Well here are the categories under which Civil Defence classes emergencies:

It is pretty obvious that housing doesn't really fit. 

Even if we were to class it down to a local or civil state of emergency - only one has been issued this year in response to flooding in the Franz Josef area. It lasted just 24 hours. A Red Cross welfare centre was set up, and people were told to boil water.

So what would a state of emergency achieve?

Phil Twyford's press release reads: 

"When the Government declares a state of emergency in times of natural disaster it galvanises all the necessary resources so it can act quickly and decisively. That is precisely what needs to happen to put a decent roof over the heads of thousands of homeless Kiwi families."

The Civil Defence website states "emergency powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Act 2002 enable CDEM Groups and controllers to, among other things:

Almost none of the above would help the housing crisis. Unless Twyford is keen to "evacuate" people from homes and put homeless in there I can't see what he is on about.

To me, it seems Twyford has been deliberately hysterical to try and grab a headline on Sunday afternoon.

Labour has National on the ropes over housing. An idiotic and insensitive call like this was not needed.