Housing timebomb 'not new' - Bill English

  • 09/12/2017

Bill English has denied leaving Labour in the lurch, saying the housing shortage and prison overcrowding are nothing new.

Lisa Owen questioned the National leader on Three's the Nation on Saturday about briefing papers given to incoming ministers from Labour and NZ First.

The papers warn the high cost of housing is a drain on health, education, employment, homelessness and productivity, and is causing wealth inequality and increasing the cost of Government services.

"Elsewhere in the briefing papers that were released, there were 72,000 houses short around the country, a prison population blowout on the horizon, a dysfunctional Ministry of Health and no money for police pay rises," Owen told Mr English.

"So have you left Labour a disaster zone?"

"No, not at all," he replied.

"None of that is new. [Labour] are trying to spin it as some kind of big problem. I mean, the business of Government is to deal with the issues that are there and there are always challenging issues.

"Take the police pay rises for instance. That came up during the election campaign.

"The Government is already scratching around for money, because it spent all the money on the tertiary policy.

"It's going to struggle over the next few years to find enough to do things like pay for police pay increases.

"That's not our problem, that's their problem."

Owen then asked why National didn't fix those problems if "none of that is new", as Mr English just said.

"Well we did. Take the housing numbers. There is a building pipeline of 100,000 out ahead which the Government acknowledges.

"So the construction sector, as everyone acknowledges, is going flat-out.

"And all this talk about infrastructure deficit is nonsense. They're building flat-out, and the Government, again, has to get on with the job of executing with the confidence and direction New Zealand has that's so positive."

Owen asked whether Mr English takes responsibility for any of the list of issues she pointed out.

"Well take the prison one for instance," he replied.

"We spent most of our term in Government grappling with the issues around prison numbers. They dropped for a while. Then it turned around and they started rising.

"It's not a new one. Everyone's been aware of it for the last few years. We never tried to hide that."

Mr English attributed the higher prison numbers to the court system "locking up more people for longer for serious crimes", and keeping more people accused of a crime in custody.

He says his Government did "an enormous amount" to lower reoffending rates and increase rehabilitation services.

"There is now a great deal more understanding of the reasons why people are getting into prison, of the flows of people, of the cost of it."

Former Housing Minister Nick Smith suggested the briefing papers had been amended sometime between their writing and handover to the new ministers.