Ihumātao deal under scrutiny as Housing Minister Megan Woods accused of using KiwiBuild as 'slush fund'

The Government's Ihumātao deal is coming under scrutiny as Housing Minister Megan Woods is accused of using a KiwiBuild programme as a "slush fund". 

The Housing Minister rejected the assertion by National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis, saying she's "confused" and doesn't understand what the KiwiBuild programme in question is for. 

The disputed south Auckland land was purchased from Fletcher Building in December for $30 million by the Government's Land for Housing Programme, which falls under the KiwiBuild umbrella. 

Willis asked Dr Woods in Parliament on Wednesday how she could justify using funds to purchase the land at Ihumātao that were "explicitly earmarked in Budget 2020 for KiwiBuild homes".

Budget 2020 states that the Land for Housing Programme is "intended to facilitate the development of KiwiBuild affordable homes". 

Dr Woods said Willis was "confused" and hadn't looked at the broader purpose of the Land for Housing Programme, which was to "acquire land suitable for residential development" that it can "on-sell to developers". 

In the case of the Ihumātao deal, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council which sets out how the parties will work together to decide the future of the land.

Dr Woods said in December all parties had committed to there being housing on the site. The land could be used to include Papakainga housing, housing for mana whenua and some public housing. 

Housing Minister Megan Woods in Parliament.
Housing Minister Megan Woods in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

Dr Woods pointed to Land for Housing's purpose which is to contribute to "addressing the Government's social objectives in relation to housing", with respect to increasing supply, the pace of construction and the proportion of new dwellings. 

"To claim that this is money that would be used for the building of houses is incorrect," she said to Willis in Parliament. 

Willis told Newshub the Budget documents are "very specific" that the money for Land for Housing was for the purpose of developing KiwiBuild homes. 

"We have no assurance that that will occur at Ihumātao. There's a reason there are strict rules around how governments appropriate taxpayer money and in this case, it appears ministers have used that money as a slush fund for their own political purposes."

Willis described it as "deeply concerning", which is why both National and ACT have written to the Auditor-General to investigate the deal. 

The Government has come under fire over there being no concrete guarantee houses will be built at Ihumātao. 

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis holding up a copy of Budget 2020 in Parliament.
National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis holding up a copy of Budget 2020 in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

The redacted section of a Ministry of Housing and Urban Development Cabinet paper discussed on December 14 shows the agreement left Ihumātao's new owners with the potential to determine there are "other uses which are deemed to be more suitable than housing" for the land. 

The Government has been accused by ACT of trying to "hide" it in the redacted section, as well the fact Treaty of Waitangi implications were discussed, despite assurances from Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson that it was "very clear" it would "not affect the Treaty settlement process".  

Robertson said there were a "range of views" discussed throughout the period of negotiations over Ihumātao about how the settlement could be reached, and the Government is "very confident" in the outcome. 

It comes after Newshub revealed Treasury warned the Government against using money from the Land for Housing programme to do the Ihumātao deal, over a concern that was not what the programme was designed for.

ACT's housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden.
ACT's housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden. Photo credit: Parliament TV

ACT's housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden says the Government needs to get a move on and announce a development plan for building houses at Ihumātao if it wants to assure Kiwis that the use of taxpayer money was in their best interests. 

The longer we don't get an announcement, she said, "the harder it gets for the Government to fit its decidedly square funding peg - the Land for Housing fund - into the round hole that is Ihumātao". 

The Housing Minister said in Parliament a development partner will be established but that the timeframe is still yet to be determined. 

"What I will point out to that member is that it will be far quicker than the alternative would have been," said Dr Woods. "The number of houses that will be built on this parcel of land is still being worked through."