PM Jacinda Ardern defends house prices, poverty in tense AM interview about Government's achievements

The Prime Minister has defended her Government's track record during a tense interview on AM on Monday. 

On Sunday the Labour Party held its conference and delegates were treated to a video montage highlighting the Party's achievements in power. The video highlights Labour's track record on housing, child poverty, mental health, climate change and more. 

But AM co-host Ryan Bridge questioned Ardern on Monday over whether her party should really be celebrating housing given prices are still higher than they were under National.

"To be honest, I was quite surprised to see the first words popping up on the screen with things like housing and child poverty. Are you really saying you're proud of your record on house prices?" Bridge questioned.

"I'm saying I'm proud of the progress we've made," Ardern began but was cut off when Bridge interjected.

"But what is that?" he asked. "Because the medium house price is $300,000 more than it was when you started."

"We've helped over 60,000 first home buyers into the home," Ardern responded.

"We have lifted the number of first home buyers in the market now to 24 percent of the market. On public housing, we alone as a government have produced 13 percent of the community housing and public housing stock. All those state houses you see out there, we've built 13 percent of it in five years. But what you didn't add is, of course, I always give the disclaimer is everything perfect? No. Is it finished? Is the job done? Absolutely not. But it is important for us to talk about the progress," she added. 

Bridge then questioned the Prime Minister about why housing was featured so prominently in the promotional material given prices are still much higher than when National was in power. 

Ardren responded saying the video was a chronological list of things the party had taken action on.

When Bridge interjected again "but it [Government policies] hasn't done anything", Ardern said she disagreed and pointed out prices are currently dropping.  

House prices in New Zealand saw a huge spike during the pandemic - which was in line with many other countries as well. But they're now steadily dropping as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) hikes the Official Cash Rate in an effort to dampen inflation. 

Bridge then moved on, questioning whether the Government could really pat itself on the back over child poverty rates .

He pointed out several frontline workers including KidsCan CEO Julie Chapman, David Letele and Sir Michael Jones all say poverty is worse than it was before the pandemic.

But Ardern hit back saying she never claimed poverty was fixed and her Party was simply highlighting the fact the child poverty rate is declining. 

"Just because I say that we've seen a decrease, because the statistics independent of us as government tell us that all nine of our child poverty measures are now declining…  It does not mean there aren't children in need or families in need," Ardern said. 

She said the Government is still very focused on helping the poorest Kiwis even though things are improving.

Bridge then suggested, "it actually sounds a little bit like you're kind of spinning the numbers, Prime Minister, because what these people are saying who are on the front line is actually worse". 

But the Prime Minister hit back saying the numbers only get questioned if they reflect negatively on the Government. 

"The only point I can make here again is yes… they [frontline workers] do see hardship, of course, they do. We do, too. That's why we're not finished. 

"But we have started to make a difference because all of the numbers and surveys on income levels, which is what the poverty measures are by and large, tell us it is in decline. 

"It's not by accident. When you increase benefit rates, when you see increases in the minimum wage, when you increase Working for Families, when you increase the accommodation supplement, and when you do things like put food in schools, those things reduce child poverty. And that's what we're seeing."

The tense interview came after the Government announced wider access to childcare support as part of a cost-of-living package unveiled by Ardern on Sunday.

She also announced increases to the Working for Families tax credits which almost 60 percent of New Zealand families receive.

The latest policy in the Government's package of cost of living measures reverses a freeze on the income threshold for childcare eligibility National put in place in 2010, the Prime Minister said. By "playing catch-up" and indexing the income threshold to wage growth, over 10,000 additional children are estimated to receive support.

"We're targeting one of the most significant costs for working families by making childcare and before and after school care more affordable to a greater number of low and middle-income families," Ardern said on Sunday. 

"At a time when families are feeling the cost-of-living spike, we're investing in what matters most by making sure childcare is within reach for parents and they have more support to cover other costs."

Ardern said this policy means a family with two parents both working 40 hours per week on $26 per hour with two children under five who will not have been eligible for childcare assistance, now will be eligible for $252 per week from April 1, 2023.