Election 2023: Carmel Sepuloni blasts National's 'massive flip-flop' on housing

The National Party is denying stepping back from a bipartisan housing policy, which it helped help to draft, is a backdown.

It has withdrawn from the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS), which were viewed by some as a gamechanger in helping the country address its chronic housing supply issues.

Under the agreement, up to three homes, of up to three stories could be built on most sites, without the need for resource consent.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni told Morning Report National's change of direction on the accord was "a massive flip-flop" on an issue the two major parties previously agreed they needed to come together on.

"It's really a slap in the face to Nicola Willis and Judith Collins, who at the time signed the agreement," she said.

Sepuloni acknowledged the plans were not popular in all quarters but said at the time the accord was signed, National "knew it was the right thing to do".

She said it appeared Luxon had had "a little bit of pressure put on him at some kind of public event" and had "completely turned on what we had agreed on".

But National's housing spokesperson Chris Bishop told Morning Report the party's new housing policy was more ambitious and allowed discretion and flexibility for councils.

"It's a refinement of what we have now," he said.

"We're going to be much more ambitious when it comes to housing supply targets because we're going to make councils put 30 years of demand growth into the market straight away, essentially, in the short term which will create abundant development opportunities."

He said there would be a 'doubling down' on density in some areas.

"The NPSUD - national policy statement on urban development - allows for six stories or above around transit corridors.

"Our expectation is that councils will have to do more density around transit corridors to meet their supply targets."

Most people were on board with apartments around train stations, he said, and the next step would be to have mixed-use zoning - for commercial and residential side by side - in those areas: "That will be mandatory."

Asked why the policy was not rolled out alongside the existing density rules, Bishop said communities and councils wanted more flexibility on how they implemented density.

Some councils would keep the standards and others would use them in only some parts of a city, he said.

"They can opt out of some parts of the city having MDRS but they can't opt out of housing."

Bishop said National had always said it was open to sensible change and its housing policy had gone to full caucus.

"This is a sensible change, this is discretion and flexibility," he said.

"I actually think it is a far more ambitious policy and I think it will meet the needs of councils and meet the needs of Kiwis."

Sepuloni said Labour's focus remained on "building those houses" and it still thought the MDRS was the right plan.

She said National's plan to allow development with less density in some areas had not taken into account all the associated costs.

"Of course the land, because it's more rural, might be cheaper, but when you don't have the infrastructure and services in place, then it no longer is."

Housing Minister Megan Woods said it was in the best interests of New Zealanders for there to be bipartisan agreement on higher density housing and she had written to the National Party asking it to renegotiate the deal.

"We had a grown-up moment in New Zealand politics when we came to a bipartisan agreement around housing policy, and if we're going to continue to solve the housing crisis, then New Zealanders deserve that."

Retirement age can stay at 65 if Super Fund investment maintained - Labour

Sepuloni was one of the keynote speakers at Labour's election-year congress in Wellington over the weekend, where the biggest announcements were continuing a scheme for apprenticeships and holding the retirement age at 65.

She said both policies were of importance to New Zealanders and the party wanted to differentiate itself from National and ACT.

"Superannuation is incredibly important to New Zealanders, it's a simple scheme, it's universal ... they need to know where political parties stand."

Sepuloni said it looked like National and ACT would lift the age of eligibility for the pension and National had, in the past, stopped contributing to the Super Fund.

"New Zealanders missed out on about $24 billion worth of investment in the Super Fund because of that decision and so that commitment from us is also as important as keeping the age of eligibility at 65."

She said according to Treasury, the country could afford to keep the retirement age at 65 "as long as we continue to invest in the Super Fund".

ACT had also talked about getting rid of the Winter Energy Payment, she said.

"That would be a lot of New Zealanders that are impacted, and so they need to know what Labour's position is."