Shearer aims for lift from housing plan

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Last updated 05:00 14/11/2012

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Labour's David Shearer is hoping to shore up his leadership with a major announcement on housing at the party's annual conference, likely to include extra spending on state housing.

Details of the policy, seen as appealing to core Labour voters, are closely guarded to ensure maximum impact by Mr Shearer in his keynote speech in Auckland on Sunday.

But sources suggest it will see a big push on affordable housing as well as more cash to upgrade state housing stock.

Labour's housing spokeswoman Annette King last month called for the revival of the Hobsonville development in Auckland, which would have seen 500 state houses and 500 affordable houses built alongside upmarket properties in Prime Minister John Key's Helensville electorate.

"If the Government is serious about tackling affordable housing, why not resurrect a project that could make real headway for families?" she said last month.

She has described affordable housing as the "missing rung of the housing ladder" because new private sector-financed houses tended to be large and expensive.

"It's time for a long-term housing policy, which includes a real partnership with local government, starting by including housing as part of their core services.

"We need to have more houses in the $350,000 to $450,000 range built, have quality and efficiency standards in rentals, have more social housing and introduce a capital gains tax to deter property speculation."

Mr Shearer has ruled out big-spending promises.

But extra capital for housing, particularly in Auckland, could boost the economy without significantly damaging the Budget's operating balance.

It is understood Labour is also looking at ways to make it easier for home buyers to access KiwiSaver savings.

Meanwhile, Mr Shearer yesterday batted away criticisms of his performance by commentators and on Left-wing blogs.

He rejected suggestions there could be a leadership spill. "Of course not. It's not about a challenge. There is no challenge. It's not an issue."

Any such speculation was just "rumour and talk".

His keynote speech - his first to a Labour conference as leader - was "a great opportunity".

"Normally in Opposition you are reacting to the Government," he said. "It's also about being able to express ourselves and our policies and get them out there."

He said Labour's message focused on jobs, education and a new way to approach the economy.

"I am doing a good job as a leader, because Labour has come up in the opinion polls and National have come down."

Constitutional changes to be considered at the conference include the trigger for a leadership vote. Delegates are likely to set that at a 55 per cent vote by MPs.

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Mr Shearer declined to express a view.

"Because I am leader I have stayed right out of that debate. I have done it deliberately because I obviously have a conflict of interest."

Labour housing spokeswoman Annette King said today's announcement was half-hearted and not enough.

"Phil Heatley's announcement of just 600 new affordable homes in one part of Auckland is underwhelming to say the least. It's just a fraction of what's needed."

New Zealand, and particularly Auckland, had high housing prices driven by a massive shortage of homes, she said.

The Hobsonville announcement was pulled together in a rush and proved National was out of its depth when it came to the housing affordability crisis.

Green MP Holly Walker said the homes announced today would be too expensive for many people.

"Half a million dollars for a house might be 'affordable' on Planet Key, but it is far out of reach for most New Zealand families."


- The Dominion Post

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