Smith's cabinet return hailed

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 23/01/2013
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Nelson MP Nick Smith’s appointment as minister of housing should be good for Nelson and New Zealand, Nelson Tasman Housing Trust chairman Keith Preston said today.

Dr Smith was brought back in from the cold when Prime Minister John Key announced his new Cabinet yesterday, giving him the housing and conservation portfolios.

Smith said he was delighted to be back in Cabinet and pleased with the new challenges he will face as minister of housing.

Preston said Smith met the affordable housing trust regularly and was well informed about its activities and the wider problem of high housing costs.

The MP had recently helped the trust secure government funding to add four more houses to the eight it is building  at its St Lawrence St project in the Victory Square area, and often dealt with housing problems raised by Nelson residents.

‘‘He’s aware of the pressures around housing. He’s an intelligent guy with a good brain and he gets things done, and access to a minister is always easier when he’s on your patch.’’

From a community housing perspective, the main problem was that although the current government funding was better than it ever had been, it was still insufficient, Preston said.

More broadly, land supply was an issue in Nelson and around New Zealand, he said.

‘‘Developers can drip-feed land on to the market – that’s the way the market works – but it is a serious issue and makes many projects unaffordable.’’

Smith resigned from Cabinet after the Bronwyn Pullar ACC scandal and has been on the Government backbenches since March last year.

He was minister for the environment, minister for local government and minister for climate change issues and the resignation cost him $116,000 in annual salary.

After yesterday’s announcement, he said housing issues were particularly pertinent for Nelson and New Zealand.

‘‘I’ve always had a strong view that home ownership is an essential part of the New Zealand psyche and that has been eroded over the last 20 to 25 years as house prices have risen faster than people’s incomes.’’

The challenge was to pick up on the comprehensive report of the Productivity Commission and deliver the reform and change that would make a long-term difference to New Zealanders’ aspirations to get into their own homes.

Referring to the leaky-homes issue, he said it was clear that building cheap houses would not work.

‘‘It’s about how you make them more affordable, while maintaining the quality and meeting the needs of the future. It’s a big, complex issue.’’

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He would study thecommission’s report and seek the advice of officials, before beginning the reform process.

He was also pleased to again be handed the conservation portfolio, a full-circle move that puts him back to when he first joined a National Cabinet in 1996.

He was more confident about his level of knowledge in the conservation area and yesterday talked to the director-general about some briefing papers he wanted to ‘‘get into the detail of’’.

‘‘Conservation is particularly special for New Zealand in that just because of our geological history, we’ve got this huge number of species – everything from the kiwi to the kaka – that exist only here, for which we’ve got a special responsibility, and it’s also economically important for the tourism industry.’’

He spoke to Key yesterday morning and headed to Wellington last night. He will be sworn in on Thursday next week.

Regarding the surprise dumping of Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson from the Cabinet, Smith would only say, ‘‘Politics is a tough business’’.

‘‘The prime minister has made calls about refreshing the team.’’

Smith’s return to the Cabinet has been condemned by the Green Party, but Forest and Bird has welcomed his reappointment as minister of conservation.

● A Nelson Mail online poll showed  260 people (47.7 per cent) said he should remain on the back benches, with 254 (46.6 per cent) agreed with his elevation.

- The Nelson Mail

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