National leader Judith Collins has set five priorities for her party over the next three years – but excluded climate change, education and Crown-Māori relations.
Giving her first ‘state of the nation’ speech as party leader, Collins said Covid-19, the economic recovery, ‘hardship and public safety’, housing, infrastructure and world-class cities and finally, technology and post-Covid opportunities would be National’s target areas.
She told Auckland Rotary and EMA members at Ellerslie Racecourse that those policy areas would be “the things you can hold me to account on this year”.
She acknowledged education, climate change and Crown-Māori relations were “other important areas” but her five priorities needed “immediate attention. They can’t wait three years.”
What National would do on each of the five, shorn of criticism of the Labour Government, was less clear.
The Covid-19 priority boiled down to bringing forward New Zealand’s vaccination schedule to match Australia’s – which was described by Collins as beginning “in the next few weeks”.
On economic recovery, which received the biggest portion of her speech, National’s pledge amounted to “a relentless focus on government policies to support the productive parts of our economy”, enabling businesses to use Covid-19 to “drive positive change” and use technology to “stay world leading”.
The remainder of her economic solution was a critique of the Government over increasing the minimum wage and sick leave and changing workplace bargaining laws – and “relying on massive spending to drive growth”.
The unusually juxtaposed “hardship and public safety” priority appeared to have been a nod towards poverty and inequity that had public safety added in so that prisons policy, the Waikeria riot and a catchphrase that appeared twice in the speech – “gangs recruiting faster than the police” – had an airing.
Her fourth priority – housing infrastructure and world-class cities – outlined how house price rises and rents were harming the next generation and people’s prospects, leading to an increase in the working poor.
This priority had the one concrete National announcement, with Collins calling on Labour to introduce temporary legislation to “make it easier to build a house, until the permanent RMA reforms are completed”.
In an accompanying statement entitled “Emergency powers needed to solve housing crisis”, with the housing and urban development spokesperson Nicola Willis, the National leader said the law change would give the Government power to rezone council land, making room for 30 years’ growth in housing supply. The appeals process would be suspended and the need for infrastructure to be ready ahead of house-building would also be suspended.
Collins said she had written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggesting a special select committee to develop emergency legislation by the end of March. “New Zealanders have had enough. It’s time for the two major political parties to work together to fix this problem.”
This move is a long way from the days of the Key-English National government in which Collins served, when ministers would not utter the word ‘crisis’ to describe the acute problems of housing affordability, housing supply and rising house prices.
Collins’ fifth priority – technology and post-Covid opportunities – spoke again of the need to find “positive change” out of the Covid upheavals, but was as broad as “we need to better understand the opportunities” and “enticing more New Zealand students to study science and technology”. One specific call was for tech workers from overseas to be given a streamline visa process to come here.
There was some typical politics: she joked in part about the surfeit of opportunities she had personally last year to grow from adversity, she down-played her length of time in the leadership before the election from its actual 13 weeks to just ‘two months’, and couldn’t resist a dig at Ardern at the end. “National will be kind, but not at the expense of getting things done.”
The one bit of ‘doing’ outlined – the call for that emergency housing development legislation – is unlikely to be picked up by Labour. It holds 65 seats to National’s 33 and has its own fast-track planning, housing and urban development policies.