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Richard Prebble's Letter From Wellington

The Letter From Wellington

Clark tired

The government is tired. Clark has been campaigning all year. Then it was straight into coalition talks, allocating portfolios, then parliament again. It’s a very tired PM whose flying home after having jinxed yet another top New Zealand team. (Have you noticed? It doesn’t matter the sport - netball, league, hockey, or the Olympics, when Clark attends - we lose. It’s just as well she boycotts the All Blacks.)

Clark is discovering another reason why prime ministers like November elections: they can soon after get a Christmas break to plan the new government. Clark’s official reason for an early election was because of lack of progress on the government’s legislation. The first of the urgent business was a bill to remove the DPB work test and last week parliament passed a custom bill to tax ice-cream that contains alcohol!

It is not that Clark and Wilson are not socially radical but to implement reform you need able ministers. Clark has a record number of ministers but most have no effective jobs and are paralysed by her close supervision. A few overworked ministers hold all the power. Last week Trevor Mallard was Minister of Education, State Services, acting Finance Minister and on Thursday acting Leader of the House and Prime Minister for questions! Ministers carrying that sort of load do not have time to set any real reform agenda.

Leaky Homes

The leaky homes issue won’t go away because everyone feels sympathy for those caught up in the nightmare. A typical case will be a young couple who has purchased a $300,000 home with a deposit of $5,000 and a 90 percent home mortgage. They now have two young children so one of them cannot join the paid workforce, and have discovered that leaks are a major problem. Without ripping off the cladding the repair estimate is $30,000 which they do not have. Their $300,000 house is now worth $200,000, their mortgage is still a hefty $270,000. They cannot borrow, they cannot fix it, and they cannot sell. In Australia and Canada there are homeowners who have been stuck in this horror for over 20 years!

Who is to blame?

This bastard has a hundred fathers.

The Lefty Planners

The socialists have not gone away, they have just become planners for the Auckland Regional Council. The leaky homes problem is worse where the planners must follow so-called “smart growth”. The problem is most serious in Auckland City, followed by the North Shore, Tauranga, South Auckland and Waitemata City. Hamilton, which rejected artificially restricting land for housing has very few leaky homes.

The Greens

New Zealand insists its our right to repeat other countries’ mistakes. Leaky buildings have hit the USA, Canada, Australia and now New Zealand, as the Green campaign against treated timber has been worldwide. Untreated timber has turned a problem into a disaster.

Poor Design Uncovered

Europeans have been building in Auckland for a hundred and sixty years, and there are good reasons why buildings need eaves and balconies need cover. Flat roofs in a pluvial climate are not smart.

Poor Workmanship

The Letter has heard shocking stories of so-called up-market apartments which, when the cladding has been removed, it was discovered that leaks were being stopped by rags that the builder had stuck into the gaps.

Poor Building Inspection

Inspectors, both council and private, have approved shocking design and workmanship.

The Greens Again

The requirement that houses be insulated has meant that water, once it gets in, can not escape.

The Building Industry Authority

The B.I.A is the government body that sets the standards and approved untreated timber, putting in insulation, etc. This government body has known there has been a major problem for over two years.

The Developers

Fletchers claim that they knew of the problems with this type of housing development and so would not build them.

The Manufacturers

George Hawkins has been strongly defending the manufacturers, telling parliament that if the specifications are followed there will be no leaks. Not credible. Some products depend on paint to be waterproof. It’s been claimed to The Letter that there is one manufacturer’s product in 80 percent of all leaky home cases. In the USA the manufacturer would face a class action, in New Zealand the minister publicly defends him as innocent of all liability.

The Owners

Buyers have some responsibility. Using a $10 development company, a builder who is not a member of the Master Builder’s Association, not getting a building report, and ignoring the leak when they first noticed it, etc.

How to fix it

The capitalist system is repairing itself. Some private building certifiers have already lost their insurance cover, some builders and developers have been bankrupted. The market is much faster than the government but the good go down with the bad. Clark’s first reaction was a politician’s, to evade responsibility. Of course her secret crown law opinion says the government’s in the clear - you can’t sue the crown. Her next advice to home owners to get a lawyer was good advice but not much help to owners with no money and no equity. Labour is 100% against a Royal Commission because it will reveal that government caused this crisis. Labour only agreed to a Select Committee Enquiry when ministers realized that they don’t control every select committee and ACT’s Deborah Coddington would get an enquiry. The Government Administrative Committee was chosen because it has no ACT MP.

All we can say for sure is the losers are again small businesses and in forty years there will be “little people” still stuck in leaky homes they can not sell.

NCEA Petition

Today ACT launched a petition calling for the government to abandon the NCEA and reinstate a system of high quality, internationally comparable external exams. To get a copy of the petition www.act.org.nz/nceapetition.

Deadline is 30 November 2002.

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