Ardern backs Twyford as Thursday Cabinet reshuffle looms
By Pattrick Smellie
June 24 (BusinessDesk) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went out of her way to defend the record of Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford while announcing her "relatively minor" Cabinet portfolio reshuffle will be unveiled on Thursday.
Twyford's future in the portfolio has been in doubt because of the failure of his KiwiBuild policy, which promised to build 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years, to gain momentum in the first 18 months of the government's term.
"He's done an incredible job in a very difficult area of policy," said Ardern, who claimed the government was dealing with a housing crisis in a way that no government had previously had to do and was now building more houses than any government since the 1970s.
"We've extended across transitional housing, Housing NZ, public housing and homeless and that has happened under Phil Twyford," she said.
Under heavy questioning from journalists, she did not go so far as to say the government was committed to continuing with the KiwiBuild programme itself, saying repeatedly only that "we still will have a government build programme".
Media were making much of the fact that Twyford did not appear at today's KiwiBuild summit conference in Auckland. Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa represented the government and declined specific questions on the KiwiBuild programme, which has been under scrutiny ahead of a policy 'reset' that had been expected by now.
Twyford, who also holds the crucial transport portfolio, made a public appearance in Wellington today with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to announce the expansion in the city of the government's Housing First policy for long-term homeless people.
Ardern also noted that other government policies to cool the housing market, such as closing tax loopholes and preventing most home-buying by foreigners, meant that 24 percent of the people purchasing homes were now first-home buyers.
"We are not lessening the focus that we have on rectifying what is ultimately a crisis in our housing sector. It's not easy, but we are not giving up," she said.
Ardern stressed that reshuffle decisions were hers alone and indicated that the Labour caucus has yet to vote to decide who should be promoted into the ministry, as its rules require. The caucus meets on Tuesdays, suggesting that vote will occur tomorrow.
The most widely expected element of Thursday's reshuffle announcement is the likely elevation to Cabinet of Commerce, Broadcasting, Civil Defence and Customs Minister Kris Faafoi who currently holds those portfolios outside Cabinet.