The gorilla in our living room…

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There’s an 800 lb gorilla sitting in our living room. It’s called immigration and the scale of it influences almost every issue from education to housing and infrastructure. But only New Zealand First leader  Winston Peters is drawing attention to the limitations of an open door immigration policy.

Take housing, an issue which trapped more cabinet ministers last week than it should have.  From the PM’s advice for the homeless to see Home and Income if they were living in a cart, to the Paula Benefit’s claim that there was no housing crisis.

Sorry Paula, but you’re in the teensiest minority possible.  Housing advocates who have researched what’s happening in the sector all seem to agree that what was needed was not just some more houses but thousands more. One told RNZ that the Government needed to step in with a programme for 20,000 state homes. It won’t happen of course, not when the Government took a $90 million dividend from the Housing Corporation last year, and may take a further $118 million this year. All to reduce debt – which is a weasel expression for slashing public debt which has remained relatively consistent for  years.  It’s private debt which has soared but  shsh…

Most politicians have tip-toed around the core problem over housing – the open door immigration policy practised by both Labour and National. But NZ First leader Winston Peters has criticised the policy for years.

These are the figures which help stoke his indignation:

  • 1996, our population was 3,681,546, according to Census data.
  • 2001: 3,820,749
  • 2006: 4,143,282
  • 2013:, 4, 353, 198

Statistics New Zealand’s assessment of the total resident population in 2014 was 4,509,700,  so in the past 18 years the population has grown by 22%. In that time Auckland’s population grew by 350,000 – from 1.07 million to 1.42 million.

If the  roads, housing and all the related infrastructure was in place for the new arrivals that  possibly wouldn’t matter as much but anybody looking at Auckland for example can see that it’s woefully inadequate.  Rents  have rocketed though  the Prime Minister’s  estimate  is that nearly  500 people are homeless.   Housing   advocates believe the accurate  figure is as low as 2,000 but may be as  high as 30,000.

Key added fuel  to his own fire  when he went on to say that there was nothing new about  homelessness or people living in cars.   It’s  the  diversionary  shrug he  has swapped  when   smile and  wave outlived its time,  a gesture that  says it’s always been so… Except that when you’re the leader of a country  and people are crying out for leadership,  then he’s the one supposed to provide it –  especially since he benefited from growing up in a state house.

And there’s one last  precious thing we are in danger of losing on our beaches, walkways and lakes. It’s what made our country special. It’s not just the beauty of the landscapes – but the solitude and sense of retreat which comes with it.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.