Hive News Thursday: Cabinet set for pre-election rejig; Winston eyes population policy; Govt commits to 30,000 new Housing NZ homes

Education Minister Hekia Parata. Copyright Lynn Grieveson / Hive News

Hekia Parata delivered the year's first real cabinet personnel surprise yesterday, unveiling her decision not to stand again as a list MP and creating space for John Key to refresh the upper echelons of his cabinet before an eminently lose-able election in late September next year.

The pressure is on with Winston Peters rising in the polls and the debate over record high net migration, housing shortages and population pressures on the health, education and the justice systems set to dominate over the year ahead.

Parata's mixed track record as Education Minister since 2011 and the growing opposition over funding reforms and special needs education set the scene for her decision, although she maintains she made it with her family at the beginning of the year and is happy with what she achieved.

Stay tuned in the months ahead for other ministers to decide their time is up, with or without the prompting of the Prime Minister. He said he had not decided whether Parata would serve out her second term as Education Minister and he noted that some other ministers were likely to indicate their retirements in the months ahead. In recent weeks he has been saying a cabinet reshuffle is likely early next year, rather than before the summer break.

Andrew Little listed Nick Smith, Nathan Guy and Judith Collins as potential retirees.

Targeting population growth?

Meanwhile, Winston Peters yesterday shifted New Zealand First's position closer to the Greens' proposal for a migration policy linked to a population growth target, saying the Government should be targeting a level of population growth.

The comments came as Statistics New Zealand released fresh population projections, including one scenario with average net migration of 30,000 per year (double the long term average) that grows the population to 5.5 million by 2025 from 4.7 million now.

"The government’s virtual open door policies cannot meet New Zealand’s short or long term population needs. The recent announcement on immigration amounts to fiddling while the population steam-roller thunders on," housing spokesman Denis O'Rourke said in a NZ First statement.

"It is high time that a comprehensive population policy, of which immigration policy forms a part, was established," he said.

"This country needs to target a rate of population growth, to meet our needs but not cause growth pains."

In other economic and financial news...

Jan Wright published her report on greenhouse gases from farming, suggesting the planting of millions of hectares of tree planting and a search for a vaccine to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions from cows and sheep. She stopped short of insisting agricultural emissions be included within the Emissions Trading Scheme, saying the debate around the potential inclusion of farming had become polarised and inclusion was not a silver bullet. Federated Farmers welcomed the report.

Paul Goldsmith announced the release of an 81 page MBIE issues paper on retail payments systems that looks at whether to regulate the charges by banks and credit card companies to retailers and consumers using credit cards and contactless cards in particular. Goldsmith said he was cautious about regulating an industry in a way that restricted innovation, but would consider it if competition did not moderate costs. MBIE estimated retailers currently paid NZ$461 million a year in merchant service fees, and that the rise of contactless cards would see this rise by a further NZ$216 million per year. MBIE said it wanted to analyse where consumers and merchants were bearing a fair share of the costs and whether card payment systems were being used efficiently. It noted the current market dynamics "suggest cause for concern in both the credit and debt card markets."

MBIE reported its index of job ads online rose 0.5% in September from August and were up 12.5% from a year ago. Vacancies rose in five of eight industry groups (professionals, technicians and labourers fell) and eight of ten regions (Wellington and Canterbury fell). Vacancies for low-skilled jobs rose 0.9% in September, while highly skilled job vacancies were unchanged.

Following on from Bill English's comments last week about Housing NZ ramping up its rebuilding and building programmes and Andrew McKenzie's comments last month about planning to build up to 30,000 new homes on Housing NZ land in Auckland, English and Paula Bennett formally announced a ramping up of Housing NZ's build programme, although they did not detail the funding commitments. They said Housing NZ's Asset Development Group had lodged consents under pre-Unitary Plan rules to build 1,297 houses in Auckland for 3,200 people at a cost of NZ$440 million, with the majority retained by Housing NZ.

“Alongside the various Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas, the Auckland Unitary Plan provides for around 30,000 new houses on HNZ land," English said in the first statement using the 30,000 figure. English later told me before entering Parliament the Government expected to finalise Housing NZ's funding arrangements and plans within the next six months.

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