It seems Winston Peters has not taken long to get comfortable in his new role as Acting Prime Minister. His recent comments aiming to get housing affordability down to 5 times the living wage certainly speaks of a man not just looking to occupy his seat in a caretaker capacity, but rather shape it with his own identity. Obviously housing affordability must improve, but to claim such a target is achievable “before not too long” is simply absurd. The median house price across the country is currently $562,000, or 13 times the living wage, and much higher in our main centres. To achieve his proposed level of affordability the living wage would need to more than double to over $40 p/h. Considering minimum wage hikes up to $20 p/h are predicted to cost around 30,000 jobs by 2020, it’s not unreasonable to question our ability to cope with such an increase. Sure, he’s not saying these changes will happen immediately, but something will have to drastically change in order to drive such wage increases. Nothing in the Government’s current policy suite comes remotely close to achieving this.
Comments on his plans for a royalty on fresh water bottlers also raise an eyebrow. Fresh water rights and foreign bottlers are always controversial in NZ, and so far the Government has been happy to dance around the topic. Yet now with a chance to push home one of his main agendas during collation talks, the Acting PM has said he was confident a solution would be found by the end of the year. Not only will any royalty impinge on our trade deals, but questions should be asked about the validity of such a policy. Yes, the current situation regarding our water rights is a farce, and there’s no question we should be making commercial users pay to use water. But, as we have outlined in our policy, this should be set by the market. Placing an arbitrary charge on water bottlers looks like a suspiciously xenophobic attempt at political point scoring. What about farmers, many of them foreign, who funnel billions of litres of water into milk products, fruits, vegetables and wine for export? Think of all the hydro and industrial usage. All these people won’t pay a cent. Yet water bottlers, who only use a small fraction of the total volume, with significantly less environmental stress, will be lumped with a fee. Why?
We agree water bottlers should be paying for water, but so should all the other commercial users too.
Perhaps these statements would be more palatable had it been accompanied by some sort of reasoned analysis, but as we have come to expect from the NZ First leader, they do not. These are not just random lapses of judgement. During the election Mr Peters came up with an impressive tab of proposed spending; his policy announcements were costed at $55 Billion over one term. He also maintained that NZ Super is affordable in its current form as long as we grow our national income. This is nonsense considering NZ Super is tied to the level of our national income. These gaffs were perhaps less harmful when Mr Peters was outside of government, but in his current role, he has duty of care to the public to speak from a well-reasoned position and he should be held accountable for unjustifiable claims.