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National’s Asian MPs urged to have a conscience

Posted by on November 8th, 2013

My colleague Dr Rajen Prasad and I have called on Members of Parliament of Asian descent to vote with their conscience and vote against the Sky City bill.

MPs they should act in the interest of those people they represent when they cast their vote for the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill, which will grant SkyCity casino in Auckland an extra 230 pokie machines and an extended licence until 2048.

The statistics make for grim reading. Among the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand’s clients, 16.6% are Asians. These people are mainly based in Auckland, and among them, 61.7% had problems with casino gambling.

Leaders in the Asian community including John Wong of the Problem Gambling Foundation’s Asian Family Services and Donghwan Lim of the Korean Community Wellness Society have spoken out against the bill and the harm that gambling causes in Asian communities around New Zealand.

Bankruptcies, job losses, crime, suicide and devastation for families are the real outcome of more pokies.

National MPs Dr Jian Yang, Melissa Lee and Kanwalit Singh Bakshi should have the courage to exercise their conscience and not tow the National party line.

Court case another wake-up call

Posted by on November 7th, 2013

A pending Supreme Court ruling could impact on  hundreds of leaky home owners across New Zealand who have missed out on compensation due to the 10-year time limit.

Auckland couple John and Helen Osborne, who were told they were ineligible for the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, have argued the time frame should have started from when the code compliance certificate was issued, rather than when construction ended.

Regardless of the outcome, this case is a wake-up call to Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson to take another look at the Code Compliance Certificate (CCC) regime that has been replaced under his Building Amendment Bill (No 3).

The Consent Completion Certificate set to replace the current CCC will create confusion and deliver uncertainties for both home owners and the construction industry.

On the one hand I’m glad that the Minister has not triggered the new regime for obvious reasons, but on the other I’ve remained concerned that the new regime had been instituted as part of the Minister’s piecemeal approach.

It appears the Minister was convinced that the licensing regime for builders, which Labour supports, was the main reason for the new CCC regime.

However I agree to the views by the submitters that the licensing regime at this stage is only ‘ticking boxes’, and not a standard that will guarantee the quality of craftsmanship and the design of new homes.

It is absolutely vital the Government gets this right ahead of the Christchurch rebuild and housing boom in Auckland and other regions.

Housing policy backs all New Zealanders

Posted by on July 30th, 2013

Labour’s plan to introduce restrictions so that non-residents will not be allowed to buy any existing house, flat or apartment in New Zealand is standard practice internationally. It’s a policy that will reduce demand, help take some of the heat out of the housing market and most importantly put New Zealanders’ interests and aspirations before those of non-resident property speculators.

Some have accused Labour of being anti-Chinese, anti-immigration and anti-investment following the announcement of the policy. That’s rubbish.

The policy is designed to push foreign speculators out of our market, and will in fact help the Kiwi Chinese community get into their own home.

As the first Chinese New Zealand Labour Party Member of Parliament, I am very proud to be part of the policy team behind this initiative.

This is about putting our interests first. All ethnic communities resident in New Zealand will benefit from this policy. It’s pretty standard stuff – in fact, this policy mirrors the Australian policy, and is based on the Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai experience.

Property prices in Hong Kong have doubled in the past four years due to low interest rates and strong foreign demand, particularly among mainland Chinese investors seeking high returns and with a desire to move assets offshore. Property prices in Hong Kong are among the world’s highest and first time buyers are hardest hit.

In 2012 the Hong Kong Government introduced a 15% tax on property purchases made by foreigners. Buyer’s Stamp Duty is paid by all companies and non-resident purchasers and is aimed at pushing offshore investors out of the market. This tax came on top of Special Stamp Duty which is a transaction tax of as much as 20% charged on properties resold within three years of purchase.

Early in 2013, Double Stamp Duty was further introduced by the HK Government, which doubled stamp duties for any buyer other than a first-time home buyer or a homebuyer trading up and reselling his or her former unit. These measures helped cool down the residential property market and gave locals more of a chance. Transactions plunged as speculator activity and non-local demand was significantly reduced.

Also, in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, they have introduced similar measures. For instance, in Beijing any non-local purchasers of residential properties will have to show tax returns or records to prove that they have been local tax residents for at least five years before they are eligible to buy residential properties. So from those experiences we can tell that such policies are not only popular internationally but also regionally within a country like China.

Articles 138 and 139 of New Zealand’s Free Trade Agreement with China are complicated issues for two main reasons. Firstly, in China, all land is owned by the Government. The right to use of residential properties is 70 years and for commercial properties, 40 to 50 years. Secondly, there are a number of restrictions on foreigners purchasing residential properties. An individual must have a work visa for a period of no less than one year before they are qualified to buy and they are only allowed to buy one residential property. Foreign companies are only allowed to purchase commercial properties for commercial use and there are further restrictions.

Labour understands the importance of backing all New Zealanders.  We know this solution is only a small part of a much bigger picture. But the old adage applies – action speaks louder than words and on that front Labour is streets ahead.

Helping New Zealanders get into their first home is a priority for Labour.

The Kiwi dream of home ownership has slipped out of reach for too many New Zealanders. In fact, people I speak to already feel like home ownership is an impossible dream. That’s why Labour has a suite of policies that get stuck in straight away to help them out.

We have already announced our KiwiBuild policy to build 100,000 homes over 10 years. We honour our commitment at the 2011 election to introduce a capital gains tax (excluding the family home) and last weekend we announced our policy to crack down on international property speculators.

PGD problems: “a potential time bomb” (3)

Posted by on July 20th, 2013

The PGD sector, and inevitably the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board, have a colourful history and their problems are only getting worse and worse under the watch of this National-John Banks’ Government.

Concerned tradespeople describe the issues as a “potential time bomb”, not only for tradespeople, but also for future apprentices and the public. Worse still, we continue to lose experienced and competent tradespeople to overseas.

Tradespeople are claiming that the “serious mismanagement” of the Board and its refusal to comply with legislation are destroying the industry. Minister Maurice Williamson’s answer is to give the Board a piece of legislation to validate its unlawful ultra vires acts, retrospectively. What the Board and the industry need is solution not head-in-the-sand legislation which will create more problems.  

The table below, sent to MPs, sets out a comparison of the number of licenced plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers in 2003 versus 2013 per head of population in New Zealand.


In 2003:    4258 Drainlayers serviced 4,000,000 people, this equates to 1 Drainlayer per   939 people.
In 2013     1808 Drainlayers service   4,468,000 people, this equates to 1 Drainlayer per 2471 people. 


In 2003:     2129 Gasfitters serviced 4,000,000 people, this equates to 1 Gasfitter per   1878 people.
In 2013      1426 Gasfitters service   4,468,000 people, this equates to 1 Gasfitter per   3133 people. 


In 2003:     5094 Plumbers serviced 4,000,000 people, this equates to 1 Plumber per     785 people.
In 2013      2845 Plumbers service   4,468,000 people, this equates to 1 Plumber per   1570 people. 

It would be reasonable to assume on the figures above that there could be the same or more tradespeople working without a license as those that have. Getting the qualification (registration) is the respected and important indicator. Those qualified tradespeople who are “forced to work” without a licence of course means there will be no Council records of drainage plans or gas installations. Further, these un-licensed (but registered) tradespeople cannot take on an apprentice. 

Have the problems caused any concerns to Minister Williamson and his National-John Banks Government?

Politics aside, we all will have to wake up and see what the harm is doing to the industry and the impact this has on everyday New Zealanders who require these services

What’s wrong with the Plumbers Bill (2)

Posted by on July 18th, 2013

The National-John Banks Government’s arrogant approach is destroying the plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers industry.

Under the watch of the Minister for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson, it’s only a matter of time  – according to tradespeople in the know – before the cost of getting a plumber, gasfitter of drainlayer to your doorstep will be “as expensive as instructing a lawyer”.

This is because – according to them – registered tradespeople have been forced to push up their hourly charge out rate in order to cover their excessive premiums to be registered with the New Zealand Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board.

Fees to the Board to get registered for two licences (eg. plumber and drainlayer) in New Zealand now costs $10,000 for five years (see table from the PG & D Board website ).

In comparison, a five year licence in Australia costs $312.50 (see link ). They don’t have a disciplinary levy, offence fee or forced ‘Continual Professional Development’ in Williamson’s way. It’s no wonder we’re losing more and more of our skilled tradespeople to Australia.

And the National-John Banks’ answer is to bring a bill (Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Amendment Bill 2013) which will create more problems it seeks to resolve.

Government must break stalemate with plumbers

Posted by on July 3rd, 2013

Labour will this evening introduce an amendment to the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Amendment Bill to help break a stalemate between the National-Act Government and a large number of tradespeople in the industry.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board, which was appointed by the Minster for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson, has been found to have illegally collected fees and levies from the industry.

The Bill, which is currently being pushed through Parliament under urgency, seeks to retrospectively validate the significant amount of money the Board collected unlawfully.

The Government’s failure to break the industry stalemate is a two-fingered salute to committed and qualified tradesmen just trying to get a fair deal.

The Ombudsman upheld Wellington plumber Wal Gordon’s complaints and recommended that the Board should negotiate an arrangement “whereby the excess levies paid could in whole or in part be refunded over a period or some credit could be given in respect of future fee or levy payments in compensation.”

But Maurice Williamson has openly snubbed the Ombudsman’s recommendations and instead adopted a closed and defensive approach and tried to fast-track the legislation. The National-Act Government is ignoring the industry’s valid concerns.

Labour’s Supplementary Order Paper implements the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“A five-year licence configured around the Board’s regime costs $10,000 in New Zealand – according to the Plumbers Federation. The same five-year licence in Australia costs only $330. It’s no wonder we are losing quality tradespeople to Australia.

We agree to the sector that this Bill is about more than the payment of money, it’s about unlawful activities. It is about the trust New Zealanders place in the Accountability Agreement between the Minister and his Board, and more importantly, in their Government and Parliamentary systems”.

Labour’s SOP seeks to find a midway but it is only the first step. We are encouraging a culture that is open and engaged with the changing needs of the sector. We acknowledge the problem with the Board’s activities are deep seated and we must get to the root of the problem from all aspects.

The Board has been subject to complaints to the Office of the Auditor-General, Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee, the Office of Ombudsman, the Charities Commission and the Inland Revenue Department.

The Campbell Live show, the Politics of Plumbing, featuring particularly the “Minister Williamson artwork” is not a good look for his National-Act Government. Actually, it is a bad look for all politicians. I feel sorry for the Minister.


Goodbye Chief

Posted by on May 4th, 2013

As a humble Kiwi Chinese, I initially felt I was not senior enough to write this kind of article to remember the Hon Parekura Horomia, our matua. But I am privileged enough to remember him as a mentor and a friend who had played a brief but important role in my entering into politics and becoming a member of the Labour whanau.

One evening in the early 2008, I was invited to Parliament’s celebration of Chinese New Year. My job was to translate for Prime Minister Helen Clark. The Labour-led Government initiated the celebration in Parliament and this has so far become an annual event. My other mission was to get my nomination form completed.

The form was almost filled out one year earlier in 2007 where I was nominated as a list candidate for the 2008 general election. Being Labour’s first Chinese-born candidate (who’s from the mainland China), this was far more than a normal nomination form. I had the minister for ethnic affairs as my “proposer” and the Prime Minister and four other senior ministers as “seconder”: For any first-time nominee, those big names meant a lot!

Could not remember whose idea it was but my supporters and I felt so strongly that we wanted to get this form completed in the presence of our matua. We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to settle and live in New Zealand and we are deeply grateful to the Tangata whenua.

So immediately after the celebration I rushed to the Executive Wing. I rushed through the endless doors in Beehive trying to get hold of Parekura, the Minister for Maori Affairs. I nearly gave up because I must leave then to catch the last flight back to Auckland. All of sudden and out of nowhere, here came the giant Parekura! He barely knew me at that time but I must have presented myself well in the short space of one of two minutes. He laughed and spoke in his iconic humorous tone: “Ohkey boy, I’ll sign it for you”.

I subsequently sought permission from the General Secretary Mike Smith to keep the original form and submitted instead a certified copy. I cherished the nomination form then and will cherish it more now.

For a humble Chinese person who made New Zealand home, to have someone like Parekura witness my nomination form was more than being symbolic. We are deeply grateful to the Tangata whenua and Parekura was and will forever be our matua.

Since I’ve become an MP, we bumped into each other in the long corridors in Parliament from time to time. Each time he greeted me with a friendly “chief”. He even regarded me as one of his “browny bros” and supported me.

He’s our true chief. His wisdom, passion and humour are a guiding light for me and for us. 


Filed under: asian, ethnic, Labour Party
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Hands-off Government let export education drift

Posted by on March 19th, 2013

Lincoln Tan of the New Zealand Herald reports

A Ministry of Education report to be released this week is expected to show a 6 per cent drop in overall fee-paying student enrolment. The annual Migration Trends and Outlook, released last Friday, reported a 7 per cent drop in international student approvals to 68,980 – the lowest since 2008.

Of course it does not look good because the Government has been hands-off. It just let the sector grow when time is right or deteriorate when it is not, like the situations we are in now. No coordinated marketing, no leadership, no policy to give quality providers a boost and bad apples a boo.

The Labour list MP has a private member’s bill in the ballot that is seeking to tighten rules about small private schools having international or national titles in their business names.

The Bill has already generated some attention. For those who have not seen much of the Bill, here is the Q&A, which is self-explanatory.

 Education (Naming of Private Training Establishments) Amendment Bill Q & A

 1. Q: What is the purpose of this Bill?

 A: This Bill will stop misleading naming of PTEs and provide a boost to the image of the Export Education industry by ensuring that private training establishments (PTEs) are profiled correctly and accurately. The Bill will be one of the measures that are designed to promote NZ education providers collectively in the international market.

Currently there is minimal (and patched-up) regulation for the naming rights of PTEs which is causing great harm to our Export Education market in Asia and around the world. Many countries (particularly in Asia) have strict guidelines which reserve international, national or regional titles to reputable education providers whose names match their international, national or regional status. Therefore PTEs which boast regional or national titles in their names are attractive to Asian students and their families. However, a number of PTEs (although it is a relatively small number) in NZ have abused their naming rights and have created a credibility issue for the NZ Export Education system with the term ‘ghetto education’ being used in China and other countries to describe the state of the educational facilities in NZ, which is detrimental and unfair to the majority of the education providers in NZ.

This Bill will ensure that PTEs are profiled accurately and correctly and that New Zealand remains a top quality international education provider.

2. Q: Who is likely to benefit from this Bill?

A: The majority of New Zealand’s PTEs. This Bill is designed to protect them.

3. Q: Who is likely to be offended by this Bill?

A: A very small number of poor providers in the export education sector who are providing poor outcomes for students, flaunting the rules and damaging NZ’s overall reputation. The “ghetto education” – as so termed in overseas media – referred specifically to them.

4. Q: Will the Bill impose more regulation?

 A: No. This Bill seeks to help manage performance rather than impose more regulation.

 5. Q: Why this is a scaled-down version?

 A: The original Bill was drafted over a year ago and we have since undertaken consultation with the export education sector. We listened to them and have taken their advice. Generally speaking, under the current economic environment, the New Zealand export education sector needs help to compete with the UK, US, Canada and Australia who are seen as top quality international education providers.

The Bill in the current form deals with only one issue, which is the naming rights of PTEs.

The accurate and correct profiling of PTE’s will help promote the image and profile of NZ export education as a whole.

6. Q: Why does the Bill not cover border control in respect of the exemption for offshore education advisers providing advice on student visas and permits?

A: Two reasons: the loophole can easily be closed by removing the exemption by an Order in Council – this is the Government’s call and we urge the Government to seriously consider this.

Secondly, evidence shows that these issues were caused by a small number of poor providers. One of the reasons why these poor providers existed in the first place is that under the current legal regime they were allowed to profile themselves in an inaccurate (or passing off) manner and attract more international students to them than other providers who pay more attention to quality and sustainability of their establishment. Many of these poor providers are also aided by a “larger than usual” amount of commission paid to agents.

7. Q: Will this Bill impose any fiscal burden to the government?

A: No. This Bill will not cost a lot, if at all, to implement. With reliably profiled PTEs, we will attract more top-quality students to study in New Zealand. The flow-on effect will be felt throughout the country. So this Bill is good for NZ’s economy.

8. Q: Will this bill help prevent New Zealand from attracting the ‘bad’ students who tend to fall into trouble in NZ?

A: Yes. This bill will improve the level of export education in New Zealand which will have an instant flow on effect and lift the quality of international students attracted to study in New Zealand.

9. Q: What motivates you to write this Bill?

A: As Labour’s spokesperson for Export Education, my dream is to see New Zealand become a world leader in top-quality export education. As many international students do stay and become our residents after graduation it also goes deeper than just export education.

Because some of these students are our future New Zealanders – we must get it right from scratch and attract the best quality students to New Zealand.

10. Q: Isn’t it the case that no matter how good the Bill is it may not be drawn from the ballot and even if it does, it will likely be voted down?

A: True, but the Government will be forced to address the issue with more urgency.


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Why I voted this way?

Posted by on March 13th, 2013

[From 19:30 – 21:55, Wednesday, I made NINE attempts but still could not secure an opportunity to take a call at the Bill’s second reading. The following is what I wished to say:]

To those who have accused me of sitting on the fence at the Bill’s first reading, I say to them they were right. Because I was torn between two extreme and opposing views, and I found both views to be very convincing. I therefore decided not to vote at the Bill’s first reading.

Following steps of a rather informal consultation with my fellow Asian constituents, and also constituents of wider communities, I’ve now decided to vote in favour of this Bill, for the following reasons:

Firstly, I would like to quote David Do, who is New Zealand born, but of Chinese-Vietnamese descent. He told the Parliamentary Select Committee that it was wrong to simply imagine Kiwis of European descent supported gay marriage, while those of Asian or Pacific background opposed it. He said many people within immigrant families supported gay marriage, but could not speak out.  And he went on to say, and I quote:

“At least one thing that obviously unites the diverse Asian community is a desire to live free from discrimination, and to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, has the equal opportunity to succeed and live free lives.”

I believe it is very important for KiwiAsians to be informed, to be aware of the issues, so they can be knowledgeable participants in our democratic process. To be an informed participant, no matter how strongly they feel about the Bill – either for or against it – the decision is theirs and their decision should be respected.

To that extent I would like to thank Louisa Wall, Charles Chauvel and Asian Rainbow Community members especially David Do and Wai Ho for having their opinion pieces translated and published in the Asian media and having their voice heard. Because it is important that when, as a society, we make these far-reaching decisions, we also make sure that all the voices, and all the views, are heard in open dialogue.

Had I not followed such process and read some of the submissions from both sides, I would not be able to make up my mind now.

Secondly, we must look at how opinion on the marriage equality issue around the world is shifting quite rapidly at the moment.

Recently we have seen either voting in favour, or at least a major shift of opinion, in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Ireland. Support in the United States has gone from 25 % in 1996 to 53 % today.

Just a few weeks ago, our former Speaker, The Right Honorable Dr Lockwood Smith, stated how much he now regretted voting against homosexual law reform. And the Prime Minister John Key was quoted as indirectly indicating that he regrets voting against civil unions – he says he was following his electorate, not his own views.

Do we want to be on the wrong side of history? I’ve found the following statement is very convincing:

In 15 years’ time, new voters especially will struggle to understand how their local MP voted against allowing their friends who are happily married, to get married. It may be a bit like an MP in 1908 explaining to female voters why they were against them having a vote in 1893!”

As MP Nikki Kaye said in the first reading that New Zealand has a proud history of leading in issues of equality and passing a piece of legislation like this one will strengthen the rights and freedoms of a significant group of New Zealanders.

And I was also encouraged by Dr Paul Hutchison. At the first reading he spoke of his initial reticence but finally said he had not constructed strong enough intellectual, moral, health or even spiritual arguments against it. In the end it boiled down to the premise that all New Zealanders should have the right to civil marriage, irrespective of race, sex or gender.

I want to thank Young Labour, Young National and representatives from all other parties in Parliament for their contributions. It is rare and unprecedented that youth representatives from all eight parties in Parliament had come together to show their support for marriage equality.

Thirdly I want to express my sincere respect to those who remain opposed to this Bill. I want to thank the 204 people who sent letters to me and hundreds of others who emailed me and those who spoke to me about their strong views on why this Bill should not proceed.

I respect their views, and they can be assured I weighed up the opposing views very carefully. I salute my Labour colleagues Sua William Sio, Ross Robertson and Damien O’Connor for their courage and determination. Isn’t that wonderful that we live in this beautiful country where colleagues and everyone can express their different views and agree to disagree. That’s what democracy is all about!

I have decided not to sit on the fence because I am convinced that the issue is about equality, justice and human rights. And supporting these values tips the balance in favour of the Bill.

To conclude, I would like to quote a UK MP, a Conservative MP Nick Herbert:

“Are the marriages of millions of straight people about to be threatened because a few thousand gay people are permitted to join? Will they say: ‘Darling our marriage is over, because Sir Elton John has just become engaged to David Furnish’?”

The answer is obviously no. Neither will the institution of marriage become redundant when Lynda Topp marries her fiancée, Donna Luxton. To the contrary, we should be offering them our congratulations because marriage is about love and commitment, and this is the basis of any successful marriage.

Williamson stymies leaky building debate

Posted by on March 7th, 2013

First we hear from the Dominion Post that Building & Construction Minister Maurice Williamson ‘barely broke his stride’ to talk to reporters and dismiss the issue of his directorship of an air-conditioning company.

And now, in reply to my written parliamentary question, we find he gave just one speech in December relating to his Building & Construction portfolio.

This comes at a time when his Building Amendment Bill No 4 is before the House; a Bill with an isolated and piecemeal approach that totally fails to address the accountability issues of leaky buildings.

Labour agrees with the submitters; that if all the cogs are not aligned and working effectively, then the building control engine will fail. We cannot afford to have a repeat of the leaky building saga.

Surely these issues are worthy of more than just one speech a month? Isn’t it the Minister’s role to put the issues out there, to generate the widest possible awareness and encourage informed feedback?  Apparently not.

Perhaps his most telling answer was in reply to my question about what goals he had set himself and his officials to achieve in 2013. There was no reference to solving the leaking building problem in the reply at all.

Williamson goes through the motions

Posted by on February 28th, 2013

Minister Maurice Williamson’s uncoordinated and piecemeal approach to building law review will do little except create more crises in the industry, and more stress for affected home owners.

The Building Amendment Bill No 4, now before the House for the second reading, is another example of his need to be ‘seen’ doing something, rather than the introduction of the meaningful reforms urgently needed to avoid a repeat of the leaky building saga.

The Minister has repeatedly ignored submissions from consumers, building professionals and the city councils, as the building consenting authorities. Without a genuine reallocation of responsibility and accountability, as the submitters have proposed, these partial instalments introduced by this current Bill will create more problems than solutions.

Protection for consumers is further reduced under this Bill No.4. It fails to offer consumers any effective remedies when left in the lurch by the cynical collapsing of a $1 shell company, despite that fact that the building sector failure rate is higher than the rate for all businesses before 2003 and after 2008.

No effective measures were introduced to address products warranty, although it is widely accepted that the leaky building saga was primarily caused by the use of inappropriate building products or systems. It is also unclear what the implication is for competition between local and foreign product manufacturers.

As usual, many provisions are yet to be ‘prescribed’ or ‘determined’ by regulation, meaning the law will be ‘prescribed’ by officials, rather than voted in by elected representatives in an open and transparent process.

I agree to the analogy used by submitters that the building control engine will fail if all the cogs are not all aligned and working effectively. A weakness in any of the processes will impact on others and result in risks and crisis.

Building Amendment Bill (No 4) — Second Reading

Sitting date: 27 February 2013. Volume:687;Page:82.

RAYMOND HUO (Labour) : I would like to start by thanking the officials and submitters for their contributions, and in reply to the Minister for Building and Construction’s questions, I would like to name not one, not two, not three, but 47 submitters. Particularly, I would like to urge the Minister to read again the submissions from Hawkins Construction, the Home Owners and Buyers Association, the Auckland Council, the Wellington City Council, the Christchurch City Council, and Local Government New Zealand.

I should reiterate that we support some good initiatives under this bill, the Building Amendment Bill (No 4). In particular, we have no problem in supporting provisions in relation to dams. Being a member of the Local Government and Environment Committee I have learnt a lot about issues in relation to classifiable and referable dams. Indeed, if this bill focused specifically on dams, making it the “Building Amendment (Dams) Bill”, we would support it all the way through. In that regard I would like to thank submitters such as Genesis Energy, the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Meridian Energy, the New Zealand Society on Large Dams, etc., for their thorough submissions.

We did support the Building Amendment Bill (No 4) to go to the select committee. However, listening to submitters and reflecting on the bill and, more importantly, the piecemeal approach this National – ACT Government has taken has led us to the view that this bill should not proceed. Labour supports the building law review process but cannot support the piecemeal and isolated approach, and therefore the passage of this particular bill.

The bill is the second of two bills to implement the building law review policy decisions. The review found weaknesses in consumer protection and a need to better allocate responsibility and accountability among building consent authorities, building professionals, and consumers. Since the introduction of the No. 3 bill, now the Building Amendment Act 2012, we, together with a large number of submitters, have urged the Government repeatedly that “In the absence of a more genuine reallocation of accountability, for example, through mandatory home warranties, the introduction of proportionate liability, and mandatory insurance, all parties (consumers, building professionals, and building consent authorities) will continue to be financially exposed, even for defects not of their making.”

To be fair to the Minister, Maurice Williamson, he might have good reasons for ignoring those issues. One of them is that he had referred almost all important matters to the Law Commission for review, such as the liability models and issues regarding mandatory home warranties or insurance-backed surety—fair enough, and I supported and would continue to support the Minister in doing so. But the problem is that the partial instalment will cause uncertainty and create false hopes for parties in the building and construction sector. This indicates that the Government is not ready to introduce a comprehensive reform package needed to genuinely achieve its stated goal.

For the second term and in its fifth year all we got was nothing but publicity gimmicks. Let me quote something to reinforce my position: “It is important to ensure the proposals are developed as an integrated package with a number of equally important and interdependent processes … To borrow the analogy of the discussion document—the building control engine will fail if all the cogs are not aligned and working effectively. A weakness in any of the processes will impact on others and result in an inefficient regime that is unbalanced and ineffective … It is disappointed that the Bill has been put forward in relation to a relatively narrow range of matters, although it recognises that the Bill is one component of a wider reform programme that Cabinet has approved. In it’s view, it would be preferable to delay legislative amendments until a broad range of changes to the Act (identified as part of the current reform package) can be promoted and consulted in an integrated way.”

Where are the quotes from? From the Wellington City Council in its submission on the No. 3 bill. It is still valid because the Government is still taking the isolated and piecemeal approach. It is dangerous because if all these cogs are not aligned and working effectively, the building control engine will fail, and we cannot afford to have a repeat of the leaky building saga.

There are other issues I wish to touch upon at the bill’s second reading. Firstly, the purpose of this bill is to introduce enhanced and more comprehensive consumer protection measures. However, we note the frustration of some of the submitters and agree with them that the measures included under this bill provide no effective new protection for consumers. Rather, the protection the relevant parties now have is further reduced. I agree with those submitters, particularly structural engineer Mr John Scarry, that the explanatory note of this bill is misleading.

Secondly, regarding company failings, concerns were expressed about companies that are formed for the sole purpose of a single building project and then liquidated as soon as the work is completed, leaving no legal entity that can be directly held to account for defective work that is later discovered. The bill fails to offer consumers any effective remedies when left in the lurch by a $1 shell company, despite the fact that the building sector failure rate is higher than the rate for all businesses before 2003 and after 2008. Even legitimate contracting and subcontracting firms have often ceased to exist by the time defects have come to light.

Thirdly, regarding products warranty, we welcome an introduction of a responsibility provision for product manufacturers or suppliers. It is widely accepted that the leaky building saga was primarily caused by the use of inappropriate building products or systems, or incompetence in, or lack of adequate oversight of, their application. However, given the complexity of the issue, particularly where prescribed compliance with the building code is often difficult to establish, the provision in its current form fails to address the problem adequately. It is unclear what the implication is for competition between local and foreign product manufacturers.

Last but not least are drafting issues. There are drafting issues in terms of how provisions in this bill will be implemented. Many provisions in this bill are yet to be prescribed or determined by regulation. Without proper definition it is difficult to put the clauses into context, which hinders their interpretation and the implementation of the Act. It is unfortunate that in this time of a building sector crisis, New Zealanders are seeing an experienced Minister simply batting away critics rather than showing real leadership. Thank you.

Real reason for housing unaffordability

Posted by on February 1st, 2013

 A brilliant article by Bryan Gould in the NZ Herald (

 It actually deals with the real reason for housing unaffordability in NZ. 

A free market is supposed to match need with resources, but it’s pushed up house prices to insane levels.

 The huge increase in the money supply caused by inflated bank lending for non-productive housing seriously skews the whole economy.

The contrast between 1960 and today in terms of housing affordability is the result of a fundamental shift in policy.

 Yes, that says it all.

 In 1960, decent housing for all was seen as a social responsibility to be discharged by the community through its government or through co-operative arrangements. Today, confidence is reposed in the market to achieve this same outcome.

The evidence as to which is the better approach is surely conclusive; the market has – in this respect at least – failed.

 He is quite correct when he says that the banker PM’s Government blames everyone but the real culprit. 

In the case of unemployment, in other words, the fault is said to lie with the trade unions, notwithstanding their “small influence” – described by the Prime Minister as a principal reason (together with a tax gift of $67 million) for Warner Bros deigning to come here to make The Hobbit.

In the case of affordable housing, the villains are supposedly the local authorities. Again, the Government – and “free-market” theory – cannot, it seems, be blamed. In both cases, not only does the Government deny responsibility but they have conveniently found a scapegoat in those who do not share their political view.

Hands-off and Half-baked

Posted by on January 4th, 2013

NICOLE MATHEWSON reports in The Press (4 January 2013):

A proposal to shift to a 10-year census could seriously affect Christchurch’s recovery, critics say.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said in July 2011 the Government was considering holding the census once every decade.

Currently conducted every five years, the census helps determine electoral boundaries and funding for services like district health boards, schools and the police.

I agree with our Earthquake Recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel:

“Christchurch was already living with the consequences of a delayed census …I’d really want to see a good case put up for a delay. We’ve had the schools shake-up landed on the city without the benefit of knowledge about where the settlement patterns are going to fall and that’s wrong.”

Green’s Eugenie Sage cited as an example that one of the reasons for not closing Belfast’s Ouruhia School is potential roll growth from the Prestons and Belfast subdivisions. “Five-yearly census information will help confirm that.”

Labour statistics spokesman Raymond Huo said a 10-yearly census would reduce costs to Statistics New Zealand, but it was “not that straightforward”.

“I think Williamson’s idea is half-baked at best because it’s not that simple,” he said.

“The key drivers are cost constraints and the demand for more frequent detailed and accurate statistics. Particularly for the Christchurch area, we need more frequent and accurate data.”

Indeed. There are at least three issues as Statistics NZ noted:

  • Continuing cost increases (due to population growth and inflation);
  • Not keeping pace with potential cost savings arising from technological changes;
  • Increasing availability of administrative date.

NZ could learn a lot from international experience. Australia has developed its eCensus system and one of the goals for its 2016 census is to further increase internet uptake. At its 2011 census 34% of households completed forms online, already.

Canada is researching methodology options (based on existing administrative registers plus a full-enumeration field census with yearly updates).

France’s approach is unique: a full-enumeration of population and dwelling every five years plus 8% sample conducted every year in large municipalities. Date are released annually as moving averages.

US also changed census model. In 2010, its 10-yearly long-form census was replaced by ACS – a large annual survey of 3 million households.

Statistics NZ in its Transforming the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings: Issues, options, and strategy gave a detailed analysis of each option/approach.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson could simply read it and talk to his officials. His approach has so far been hands-off and his idea, half-baked.

Census 2013: Tuesday 5 March – collectors needed

Posted by on December 7th, 2012

 Statistic New Zealand has today announced they are looking for 7000 Census collectors for the 2013 Census.

What makes the 2013 Census even more important is the fact that the last one – planned for March, 2011 – did not go ahead due to the Christchurch earthquake in February of that year.

As a democratic society, the census is how we find out about who makes up our communities.  Comparing census information over time shows planners how the country is changing and allows them to forecast how it will change in the future. And this allows the Government to accurately target spending in areas such as health, education and infrastructure.

So the countdown has begun for the next census, to be held on Tuesday, 5 March 2013. This will involve the delivery and collection of census forms for an estimated 4.6 million people and 1.8 million dwellings. Everyone in New Zealand on census day must fill in a form.

A large team of census collectors will be needed. You will get two, half-day training sessions and up to six weeks of work, with flexible hours. You will need a car and mobile phone.   

More information about the jobs, including a job description and district maps, is available on the census jobs, site.

A glimmer of hope for leaky home owners

Posted by on November 21st, 2012

The Law Commission’s announcement today that it will revisit the ‘joint and several’ liability issue is to be welcomed, because it could have spin-offs for leaky home victims that are still being denied full compensation.

 The existing principle of ‘joint and several’ liability means where two or more people are liable for the same loss, then each defendant will be potentially liable for the whole of the loss.

 This principle has become very contentious, particularly where defendants in leaky homes cases argue they will only accept liability for their portion of the losses, and this seriously delays or stalls the whole process.

 So the Law Commission’s issues paper – discussing and calling for submissions on its Review of Joint and Several Liability – could be a trigger to get things moving – although it is unclear whether it applies retrospectively, which is a different matter.

We already know about the existing  ‘log-jam’ in settlements with the Financial Assistance Package. There have been reports that although 1232 owners had lodged expressions of interest by the end of September, only 35 claims were proceeding thus far and only 12 had received their final payments.

 The Law Commission is now seeking views on the options for reforming the system of liability, and also for the advantages of the status quo. The closing date for submissions is Thursday 31 January 2013. This media release and a copy of the publication is available from the Law Commission website at


National Crisis

Posted by on November 8th, 2012

New Zealand’s unemployment rate has now risen to a 13-year high. It last reached these heights in June 1999, when National was last in power.

“This is a national crisis,” as Council of Trade Unions Secretary Peter Conway bluntly describes it. “There are now 175,000 people unemployed, 294,900 jobless and over 113,000 people looking for more hours at work.  This means that we have 400,000 people out of work or looking for more work.”

Despite the spin-doctoring, this is the real story of National’s economic management. After four years in power, John Key is proving to be a disappointment.

In typical black-humour fashion, National MP Todd McClay raised a question in the House this afternoon, asking “what steps is the Government taking to support jobs as part of its programme to build a more productive and competitive economy?”

What steps, indeed… But this National-Act Government does not care about ordinary Kiwis. What they care about is their PR management. And that reminds me of a similar approach by Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross (and my ‘defending the indefensible’ reply) last week in the Howick & Botany Times…

Instead of enjoying the “brighter future” the National-Act Government have promised, more Kiwis are struggling, and going backwards, than ever before.

Job statistics released today make grim reading. Unemployment has increased to 7.3 per cent. In Auckland, unemployment is up from 7.3% to 8.6% – to a total of 65,300 – an increase of 9,900. John Key promised he would create 170,000 new jobs. Instead we have 175,000 people looking for work.

As Peter Conway put it… “These are not just numbers; they are people, and families. They deserve support and the government needs to give urgent attention to the jobs plight

Housing response a sham

Posted by on November 7th, 2012

I can understand why the Housing Crisis Action Group is planning to hold a protest at Parliament this afternoon against these drastic changes to the government’s social housing policy.

This has resulted in a severe loss of state housing across the country and meantime, the National-Act Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s housing affordability report does nothing to help struggling Kiwi families get into their first home.

As Labour’s Spokesperson on Housing, Hon Annette King, said on November 2nd, “There is nothing in National’s response today that will make housing more affordable. It will do nothing to put the missing rung of the housing ladder in place and give people a leg up to it. The Government is in denial and is condemning the housing sector to a path of decline.”

From the perspective of my Building and Construction portfolio, I note Productivity Commission Chief executive Murray Sherwin said back in December that the cost of building a new house in Auckland is 25 percent higher than Melbourne and Gold Coast, and the difference was “not due to the requirements of the building code’” yet so far, all we have heard from this Government are the clichés about how we must “reduce delays and costs of RMA processes” to supposedly get things moving.

Mr Sherwin also said materials account for 55 per cent of the cost of a new house, and they are “significantly cheaper” in Australia. Although part of that was due to the small size of the Kiwi market, a lack of standardised products, combined with high domestic transportation costs, had hiked building costs in New Zealand.

Clearly, any investigation along those lines would sound a bit too much like intervention for this market-driven National-Act Government.

It’s also interesting how Mr Sherwin’s suggestion that the Commerce Commission “can investigate’ complaints about businesses fixing prices, carving up markets or abusing market positions has also gone completely unanswered.

In fact, the National-Act Government’s response will do nothing to get struggling Kiwi families into their first home.

A hundred deaths and $3.5bl a year and finally, Williamson admits we have a problem….

Posted by on November 6th, 2012

The scale of the unsafe building practices revealed in a recent clampdown raises serious questions about why Maurice Williamson and his National-ACT Government have continued with such a nonchalant approach for so long.

The NZ Herald reported on November 2nd that since July, more than 400 actions have been taken against 760 construction sites for not complying with guidelines on safe working at height. Inspectors shut down 215 of the sites, and issued more than 160 written warnings requiring immediate remedial action.

While Building & Construction Minister Maurice Williamson finally admits there is a problem, this Government has had four years in office, and in the meantime, we’ve had an average of 100 deaths a year, with workplace injuries and fatalities reportedly costing New Zealand about $3.5 billion annually.

Translate that into the devastation caused to builders and their families, the lost productivity and the additional costs to ACC; these are not the standards we would expect of a developed nation.  Why should we accept that our construction workers are twice as likely to be killed or injured on the job, compared to workers on a site in the United Kingdom?

At the heart of the problem is this ‘hands off’ approach by a Government that imagines the market will sort somehow out its own problems.

It hasn’t worked in the mining industry, and it’s not working in the construction industry.

Labour believes we have to get back to having equal opportunities for all Kiwis; we do not accept that lowering our health and safety performance for some sectors is necessary for economic recovery.

With the Christchurch rebuild starting and the Government  now at least talking about the Auckland housing crisis, keeping workers safe must become a recognised priority for all parties involved.



Supreme Court decision a wake-up call

Posted by on October 18th, 2012

The Supreme Court’s decision [11 Oct 12] giving non-residential building owners the right to sue their councils over defective work has reinforced the view that the Building Act review should be taking a wider look at those issues.

A majority of the Supreme Court in the Spencer on Byron case held that the council owes a duty of care to the owners of all buildings, irrespective of whether the buildings are residential or non-residential, in relation to its statutory functions under the Building Act 1991.

Unfortunately, the National-Act Government in its Building Act review has continued to take a narrow and piecemeal approach and failed its stated goals of “rebalancing responsibility and accountability among building consent authorities, building professionals and consumers.”

The Building Act – as its title suggests – is meant to cover all of the infrastructure, commercial and industrial buildings and structures in this country. However, Minister for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson seemed to be obsessed with “homes” or “dwelling units” and confined the definition of “buildings” to that of “residential buildings”. This is misleading in terms of “Building Act review”.

Chief Justice Elias also noted in the decision that the Building Act 1991 itself draws no distinction between residential and commercial buildings.

The Building Act review, initiated by the last Labour Government, has gained cross party support. But Mr Williamson missed the opportunity to have those fundamental issues addressed and decided instead to take a piecemeal approach by introducing inadequate measures and partial instalments. As a result, the level of protection for every party involved is reduced.

Mr Williamson may have a perfect excuse that both matters of insurance-backed warranty and joint and several liability vis-à-vis proportionate liability were referred to the Law Commission for review. This indicates that the National-Act Government is not ready to introduce a comprehensive reform package needed to genuinely achieve its stated goals. Nor has the Government demonstrated that it understands the actual design, construction and consenting process for dwelling units or commercial buildings.

This is further evidence that the Government has lost its way in the Building Act review.  To avoid a repeat of the leaky building saga and to restore confidence in our building sector, a piece of clear, concise and competent building legislation is desperately needed.”

However, the two Bills (#3 &4) Mr Williamson introduced fell well short of addressing those issues. They are gimmick and the partial instalments will cause uncertainty and create false hopes for parties in the building and construction sector.

While the country is waiting, all parties – consumers, building professionals and building consent authorities/ratepayers – will continue to be financially exposed, even for defects not of their making. “


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Boost needed for Export Education

Posted by on October 5th, 2012

Export education is the smart, green and sustainable way to grow our economy.

Since being initiated in 1989 by the Labour Government, the export education sector has grown substantially to now be worth $2.3 billion P/A.

On the surface this sounds good but dig deeper and the statistics and media reports make for grim reading.

A small number of providers provide bad outcomes for students by abusing their naming rights, flouting the rules and damaging New Zealand’s overall export education reputation.

My Private Members Bill, the Education (Naming of Private Training Establishments) Amendment Bill will go to the root of the problem and ensure that all education providers are profiled in a way that accurately reflects the size and quality of their learning establishment.

This will serve to protect the majority of education providers and help make New Zealand a top quality export education destination which will compete effectively against the United Kingdom, Australia, United States and Canada.

Please find below a FAQ on my bill:

Education (Naming of Private Training Establishments) Amendment Bill Q & A

1. Q: What is the purpose of this Bill?

A: This Bill will stop misleading naming of PTEs and provide a boost to the image of the Export Education industry by ensuring that private training establishments (PTEs) are profiled correctly and accurately. The Bill will be one of the measures that are designed to promote NZ education providers collectively in the international market.

Currently there is minimal (and patched-up) regulation for the naming rights of PTEs which is causing great harm to our Export Education market in Asia and around the world. Many countries (particularly in Asia) have strict guidelines which reserve international, national or regional titles to reputable education providers whose names match their international, national or regional status. Therefore PTEs which boast regional or national titles in their names are attractive to Asian students and their families. However, a number of PTEs (although it is a relatively small number) in NZ have abused their naming rights and have created a credibility issue for the NZ Export Education system with the term ‘ghetto education’ being used in China and other countries to describe the state of the educational facilities in NZ, which is detrimental and unfair to the majority of the education providers in NZ.

This Bill will ensure that PTEs are profiled accurately and correctly and that New Zealand remains a top quality international education provider. (more…)