English denies homelessness announcement 'inappropriate'

Author
Claire Trevett,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Thursday, 31 August 2017, 12:11PM
Prime Minister Bill English (Photo - NZME)
Prime Minister Bill English (Photo - NZME)

PM Bill English is unrepentant about Labour MP Grant Robertson's claim that it was inappropriate to be making Government announcements during the election campaign.

Robertson said the Cabinet Manual warned of the need to be careful around the announcements made during a campaign, distinguishing between official Government announcements and party policy announcements.

Yesterday English announced a further rollout of the ultrafast broadband package as Government policy and today it was further places for homelessness under Housing First and $27 million funding toward a $78 million Auckland City Mission development.

English said the government had a right to govern and in the case of the homelessness announcements "a moral compulsion to keep on with the work."

"People are sleeping rough, we are not going to wait round for the delicacies of an election campaign to hold up what could take another three, four, five months to get back to the job."

He denied he was trying to box Labour into a corner by trying to force them to sign up to National's decisions on spending.

"This is the job of Government, to get on with it. We've been criticised for some time for not doing enough, and now you're criticising us for doing too much."

He said the decisions had already been made and negotiations undertaken and the Government had every right to announce them.

Asked if it had deliberately waited for the election campaign to announce them, he said "the cynics have spent a lot more time saying the Government has done nothing about homelessness. And they're wrong."

He said the funding for the Auckland City Mission project was effectively signed off in the 2016 Budget and the Housing First places were funded in the 2017 Budget.

He said they could not be announced earlier because the contract negotiations had taken until now.

After making the announcement on homelessness, English is visiting a mall in West Auckland for a walkabout before another engagement in the Helensville electorate. He will then spend the afternoon preparing for the first head to head debate with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern on TV One tonight.

Ardern's only public outing was at about 9.30 this morning and the rest of her day was dedicated to what will be her first debate as leader.

English said Ardern was a new leader and a competent politician. "The voters will decide what sort of an opponent she is."

He said he would be emphasising National's track record, policies and its determination to "crack into some of these long-standing social problems."

It is understood the stand-ins for Ardern during English's debate preparation have included MP Chris Bishop and Wellington Central candidate Nicola Willis, both experienced debaters of Ardern's generation.

He said Nikki Kaye had not taken part - but pointed out Kaye had beaten Ardern twice in the Auckland Central electorate - perhaps taking heart that it was not an impossible feat.

Asked what his style was if Ardern's was the self-proclaimed 'relentless positivity," he said "getting things done."

"Our main focus has been not so much on the theatre of the debate, it's around the substance of the policy that this Government is rolling out."

Willis was a speech writer and advisor to former Prime Minister John Key. English said most of his preparation had been in talking to people around the country about what was on their minds and putting National's plans to them.

While Key was superstitious and wore lucky cufflinks, English said he had not borrowed them. "He never lets go of his lucky cufflinks. I don't need luck the same way he does."

He would wear a new tie.

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