Rachel Smalley: National is stealing Labour's thunder

Rachel Smalley,
Publish Date
Thursday, 9 February 2017, 6:47AM
Labour needs to get cracking if it wants to contest this year's election, Rachel Smalley says (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
Labour needs to get cracking if it wants to contest this year's election, Rachel Smalley says (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

If Labour's to contest this election, the party might want to get cracking and get some policy out there.

At the moment National is routinely stealing Labour's thunder, trodding all over the party and in some cases, stealing what traditionally would be Labour party policies.

Labour promised 1000 more police. National went one better, promising around 1,250, albeit over four years.

Pay equity. The government's accepted the process by which pay equity claims can be heard. That's cause for celebration for many, not least the unions.

Medicinal marijuana. Suddenly, in election year, and in the wake of the late Helen Kelly's lobbying for fair access to the drug, the prescription laws have been loosened.

National's upped the refugee quota too, by 250. Not enough in the opinion of some humanitarian agencies, but enough to be seen to be doing something in the current climate.

You'll remember too, National increased working for families - they raised benefit rates for families with children by $25 a week. Inflation-adjustments aside, that was the first increase in benefits since 1977.

Remember too, mid last year, Steven Joyce did an about-turn and said the government would no longer take a $92 million dividend from Housing New Zealand. Instead, National would build more state houses.

That was a bolter. And Labour would argue, a direct hit on their policy which wouldn't require Housing New Zealand to be profitable.

They introduced the brightline test too - investment properties flicked off within two years would trigger a capital gains tax.

And there was a limp-wristed attempt to monitor foreign buyer levels too. It was designed to placate the public and to a certain degree Labour, but requiring foreign buyers to register with the IRD doesn't give an accurate picture of the level of foreign buyers.

It excludes trusts. It excludes foreigners who sell to foreigners. Overseas buyers can purchase properties through their children studying here, etc.

All of this said, National's great failing is housing. We just shouldn't be in the mess we're in. They've been in government for 8 years and they're still banging on about it being an issue of supply - which it is - but progress has been hindered by a number of issues, not least a dysfunctional relationship between central and local government in Auckland. Labour has tried, but failed to use this to their advantage.

Of course, Labour doesn't have a mortgage on any of these policies. But they are policies that would traditionally be on the call-card of the left.

And so what is Labour left to politic on? What will be Labour's big election 2017 policy? And how can they position that policy or policies so that National can't steal them out from underneath them?

Labour's running out of options and running out of time. What's left? What can they campaign on? Rising inequality? Child poverty? Will they have another go at housing?

It's anyone's guess really, and possibly Labour's still trying to guess too.

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