Abortion u-turn, housing pivot: Chris Luxon's first day as leader

Author
Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Dec 2021, 6:17PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Abortion u-turn, housing pivot: Chris Luxon's first day as leader

Author
Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Dec 2021, 6:17PM

Chris Luxon had a busy first full day as National leader fronting morning media, being interviewed for 6pm news, not to mention the policy stuff, like reversing a controversial abortion vote and preparing for a possible showdown with Labour on housing reform. 

He began the day with a roar: fronting radio and television to highlight his new style of leadership. 

Luxon decided to reverse a previous vote on abortion law reform. He was one of just 15 MPs to vote against a bill banning protest in "safe areas" outside abortion clinics. 

He's now said, following changes to that bill, he'll vote for it at second reading. 

He also promised a reshuffle, to be unveiled on Sunday. The details of that reshuffle will be drawn up over the next couple of days. 

The wider National Party is keen to capitalise on the hope Luxon can draw a line on four chaotic years in opposition; on Wednesday evening, President Peter Goodfellow emailed supporters asking them to open their chequebooks and donate to support the new regime: "we have a chance to start afresh,' he said. 

The biggest policy question mark is over Labour and National's bipartisan housing deal, following the election of Luxon as National's new leader. 

The deal promised to allow the building of a minimum of 48,000 and as many as 105,000 additional homes by 2028. The way it would do this is by allowing property owners to build three homes up to three stories tall on most sites. 

Both Labour and National, having wrestled for decades with balancing the concerns of people wanting to get on the property ladder with those who want to block development in their neighbourhoods, tied their fortunes together and backed the bill which will implement the changes. 

Now under new leadership, National says it would like to revisit the policy. 

This is not in itself a reset. The bill that gives effect to the new rules is currently in select committee and due back tomorrow. 

Negotiating the text of that report with Labour MPs, and deciding whether both parties can continue to back the reforms is Luxon's first real policy test as leader. 

National had already committed to amending the legislation. 

Last week, housing spokeswoman Nicola Willis, not yet the party's deputy leader, said "there have been a number of issues raised as was expected". 

And that she expected "there will be a number of constructive amendments to address a number of those issues". 

Following the change of leadership, both Willis and Luxon clarified the kind of changes National is thinking about. 

They fall into two camps: 

"One is around building design standards - that's things like height ratios, and those sorts of things," Luxon told the Herald. 

"The second thing is giving more discretion to local governments for how they do intensification," he said. 

The question looming over these suggestions is whether amending the bill along those lines will neuter the bill and render it ineffective, solving National's political problem, but at the cost of not fixing the housing crisis. 
 
The other question is whether Labour will agree to National's changes. 

With its majority, Labour has no legislative need to keep the deal with National, but allowing the party to drop out of the deal could expose Labour to the kinds of political attacks it was trying to avoid. 

The Herald first reported on National MPs' discomfort with the bill in early November. 

But when these concerns were put to Collins, then the leader, she did not seem overly sympathetic to the idea of backing down. 

Collins baulked at the suggestion of new design standards. 

"Has he looked at some of the housing that his planners have approved in my electorate," Collins said of Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. 

"He's approved an awful lot of ugly housing, and by the way - what's really ugly is people having nowhere to be, nowhere to stay," she said.