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Shearer defends policy-free speech

Monday 28 Jan 2013 9:52 a.m.

Labour leader David Shearer has dismissed criticism of his 'state of the nation' speech that it didn't contain any new policy.

Mr Shearer spoke yesterday at the Wainuiomata Rugby Club, talking about the need for a "hands-on" government that backs hard-working Kiwis doing their bit.

"It was just about setting out what our agenda is for the coming year, and yes, it is about getting out our ideas and policies as the year goes on, it wasn't about doing it today," Mr Shearer told Firstline this morning.

"As I've gone around the country, over and over people have come up to me and said, 'Look, I'm working hard, I'm paying my taxes, doing all the right things, but actually nobody's backing me, I feel nobody's standing up for me,' and that was really about 'I'm standing up for you.'"

Finance Minister Bill English said the speech was high on slogans and low on policy.

"Six weeks over summer to think about new policy, and Labour comes up with precisely nothing," he said yesterday.

"He says that he wants to be hands-on, and yet opposes every hands-on move National is making to encourage investment and growth."

In his own 'state of the nation' address on Friday, Prime Minister John Key said the Government would tackle housing affordability by amending the Resource Management Act (RMA) and forcing councils to free up land.

Mr Shearer however says the Government's "hands-off" approach "won't get young Kiwis into their own home", which is why the Government needs to get more involved.

"I believe that we should be building houses – that's not the Government building houses, it's the private sector – obviously builders build houses. But what the Government can do is to make that happen. We can stand back and we can twiddle with the RMA, or blame councils as this government is doing, but it won't get young Kiwis into their own home.

"We have to step in and actually do something."

Labour's KiwiBuild plan is to build 100,000 extra new houses over the next 10 years, for around $300,000 each. This, Mr Shearer says, will help young families buy their first home.

"We're only building just over 10,000 homes a year, and about five or six years ago we were building 32,000, 33,000 homes a year," he told Firstline this morning.

"That big gap in the market is why house prices are going up – there is simply an undersupply and an overdemand, and we need to be able to get in there.

"Only 5 percent of the houses being built in Auckland, for example, are in the affordable range."

He says the Government's plan of freeing up land won't change a thing.

"This government has sort of said, 'We're going to step back, leave it to the market and somehow we'll all sort of muddle through. Look, those days are gone. If we want to be able to get ahead as a country and do things for our people, we have to have a Government that is hands-on and not hands-off, and that's why we believe the Government is in the best position to be able to make housing affordability something that young Kiwis can actually afford to get into."

Criticism of KiwiBuild hasn't just come from the right, however. Left-leaning political commentator Chris Trotter says Labour's plan is just a "sop to the restive children of the middle class".

"The Greens' [housing policy] is actually targeted at people who don't have homes, which is you would have thought perhaps where Labour would have gone first," he told Firstline this morning.

APPRENTICE SCHEME TOO LATE, SAYS LABOUR

Mr Shearer also criticised the Government's apprenticeship scheme, which was announced in Mr Key's speech on Friday.

From April 1 an apprentice in the construction industry will get $2000, as will their employer. Apprentices and employers in other trades will get $1000. These bonuses only apply to the first 10,000 who sign up, however.

The Government says it expects to sign up around 14,000 new apprentices in the next five years, primarily to assist with the Christchurch rebuild.

But this is too little, too late, according to Labour.

"The Government needed to actually step in – with wartime urgency – and actually start training apprentices, not wait four years [sic] down the track."

"Four years ago we had 20 percent more apprentices out there than we have today," says Mr Shearer.

"We have Christchurch that needs to be rebuilt, and the Government has said the market will decide when we need apprentices, and when we need more people to build."

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