Anatomy of a ‘housing scoop’

0
346

Report by NewsroomPlus.com

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.36.41 am
Credit where credit’s due. TV3’s crew on The Nation do a great job in helping set the news agenda for the week – essentially part of their remit given the nature of the news cycle, and ditto TVNZ’s Q+A. 

There is barely anything that brings a smile to the face of a current affairs reporter more quickly than finding any form of hand grenade with the pin still intact. One of The Nation’s weapons – you could never call him a hidden weapon – is that master of the staccato, Pattrick (Paddy) Gower. The delivery of another ‘exclusive’ on Saturday received the full treatment, or at least as much of a treatment as could be squeezed into a five minute scoop.

The premise of the scoop about the Government’s flagship policy on state housing, was sound enough.

Paddy: “It can now be revealed the houses could be sold to [pause for dramatic effect, but with no apparent exclamation..] Australia”.

If you read the full transcript below, as compiled by NewsRoom_Plus, you’ll be able to follow the careful paint-by-numbers crafting of the scoop, along with some syllogisms along the way:

  1. First the tease – a potential buyer for state house has emerged.
    .
  2. It wants to sell to “private providers”. Are charities private providers? Is it right to use the word corporation for a charity?
    .
  3. Amp up the angle from a single, successful and well-regarded Australian charity looking at the process Treasury is running to sell housing stock – that is, the deeper context that five minutes can’t cope with –  to ask “Will you allow Australians to buy New Zealand state houses?”
  4. Validate there is an interested ‘buyer’ called Horizon Housing.
    .
  5. Validate the Government is “interested in doing business with them”. For emphasis and effect note that this isn’t just business time, it’s “serious business”.
    .
  6. Bend the logic just a tad and intimate the houses are “going offshore”. Mere semantics.
    .
  7. Underscore and get the ball rolling on the ‘wrongness’ of this with throws to Andrew Little, and Metiria Turei. With Winston Peters to follow as added punch.
    .
  8. Set up an antagonist or some form of friction, if there is one, for good measure – Iwi aren’t playing ball, cut to soundbite that indicates the view that the market value of problematic houses – remembering Mr English says it’s meant to be about the tenants most of all, not the houses – would, as a starting point, be zero.
    .
  9.  Flag the importance of the news with two key words to leave the audience with … “extremely controversial”, before trailing off with factual details of the process that’s underway.

No ripples, no story

When a story like this ‘breaks’, it’s generally a clarion signal to arms for political parties and other opposition groups, whereas the rush to release press statements at the weekend, and today, went in a moderate trickle like this:

 Saturday 27 June

  • 10.39 am – Green Party – Don’t sell our state houses to the Aussies, Mr English!
  • 10.45 am – NZ First – National to put State Houses and taxpayer dollars in overseas hands
  • 10.52 am – Labour Party – English wants to flog state houses to Aussies

Sunday 28 June

  • 10.05 am – State Housing Action Network -Shameless Desperation in proposed State House selloff to Australia

Monday 29 June 

  • 6.42 am – State Housing Action Network – Australians warned off buying New Zealand state houses
  • 12.46 pm – NZ First – State house sell-off to benefit Australia’s less well off

Having also kept a close eye on the Government’s planned sale of state houses, it’s easy to imagine that the Government might well have welcomed yet another potential source of confusion and diversion entering the picture. And the Prime Minister’s interview with Morning Report’s Guyon Espiner this morning – transcript below – wasn’t about adding lots of clarity.

After all who doesn’t like a story that gets turned into a minor beat up, not to mention stirring up some faux anti-Australian cards that could play into your hand?

Is there a voice of reason in this?

Scott Figenshow, the US-born executive director of Community Housing Aotearoa (CHA), was a go-to for radio at RNZ and Newstalk today and had some good points worth extrapolating:

  • If there is going to be any twisting of the idea of organisations with international links it’s true that Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army aren’t unique to New Zealand
  • The difference is both of those organisations aren’t unknown, overseas providers – they have long histories here of delivering community outcomes
  • The Salvation Army  signalled they want to work in partnerships not alone, nor did they ask to be pushed out
  • The process has some months to run yet and people should read documents like the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) Market Information and Feedback Discussion Document of 17 June out of Treasury to get up to speed
  • Anyone bagging the Iwi Chairs Forum stance on a nil-consideration transfer for housing stock, just doesn’t get the investment ‘gap’ to take “old, cold and mouldy” housing and convert it to better housing and better communities
  • There are two loopholes that are being ignored in the current Community Housing regulations – one of them is the door is being left open to organisations that aren’t Not-for Profit or Not-for Dividend entities (something Horizons Housing is) and the door hasn’t been shut to organisations not based in New Zealand (something Horizons Housing can’t see it is.. yet).

Figenshow can be a good advocate. He’s dead right that the state of the ‘third sector’ of housing in New Zealand – state housing, social housing, community housing – is the poor cousin not just in terms of funding, but the way that the regulatory and policy environment has been stop-start, start-stop, and then – now supposedly – stop-start.

Unfortunately insisting that the environment we’re in needs to be spoken about as ‘transfers’ not ‘sales’ isn’t going to win the dominant narrative stakes as theyr’e currently being framed – either by soundbite-seeking pollies or by the media.

Figenshow and others in the sector, many of whom aren’t always being put on the airwaves, know full well too that for a long time Australia’s social housing environment has been seen as a virtual nirvana compared to the entirely sub-scale, stop-start nature of things here.

Has Government – successive governments by the way – shown a lack of clarity. Yep, but that doesn’t mean the shortcomings sit just with the politicians.

It’s fair of Figenshow to object to the risk of “replication” if a Horizon Housing did enter the ‘market’, but outside of rare urban exemplars like Wellington City Council’s housing programme, what is there that is in danger of being replicated at scale? (Not including, which is the real tragedy in all this, Housing NZ).

Let’s not be disingenuous

It would be disingenuous to deny the fact that organisations like Horizon Housing have a strong record of success. It would be ignorant not to acknowledge that they are the very organisations that Housing New Zealand and the community housing sector have been ‘reverse scoping’ almost constantly in recent years, including trips organised with the help of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.

It can’t be a surprise, let alone a shock, that the door might swing this way.

All of which makes it ironic that another of this Government’s major chess pieces – the Minister of Everything, Steven Joyce – just happens to be across at a meeting with our CER partner Australia today.

What’s he doing in Sydney, apart (I can just hear Paddy Gower saying this) from not hiring expensive cars for the day?

Well he’s attending at speaking at none other than the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Major Projects Symposium, with the express purpose of promote New Zealand as an investment destination. And if you’re looking to locate just how this is relevant to housing and social housing in particular just go to http://www.infrastructure.org.au/Search.aspx and enter the word housing.

It’s a sure bet that the next time Messrs Key, English and Joyce – oh, yes and Minister for Social Housing Paula Bennett – get together, there will be plenty of notes to swap about applying international lessons to providing social housing for low-income New Zealanders.

“Social bonds, social housing and Serco sounds like a good combination doesn’t it?”

Contributed by Stephen Olsen – in recent times before joining NewsRoom_Plus, Stephen worked for both CHA and the Australasian Housing Institute in dual part-time positions as a communications manager and publications editor. While working at CHA he designed the Doorways2Housing campaign and co-produced a video production about housing in West Auckland called the Outrageous Bus Tour

_____________________________________

TV3 – The Nation – Saturday 27 June

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.45.08 am

The Government appears to be changing its approach to its flagship policy of selling off state houses. It is now talking about leasing properties rather than selling them to community providers. And there’s interest from at least one overseas player – the Australian non-profit Horizon Housing.

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 6.08.37 pm

Lisa Collins: This year we’ve been keeping a close eye on the Government’s planned sale of state houses. That took another step this week as Treasury held meetings around the country with potential buyers, gauging the level of interest and getting feedback. From those meetings The Nation has learnt two things – the Government is radically changing its approach and a new potential buyer has emerged. Patrick Gower with this exclusive report.

Gower voiceover (visuals driving by state houses): New Zealand state houses – the Government has put them on the block. It wants to sell a lot to private providers because it believes they’ll do a better job. A big idea put forward in this year’s State of the Nation speech.

Footage of John Key delivering speech: So we’re taking a very different approach to provide quality social housing for New Zealanders who need it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 6.09.15 pm

Gower voiceover (visuals including Sydney Opera Hose, Australian flag): A different approach is right. The buyers were initially meant to be community groups like the Salvation Army. But get this. This is really different. It can now be revealed the houses could be sold to.. Australia.

Gower to Bill English: Will you allow Australians to buy New Zealand state houses?

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 6.11.29 pm

Bill English, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance: Yeah that’s possible.

Gower voiceover : And there’s already a keen buyer. Horizon Housing. It provides community housing in Australia, and has been in New Zealand scoping our stock this week.

Audio of Horizon Housing CEO Jason Cubit speaking from Brisbane: So far it looks interesting to us. Now we’d like to expand our business because we’re good at it. We’re normally very viable and we can hopefully make some surpluses and reinvest it back into the New Zealand economy.

Gower voiceover: Bill English keen to do business.

English to Gower: If they can register as a community housing provider, they have to be able to meet the criteria. Ahh if they’ve got expertise, particularly in larger scale operation of owning lots of properties. Ahh then we’re interested in doing business with them.

Gower voiceover: If Horizon gets involved it will do some serious business.

Jason Cubit: We’d need hundreds to consider doing it. Three, four, five hundred would be a minimum. We’re good at what we do and that’s why we’re interested.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.30.53 am

Gower voiceover: The Government wants to sell 1000 to 2000 houses this year. And Horizon Housing is prepared to buy four to five hundred state houses minimum. That’s at least a quarter of what’s on offer potentially going offshore – across the Tasman.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.30.14 am

Cut to Labour Party leader Andrew Little: This is not what taxpayers expect their taxpayer dollars to be used for. To line the pockets of an Australian organisation for the housing needs of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.

Cut to Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei: They are so desperate to rid themselves of the housing stock, they will go to any lengths to do it, including selling off to Australian agencies.

Gower to English: This is a long way isn’t it, from the Salvation Army owning these houses to some Australian .. corporation essentially, owning them.

English: I don’t think it’s a long way at all. We’re looking for people who can help us get a better result for our tenants.

Gower voiceover: Horizon manages 2,600 homes and has a property portfolio worth $100 million. In Queensland and New South Wales it is a not-for-profit. It puts its profits back into its services.

English: We’re not ruling out bidders or community housing providers just because they have some Australian content. In fact the banks who are going to be participating in this are largely Australian owned banks.

Cut to Winston Peters: This comes way out of left field. It shows how desperate they are.

Gower voiceover: English is even prepared to sell to other countries too.

English: I’d be pretty surprised if there are others. Possibly the UK where there’s a lot more experience in doing social housing.

Gower voiceover: The houses are New Zealand assets. The whole idea of the Government’s policy is that the community housing providers will do a better job than Housing New Zealand.

English: There has been quite a lot of taxpayers’ money go into these houses but in the end the tenants are more important than the houses.

Gower voiceover: The Australian interest will be welcomed by the Government because, it isn’t going well. The Salvation Army pulled out, and Iwi have put in a low-ball offer.

Cut to interview with Haami Piripi, of the Iwi Chairs Forum, from previous episode of The Nation:
Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.39.44 amPiripi: We would argue that the market price is zero.
Lisa Collins: So are you saying, just to be clear, that if you take this on, iwi wants the houses for free?

Piripi: That would be our starting point.

Gower voiceover: And the Government has had to adapt. It is now talking about leasing properties, rather than selling them.

Gower to English: It looks like a back down on your major policy.

English: Well no it isn’t. We’d probably prefer sales. Ahh if there’s an opportunity though, that’s going to work for tenants that involves leasing then we wouldn’t want to rule that out.

Cut to Andrew Little: It’s a Government that’s desperate to make a plan that can’t work so far, to work. They’re looking for any body who’s going to take it up.

Gower to camera: Nobody expected these houses to be sold to foreign buyers. Because there was absolutely no mention, not a hint, from the Government that this would happen. Yes the Australian buyer has the expertise to do the job, but that won’t stop this from being extremely controversial.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.49.02 am

Gower voiceover: So a real sales job coming up for English.

Closeout by Lisa Collins: And great work behind the scenes form Torben Akel, Catherine Walbridge and Brook Sabin on that piece. Now the Government will seek expressions of interest from those keen on buying or leasing those houses in September and October. And the successful bidders will be announced next April.

_____________________________________

Radio New Zealand – Morning Report – Monday 29 June

This morning, Guyon Espiner interviews John Key about the possibility of state houses being snapped up by an Australian housing provider, Horizon Housing:

Prime Minister John Key: Remember what we’re doing here (is to) increase the stock of houses provided by social housing providers. So if you buy them on the basis that we’re selling them, you just can’t knock them over for instance and build a whole lot of private sector homes. So everybody agrees I think we need more of them because there’s clearly a demand. People agree that they need to continue to be improved and maintained in good order. So this outfit as I understand it, and I don’t know a huge amount about them, but they’re a charity in Queensland and they are a community housing provider. So on the basis that they’re going to simply buy these properties, maintain them and ensure that they’re well looked after, and provide the other services they provide I’d say it’s not a bad fit.

Espiner: So how does it improve the housing needs of low-income New Zealanders to have Australians owning the houses?

Key: I don’t think it matters whether they’re Australian. The issue that matters is are they in the business we’ve been talking about, in other words are they community housing providers, social housing providers. So the way it benefits us is that these are homes in areas where we think that they’re somewhat more superfluous to our requirements and that frees up capital, and then that capital can then be used say, for instance, as part of, you know, developments that we’re doing for affordable housing and the like.

Espiner: Wasn’t part of the argument that the Government wasn’t as responsive, and didn’t have the expertise and the local links to the community – so that’s why you were talking about, and the conversation has been about iwi, the Salvation Army, and other charities and groups in New Zealand who have real links into society and may be able to look after these people better…

Key: Well I would have thought that (they’re) likely to be the dominant purchasers. It’s very difficult to know of course because we’re just going through a process, but..

Espiner: .. but this is roughly a quarter of the homes that you’ve got for sale, if it is four or five hundred…

Key: Yeah, I mean ultimately let’s wait and see. As I said I don’t know a tremendous amount about them, and you know it’s one thing for someone to come over and show interest, and for the Minister of Finance to say well look in principle, theoretically they could fit the criteria. (Now we have to) see if they’ll actually go through it, but the purpose I would have thought if this outfit buys (houses) is for them to satisfy themselves that they can add value, because ultimately the provision of social housing, there is some money in that, but it’s um not the most lucrative thing in the world. I don’t know what other services they can or want to provide.

Espiner: But surely the idea was, as I said, to have local expertise and local engagement with these people. They offer none of that.

Key: We don’t entirely know all of those other details, I certainly don’t know yet. My point would simply be that, firstly, let’s go back to base one. What’s our core objective, that there are more social houses, we’re certainly going to fulfil that. Secondly there may well be advantages of social housing providers, with the links or different services they can provide, (which we) can’t rule out here (as I) don’t know what other things they particularly do. And thirdly … it’s all relative, if not them then maybe someone else is interested – maybe they’re not… that’s the final tendering process I guess that the Crown has got to go through. Ultimately someone will be selected, hopefully on what they bring to the table.

Espiner: It looks a little desperate though. You talked about the Sallies, they weren’t interested. Iwi wanted the houses for nothing, that presumably isn’t a goer. And now we’ve got the Aussies saying well we could do it.

Key: I don’t think that’s right. What it shows you is that there are international players who are involved in this sort of thing, and in this case they’re a charity in Australia. Quite what their interests in New Zealand would be, I don’t know. But maybe they’ve got wider actions here, I mean, there are lots of charities in New Zealand that have significant international linkages. It’s not unsual. Many of them are international charities that have an outpost if you like, or a posting, in New Zealand. Let’s kind of wait and see, but you know we don’t say that Greenpeace can’t offer or play a role in New Zealand simply because they have a big international footprint, and New Zealand’s not their head office.

Espiner: But they’re an advocacy group aren’t they, that’s hardly the same as providing social housing for low-income New Zealanders.

Key: There are other charities that operate in New Zealand and social providers that operate in New Zealand and also operate internationally.

ENDS

SHARE

Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues.
Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia’s FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

NO COMMENTS