Simon O'Connor March 23, 2021
Well, it has been an exceptionally busy few weeks, both here in the electorate and in parliament. I‘d like to draw your attention to a few things happening lately, including a local public meeting I am holding tomorrow night.
LOCAL CRIME PREVENTION MEETING – THIS WEDNESDAY (TOMORROW)
In recent months, many have shared their concern for the growing level of crime in Tamaki. From a wide range of conversations with locals, I am acutely aware of the various car break-ins, parcel thefts, burglaries, noise and disruption, and anti-social behaviour around our suburbs.
I have been engaging our local police and assisting families where I can, but I am also organising a public meeting, due to take place tomorrow evening. I have invited the Police to attend and provide you with the opportunity to share your experiences; hopefully, we can gain some insight into what we can do to protect ourselves and our properties. This meeting will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, 24 March at 7.00 PM at St Chad’s Church and Community Centre (38 St Johns Road, Meadowbank) – I hope to see you all there.
THE TRANS-TASMAN BUBBLE
A few days back, I wrote an op-ed on why we need to open the trans-Tasman bubble. I have shared it again below (abridged), but I was pleased to see that a few days later the National Party began a petition calling for such a bubble. As I write, we have had around 40,000 signatures. If you are interested and haven’t yet signed our petition, please consider submitting your name here: https://bit.ly/3txxOqs
My thoughts on opening the trans-Tasman bubble:
It is time to open the trans-Tasman bubble. I am being asked by constituents on a daily basis about this, and so I thought I would write and make my position and thinking clear on this.
I have often written about proportionality in decision making. At its heart, proportionality is about looking at all the factors and balancing risks. We are now in a position that the benefits of developing a trans-Tasman bubble far outweigh the risks.
A few simple statistics may assist in contextualising this. We have not had a reported case of Covid-19 from someone originating from Australia since late last year. Now granted, we have had to rely on public reporting of this as the Ministry of Health does not provide specific country by country breakdowns. Alongside this, those coming from Australia are making up – I understand – around 40% of all people in MIQ.
Phrased differently, we are quarantining a large number of people for little to no reason, other than reinforcing the government’s elimination strategy (one that can accommodate little to no risk).
As you will know from some press reports, our MIQ system is buckling under immense pressure; more people need spaces than are available. In my capacity as an MP, every day I am receiving requests from people wanting to access MIQ spaces but cannot. What is more heart-breaking are those who are genuinely desperate for such slots. These are people who are sick; wanting to visit ill or dying loved ones; or missing out on some very significant family event, amongst other reasons. The system as it currently stands cannot accommodate all these people except in very exceptional circumstances.
Consequently, opening a trans-Tasman bubble will not only benefit those travelling between Australia and New Zealand but also travellers from other countries. Releasing approximately 40% of MIQ capacity will have beneficial flow-on effects for those travelling in from places other than Australia.
The relational benefits are also enormous. We all know how close our two countries are, and many of us will have loved ones on the other side of the Tasman. These relationships remain disrupted; a bubble would allow us to resume relatively normal engagement. I cannot stress enough the harm and anguish locals have expressed to me about the isolation they are experiencing by being separated from their loved ones.
The economic benefits are clear. So much so, I won’t even comment further; it’s a no-brainer. The worrying thing is that as our current government hesitates and dawdles, Australia looks to other countries to create travel bubbles. We should be at the front of the queue, not the back (as we pretty much are with the vaccine). It is probably also useful to note that Australia has allowed New Zealanders to travel MIQ-free for some time now. We have an unnecessary asymmetry and one that, I know, agitates the already strained relationship with our closest ally.
Finally, many of these dynamics can apply to most of our Pacific neighbours. Not all, but most. In a way, opening travel bubbles to these countries – particularly those of the Realm – is even more important due to the severe effect a lack of tourism is having on their economies. The cost to them will also be ours as the request for more aid and support will surely follow unless these bubbles are developed soon.
I won’t speculate as to the continued hesitation by the Ardern government other than a near zealous adherence to their elimination strategy, which ultimately provides little room to manoeuvre – be that in the strategy itself and in the general perception that has been created.
As I say, it is time to open the trans-Tasman bubble. It could be done right now and should have been done already.
ST HELIERS POLICE STATION
Several years ago, you will remember the contentious debate around a suggestion to sell our St Heliers Police Station. During that time, I organised a meeting and invited the Police to attend; this resulted in a good discussion and the subsequent decision to retain the Police station.
In recent days, some media have begun speculating as to whether stations, such as ours, should be torn down and sold to help fix the current housing crisis. I for one am not convinced of this for a number of reasons, however, I would welcome your views.
Sadly, on the topic of closing, many of our local banks have closed or are closing. Most recently, the ASB and BNZ in the Village have shut down. Our local business owners and community members have expressed their concerns of the impact this will have, particularly on our older population.
With these concerns in mind, I raised this with the New Zealand Banking Association and requested that we be considered in their trials for banking hubs. I think this is an eloquent solution and one that is being trialled in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, they have come back declining this request, however, it is something I will be keeping an eye on and will likely raise again with them.
YOUR FEEDBACK PREVAILS
You may recall that around two years ago, I helped organise a public discussion about Auckland Transport’s proposals for Mission Bay and St Heliers. Their original idea would have seen over a quarter of the carparks scrapped as well as 14 or so new pedestrian crossings, amongst other things. The meeting was a huge success, with some suggesting we had around 800 locals turn up and speaking clearly in opposition. We agreed that their plans were unwanted and unnecessary and would have made it much harder for us to shop locally and support our business community.
In recent weeks, AT has come back with a fresh plan having actively engaged with our local business association, resident’s association, and local board. There will still be some changes, but nowhere near the scale the first plan had proposed. For more information about the proposal, check out this link here.
A LOCAL VICTORY
No, not the America’s Cup – although, well done Emirates Team New Zealand! You will remember my involvement with Mark Gumbrell and his battle with Master Builders. To recap: work on his house had been halted when his builder went into liquidation, and Mark was looking at a $200,000 loss. Why? Because the company had failed to complete the paperwork for a guarantee, despite him requesting and paying for it. Master Builders refuted any guarantee, and Mark feared he would have to sell the house once it was completed just to cover the loss.
I’m very happy to report that Mark has fought the good fight and won. Master Builders have agreed to honour their guarantee to help him finish his build, or as Mark puts it: “They have come to the party”. I wish Mark the best of luck with completing his project.
Literally, as I type, the government has announced its new housing plans. Much of it is spin insofar as the announcements have a grand quality to them but no details. Remember Kiwibuild? 100,000 homes were promised, yet no there was no pathway as to how this would be achieved (and in fact, the project became a spectacular failure).
Two aspects of the announcement stand out. The first is effectively the imposition of a Capital Gains Tax on homes. The government is going to extend the bright-line test to 10 years. This test was originally two years and meant that a person ‘flipping’ a house (that is buying, doing up, and selling with 24 months) would incur a tax. It was a useful way to target speculators.
Moving the bright-line test to ten years, however, moves us well away from speculators and targets families. Any person selling a home (other than the family home) within ten years of purchase will pay up to 39% tax on the capital gain. Let’s be clear – this is a Capital Gains Tax and many Kiwis will get caught up by this. The other perverse outcome is that many people will simply choose to hold on to property while awaiting the end of the 10-year window. While the rational thing to do, it will do nothing to boost the housing supply.
The other aspect is removing the ability for investors to offset the interest paid on the mortgage against rental income. You once would have been able to claim back the interest cost of a home loan against the rent received on the property. If you paid $30,000 in rent a year but paid $15,000 in interest on the mortgage, then your tax liability was only $15,000. This now disappears and investors will have to pay against the income alone. This is a big change and one that is going to have an obvious negative outcome: much higher rents. Once again, Labour claims that their policy will help those most in need of rental accommodation, yet this will just make their lives even harder.
HONOURING OUR VETERANS
I was very pleased to represent Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition a few days ago and recognise the services of Jayforce. These were the men and women who went to Japan at the end of the Second World War as part of the occupation forces. On Friday last week, I joined the Governor-General and the Minister of Defence to honour them, lay wreaths in memory of those who died, and then join the veterans and their families for lunch to hear their stories. It was a truly humbling day and I came away with a greater appreciation of the service and sacrifice of these veterans and their comrades. I thank them for their service.
Talking with one of the veterans from Jayforce
All the best for the coming days and I hope to see you on Wednesday night for our meeting on crime prevention.