2 Jul 2015

Bill puts ministers above law - Labour

9:00 am on 2 July 2015

The Government has been accused of giving ministers extraordinary powers in new social housing legislation introduced to Parliament.

National MP Paula Bennett during caucas run April 2015.

National MP Paula Bennett. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

[audio http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/201760771/government-accused-of-giving-ministers-extraordinary-powers Listen to more on Morning Report

The Social Housing Reform (Transaction Mandate) Bill is the next step in the Government's plan to allow Housing New Zealand to shed up to 8000 properties by 2017.

The bill will give the Ministers responsible for Housing New Zealand and Social Housing the ability to force the agency to sell some of its stock to social housing providers.

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said it put ministers above the law and exempted them from all the normal legal processes and requirements.

"The bill gives ministers extraordinary powers to take direct personal control of selling State houses and we're talking about billions of dollars worth of land and housing here."

Mr Twyford said it left the sale process wide open for corruption.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said it was an extraordinary piece of legislation.

"The ministers can make contracts and sell off state housing land and houses without considering the Housing New Zealand board or meeting the agency's objectives," Mrs Turei said.

Metiria Turei.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

But Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said the change was quite straight forward.

She said the Government was negotiating to sell some state houses and it needed a mandate to do that.

Mrs Bennett denied there would be any abuse of power by her or Housing New Zealand Minister, Bill English.

"It would be fair to say there's a lot of attention going on this policy and how it progresses so everything will be made public and will be transparent."

However, Ms Turei said National did not have a great track record.

"Sky City is a really classic example of a process that was done behind close doors and we had to get the Auditor General in to look at that."

The Government hoped the bill would be passed into law before the end of the year.

As a test run for the nationwide programme, up to 1600 state houses in Tauranga and Invercargill will be first on the block.

Horizons Housing, an Australian based charity, has expressed interest in buying about 500.

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