Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill introduced

Andrew Little’s introduction of his Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill in Parliament yesterday. It passed it’s first vote 61 to 60 thanks to the deciding vote of Peter Dunne.

Draft transcript:

Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2)

First Reading

ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) be now read a first time. I nominate the Government Administration Committee to consider the bill.

It sometimes looks from the outside that much of what we do in this House does not look like it has a lot of significance, or at least you do not get to see the significance of it. Sometimes it feels that way too when you are sitting in this House.

But the bill that we are considering now will help thousands of New Zealanders, and most importantly, it will help thousands of young New Zealanders.

This bill does some very important things to improve the lives of New Zealanders, many of whom are on low incomes, and many of whom are presently in substandard housing.

The principal that sits behind this bill is a pretty simple one: that no New Zealand adult or child should have to live in a house that makes them or their children sick. It is that simple. Every Kiwi kid deserves to grow up in a home that is warm, safe, and dry. As parents, and as a parent myself, I would not accept anything less for my own child.

This bill does a number of things.

It sets standards for private rental housing, and in fact, public rental housing too. Standards are set after 6 months of the bill coming into effect, and then new leases that are in existence 12 months after the legislation comes into effect will have to comply with the standards that have been promulgated.

Then, 5 years after the legislation comes into effect, every lease would have to comply.

The bill would require the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to set standards for heating and insulation.

The standards will have to describe what constitutes adequate methods of heating, adequate methods of insulation, adequate indoor temperatures, adequate ventilation, adequate draught-stopping and adequate drainage.

The regulations will have to describe suitable measures for each of those points.

The legislation will allow for exemptions to be provided for in the regulation.

I make those points to be very clear, because some of the objections that have been registered by the Government in the last 24 hours, or at least its Minister for Building and Housing, have misled New Zealanders about what in fact the bill does.

However, it is interesting to note the change in position that the Minister has taken. Two days ago, the Minister was concerned that the bill: “requires properties to be insulated at a pace that is totally unrealistic.” A day later, he said that the bill was slow in timing, and that “it has a timetable four years slower for insulating rental properties than the Government’s Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill.”

I am looking forward to the Minister’s contribution tonight because I would like to know what the third positon that bumbling Nick Smith is going to take on this particular bill.

When the Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills was making his submission on the Government’s legislation that merely requires rental housing to have the 1978 insulation standard complied within 4 years’ time, he said that right now 42,000 New Zealand children a year are going to hospital for respiratory infections, bronchial problems, asthma, and things associated with unhealthy homes—unhealthy homes that are unhealthy because of dampness and lack of ventilation that allows mould spores to proliferate.

That is the problem that we are trying to fix. It is a reasonable demand to have in the 21st century that New Zealanders in rental accommodation have a minimum standard that at least keeps them healthy.

The idea that we continue to allow 42,000 Kiwi kids to have to go to hospital for avoidable and preventable infections is just totally intolerable.

The Children’s Commissioner also said that up to 15 deaths of children a year are at least partly attributable to unhealthy homes—that is a disgrace. We can stop that, and tonight’s vote will be the first step towards doing just that.

Every rental property should be insulated, should be weathertight, and should have adequate heating. I do not think it is too much to ask.

I have had a lot of correspondence from a lot of New Zealanders in recent weeks and days. The mother of a child who has been repeatedly unwell because of the house that they live in wrote to me. Her name is Estelle, and she was living in Auckland at the time.

She told me in her email that her house had no insulation, it was damp. Mould was growing on her son’s toys. He got asthma and he had to go to hospital, and what she told me was that she carried the guilt of her unwell son with her until she was able to move out of that house.

She felt so guilty that she could not keep her child well. She is on a low income; she got the best house that she could afford, but it was an unhealthy home, and she should not be put in that position.

No parent in New Zealand should be made to feel guilty about the conditions in which they are often forced to accommodate their children, and no child in New Zealand should be in a position where they have to get sick like that.

This matters to all of us in New Zealand because we want to be part of communities that are strong and vibrant and where everybody gets a fair chance.

You see, when a child lives in a home that makes them constantly sick, that means they have to take days off school, that means that mum or dad might have to take time off work as well—that affects the household and it affects that child’s future.

And if we are serious about being a country that fulfils our commitment, and that basic Kiwi Dream that no matter the circumstances into which you are born, we will have a country, an education system, a health system, and housing that means that you can lift yourself up and be the best you can be throughout the rest of your life.

When young children live in houses that make them sick they are denied that opportunity. This is about fairness and justice and equality.

It is hardly surprising that we have ongoing problems with housing and accommodation in New Zealand when we see what is happening with houses and home affordability in New Zealand.

In the city of Auckland, the average price of an Auckland house is now nine times the average income.

We have the lowest home ownership in 64 years—that is a symptom of the fact that more and more people are dependent on rental accommodation.

This bill is about standing up for those New Zealanders.

This bill gives voice to New Zealanders, who have been suffering and struggling in silence for far too long, and this is about doing the right thing and the decent thing; it is about doing the Kiwi thing.

It is sad that the National Party, so far, has expressed its opposition to this bill, and my colleague Phil Twyford is going to go through some of those objections.

But it is interesting that the Commissioner for Children had this to say in relation to a Budget promise made a few years ago by this Government that undertook to make homes healthy again.

He said that the Government’s bill that was currently going through this Parliament failed to meet that promise.

He said that the Government made a promise to New Zealand children that we would make their houses healthy, and three years on from that Budget promise the Government’s bill will do little for children living in cold, damp, mouldy housing. It is a wasted opportunity, and a broken promise to our children.

I urge Government members to fulfil their promise, vote for this bill, and make a pleasant life, a safe and healthy life in rental homes in New Zealand a reality for the children of New Zealand and their parents. It is that easy for this house tonight to do that, and I urge the Government to support my bill.

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