Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson’s accomplishments as Associate Minister of Housing (Homelessness) became an issue that aroused our interest during the past week, although mainstream news media seemed more fascinated by Davidson’s playing of the race card when National’s Nicola Willis linked crime with homelessness.
At Question Time in Parliament, Willis asked Davidson:
Can she confirm that in the five months since becoming a Minister, she has not taken a single paper to Cabinet committee or Cabinet and has not issued a single press release?
Speaker Trevor Mallard let her off the hook by ruling this did not relate to the primary question.
Davidson was given a chance to answer the question outside the House, when reporters asked her about her achievements as minister. But as Stuff reported –
… when questioned about what she had achieved as minister she abruptly left the press stand-up mid-question.
She said she had been engaging with the community since being in the job, and had continued to oversee the rollout of a homelessness housing plan. “I have continued to progress the actions for preventing homelessness,” she said.
But instead of answering a further question, her press secretary said: “Thanks, guys – that’s enough.”
This shows she has a press secretary but, so far as we could find, she has no statements or speeches in her name as a minister on the Beehive website.
Point of Order checked this morning.
We found a blank slate.
Her ministerial diary records around 20 media interviews in December, January and February, all but three of them with Maori broadcasters.
Trying to check what papers Davidson might have sent to Cabinet isn’t so easy. Let’s focus, therefore, on information made immediately available thanks to Willis’ questions in the House:
NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Housing (Homelessness): Does the Aotearoa/New Zealand Homelessness Action Plan aim to reduce the use of emergency accommodation such as motels; if so, how many more people are living in motels today compared to when the plan was announced in February 2020?
Hon MARAMA DAVIDSON (Associate Minister of Housing (Homelessness)): Yes. Our ultimate goal with the Homelessness Action Plan is to get people into stable, quality homes. And we also have to make sure people who need urgent shelter are able to get it. The past year has been hugely tough for many more people, and that has meant over the period from February 2020, when we launched the action plan, to now, we are providing an additional 983 emergency COVID response housing places, an additional 148 transitional motel places, and there are an additional 2,162 clients receiving the emergency housing special needs grants. This is for people to get the immediate shelter they need since we launched the action plan to proactively get people into safety and shelter during the lockdowns and as a step towards long-term housing, and we know we need to do more.
Nicola Willis: Can she assure New Zealanders that emergency housing arrangements funded by the Government are safe for the people living in them and for the people living near them?
Hon MARAMA DAVIDSON: It is absolutely imperative that everyone is able to live in safe housing situations, no matter what type of situation that is. This is why we are focusing on prioritising people into transitional housing where there are further wraparound social supports provided. It is not a priority to keep people in emergency housing situations; we know that is not acceptable. I want all families to be living in safe housing situations.
Nicola Willis: Is she concerned by reports that children are being co-located in emergency accommodation with 501s and gang members engaging in violent and criminal behaviour?
Hon MARAMA DAVIDSON: Yes, I am concerned that any child is having to live in any emergency housing situation at this time. Again, everyone has a right to be in a safe living situation. Again, this is why the Government, through the action plan, is prioritising moving families and people into transitional housing as soon as possible. It is why we are proud to have announced an additional 1,000 transitional houses already this year with Minister Woods and me. We have a further 2,000 transitional houses planned. Can I just add that we need to absolutely address the drivers of crime and violence, that moving people into secure housing goes a long way towards increasing the safety for all families, and that we must make sure that we do not stigmatise any one group or community with crime, that we understand that will not help us address the drivers of crime—and supports that research that has shown to have been proven when we talk about crime. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
It’s here that the racism came into play.
Nicola Willis: Does she stand by her comments on Twitter accusing those raising public safety concerns about emergency accommodation as having “racist and classist undertones”, and what is racist or classist about people raising concerns about the safety of emergency accommodation?
SPEAKER: The member has to answer one of the four.
Hon MARAMA DAVIDSON: Yes, I absolutely stand behind every word that I discuss on my social media platforms, because as my previous answer indicated, I am very clear that every person and child deserves to be living in safe situations; that we must address the drivers of crime across the entire community, not just in emergency housing situations; and that if we continue with a narrative that doesn’t understand the systemic causes, we will go no further in progressing the reduction of crime.
Davidson was grateful for the next question, from the Maori Party.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Does the Homelessness Action Plan implement all of the recommendations of the 2016 Cross-Party Homelessness Inquiry, led by Labour, Greens, and Te Paati Māori?
Hon MARAMA DAVIDSON: Thank you for the question. The Homelessness Action Plan pulls together a range of responses to that fabulous inquiry that I was pleased to be a part of. I am pleased that the Government is prioritising all of the 18 actions—all of the actions—from that Homelessness Action Plan, and that work was the result of finally getting a Government that even admitted that we have a housing crisis, and was the result of finally even having a national strategy to address homelessness. That inquiry is why we have, for the first time, a Minister in charge of homelessness. Those are monumental steps that arose out of that work, hearing firsthand exactly how bad the situation is, and actually acknowledging that we have a problem.
Nicola Willis: Is she accusing New Zealanders who raise concerns about their safety in relation to increased numbers of people in emergency accommodation as being racist?
Hon MARAMA DAVIDSON: I am accusing a member, a National member of this House, of attempting to stigmatise a group of people with little access to power and resourcing, of attempting to whip up stigmatising and dehumanising narratives around groups of people who need our support, around groups of people who need us to address the systemic causes of crime. Yes, I am accusing a National member of raising that dehumanising narrative.
The Speaker was asked if that answer complied with Speaker’s rulings dealing with accusations of racism.
He ruled that Davidson had not mentioned racism in her replies.
“ I think the Minister answering the question successfully skirted around the Speaker’s ruling by using the suggestion that a narrative was being promoted. She did not say a member was racist.”
Yes, she had used the word “racist” in a tweet, Mallard agreed. But Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings relate to occurrences in the House.
The fact that someone made a comment which other members find offensive, by way of Twitter—frankly, if that was the case, there would be two or three members who would be constantly before the Privileges Committee.
With points of order out of the way, Willis asked if Davidson could confirm she has not taken a single paper to Cabinet committee or Cabinet and had not issued a single press release.
Mallard told her – in effect – not to respond.
News media subsequently referred variously to a clash and a fracas involving Willis and Davidson.
This had begun last week when Willis was quoted earlier in the week saying she did not feel safe in central Wellington, blaming an increase in emergency housing and larger gang presence.
Davidson tweeted that people “need to be mindful of the racist and classist undertones that she [Willis] is running her ‘safety’ narrative on.”
This somewhat misses the point that the cost of emergency housing is spiralling, with spending now more than a million dollars per day.
As Willis later said, she is asking questions about an issue she considers important to New Zealanders, about the safety of people living in emergency accommodation and the safety of those living nearby.
“There has been an explosion in the number of people living in motels, thousands more and I’m hearing really scary stories about the circumstances they are living in,” she said.
She said Davidson’s job was to be making progress, not “throwing cheap attacks at opposition MPs”.
Davidson might have responded to this by issuing what apparently would be her first press statement as a Minister. She hadn’t done so on the Beehive website at time of writing.