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PoliticsOctober 30, 2018

First homes and fake news

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Yesterday saw yet another story of young home owner success splashed across the news. But this time both sides of the political divide kicked off, sledging the government and the new mortgagees alike. Don Rowe explains.

Monday morning dawned like many others. It was raining in Auckland. Denise L’Estrange-Corbet was being weird on the telly. Stuff had another story about a plucky young couple getting on to the property ladder. And then a miracle took place.

Across the entirety of the political spectrum, from Matthew Hooton to Bomber Bradbury, Ricardo Menéndez to David Farrar, all joined together, taking to the internet to collectively scream ‘wait, WTF?’

Because this success story was a little different. A newly minted doctor and her partner, a marketing manager, had snapped up one of the first Kiwibuild houses. Most people had assumed KiwiBuild was meant to help low-income families who have thus far been locked out of the market, not give an upwardly-mobile couple a four bedroom home in Papakura: the KiwiBuild cutoff of $180,000 does seem very much within their reach.

And, to make things worse, this couple had the temerity to enter the ballot after having been openly in love on the internet.

“204 countries + seven seas, and I had the privilege of meeting you,” wrote new homeowner Fletcher Ross, captioning an Instagram picture of himself and partner Derryn Jayne at the far-flung and exotic locale of South Auckland’s Villa Maria Winery.

The picture attracted the attention of one Judith Collins, who, displaying a searing lapse in reading comprehension, retweeted a screengrab of the image (without obscuring the young couple’s personal details) with the quote “204 countries – maybe doesn’t need taxpayer support.. #justsaying.”

The quote being a clear romanticism aside, there are 195 countries in the world. Collins’ followers were quick to get on board, however, going as far as to scour the young couples’ Facebook accounts to create a full itinerary of their past travels. More than one commentator on other platforms has speculated on the length and legitimacy of their relationship. Both accounts are now private.

Of course, this is the same Judith Collins who previously took to social media to demand the prime minister denounce French child abuse laws that don’t exist, and were reported only by a website that calls Katy Perry a cannibal and Justin Bieber a reptilian shapeshifter (admittedly possible).

But Derryn Jayne and Fletcher Ross aren’t the prime minister, despite having appeared in pictures with her. One news story aside, they’re not even public figures. Yesterday should have been one of the most significant days of their lives. Instead it now likely ranks as one of the worst, as the vitriol of aggrieved partisans on both the left and the right crashes down on them – with assistance from one of the most notoriously acidic politicians in the country. (Not to be outdone, Phil Twyford today falsely claimed that Collins had taken to Facebook to troll the ‘personal pages’ of the young couple. This never happened.)

Are there issues with a young couple with huge earning potential snapping up a brand new, state-built, state-subsidised four bedroom home during a housing crisis? Sure. By all appearances it looks like the government has essentially taken the place of the Bank of Mum and Dad – or at least shared the burden. In three years the couple will be free to sell their home with whatever capital gains that entails, and in the meantime low-income families are no closer to buying a place of their own. Whatever Phil Twyford says, the expectation seems to have been that KiwiBuild in fact very much was for struggling families. There are also questions around how it is that a doctor and a marketing professional are considered locked out of the market, even as far from the CBD as Papakura, and what that means for those of us who are neither. 

But it’s possible to simultaneously question the way in which KiwiBuild was advertised to voters and acknowledge the humanity of those who entered the ballot. Fomenting online outrage and encouraging the bullying of young New Zealanders who objectively are doing absolutely nothing wrong doesn’t seem like Kiwi culture to me. Speaking of which, one has to wonder how that review is going, eh Judith?

Keep going!