No change for now - Queenstown's accommodation supplement inequity remains

by Kim Bowden - Mar 27, 2024

He may have jumped out of a plane dressed as a farm animal to draw attention to his cause, but now Queenstown Salvation Army minister Andrew Wilson has been brought back down to earth with a thump as Wellington decision makers don't quite deliver the verdict he and other campaigners had wanted.

Mr Wilson has been spearheading a campaign calling for a review of the Whakatipu's Accommodation Supplement areas that rely on urban boundary data that hasn't changed for more than three decades.

A response to a petition on the issue presented to Parliament by Mr Wilson has been made public this week.

Mr Wilson says the minister who rung him to give him a heads-up on their verdict prefaced their call with, "It's not the news you are hoping to hear".

While the government has indicated it will look at options to address the zoning issue that limits how much financial support Queenstown residents can get for accommodation, Minister for Social Development and Employment Louise Upston says she will be seeing further advice "on a financially sustainable way to do this".

For Mr Wilson, and the people he helps in Queenstown who are struggling to make ends meet, the hint of possible change at some point in the future to even up the playing field provides little relief.

The decision - or lack of one - hits hard people "who have no power to decide where they land in Queenstown" - secure a house in Fernhill or Frankton and the support is good, but a forced move to Lake Hayes or Shotover Country to put a roof over a head and take a substantial "hit in the pocket", he says.

"It's disappointing that a piece of legislation that's been recognised across the political spectrum as needing changing, we've got to the finish line with essentially a 'we'll look at it sometime down the track'.

"I think, realistically, for people who we're dealing with day in and day out, it's exhausting to have to, again, go back to them and say, 'Look, it's still, well, nothing's changed'."

He does acknowledge the movement in the "right direction", despite feeling disheartened at the slow pace of any change.

"It is at least encouraging to know that it is on the government's radar; it is there in black and white, for it to be changed."

The Petitions Committee report on the petition presented by Mr Wilson recommends the geographic information the Ministry for Social Development and Employment uses to determine how much accommodation supplement can be paid in different parts of the country be updated every time Statistics New Zealand updates its own geographic boundaries.

In its response, communicated by the minister, Cabinet agrees more regular updates would help the accommodation supplement "remain fit-for-purpose".

"The use of outdated geographic information and classifications by MSD has seen some households receive a lower accommodation supplement than they otherwise would," Minister Upston says.

"The issue is particularly pronounced in Queenstown and exists in a small number of other areas where there has been rapid urban expansion."

Southland MP Jospeh Mooney joined Mr Wilson in throwing himself out of the plane to promote the hashtag #peepsnotsheeps. Then, he was an opposition MP.

He maintains this week's decision from Wellington is not bad news.

"I think it is a positive outcome in terms of Cabinet taking it seriously...It is a step forward...They are looking at how to solve this issue."

He claims the former Labour government failed to act on community calls for change.

"A lot of the action by the community was taken under the last government, and we didn't get any traction there.

"It does feel like it has taken a long time...but it is progressing.

"The reality is this is not just a Queenstown issue. What we have unsurfaced here is a national issue, which means a solution to it does involve quite a few complex levers that Cabinet had to take into consideration."

In the meantime, Mr Wilson says he will continue to advocate for the Queenstowners he serves, and pushes back at any suggestion his role has become somewhat political agitator.

"For me it was a justice cause, one that is front and centre of what the Salvation Army do.

"It's essentially our responsibility to keep the government accountable to that promise, where they will look into this five-yearly review cycle of the accommodation supplement."

He outlines what will be next on his agenda, and he remains ever optimistic.

"The next step will be to push for some really clear dates and some really clear expectation as to the process that the government is taking from now, so we have a clear understanding of the progress from this place.

"I still look forward to the day where I can get the team who have been steering this together and celebrate with a round of drinks at some lovely hospitality site here in Queenstown, and until that day I'll keep doing what I can with the group to see change."

Main image (Facebook): Hanleys Farm is among the newer Queenstown neighbourhoods zoned as farmland when it comes to rules for the Accommodation Supplement, despite the area being covered in houses.

Read more: 'Completely archaic' legislation hits Queenstown's newer suburbs

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