It’s one of the main jobs of any member of parliament to stick up for your patch. You are elected by a constituency and they want and expect you to defend them and promote their rights. I don’t think constituents expect to get a better deal than anyone else in the grand scheme of things, but they don’t want to be treated with contempt and disrespect.
I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I’ve come out fighting over the extraordinary, but probably predictable decision by Kiwirail to put the Hillside workshops up for sale. In Saturday’s Otago Daily Times I was quite forthright in expressing my views. I used some rather unladylike language and had to ring my mum the day before to warn her.
I stand by what I said. I think the government (and Kiwirail) have pissed on Dunedin. I think many Dunedin-ites agree. Saturday’s ODT editorial seems to agree too though in more polite terms.
I think that the only way we’re going to sort things is for Dunedin people to take control ourselves. And to have a future Labour government backing rail.
I’ll do my best to help find a buyer for Hillside. I’ll continue to take the fight to parliament and I’ll remain a thorn in the side of this government and the local National List MP Michael Woodhouse who has seriously let down the people of Dunedin in the pursuit of his own career. I’ll advocate for the need for and the importance of this industry to remain in public hands, and indeed to just bloody remain in our country.
When I took this job on I understood that there are times when sticking up for your city is more important than
towing toeing a party line that you don’t agree with and which is going to hurt your city. It’s a judgement to be rarely exercised. Sometimes the greater good is more important than a local issue. But every MP should have the right and the responsibility to stand up for their city. This was one of those times. Woodhouse didn’t even think about it.
He blocked a select committee hearing on the petition signed last year by nearly 14,000 people (mostly from Dunedin) calling on the government to save the Hillside and Woburn (Hutt) workshops. He has never been held accountable for refusing to allow the people of Dunedin, the Hillside workers and their union to have a say before a parliamentary committee. He should be.
His government is negligent, disingenuous and downright liars about their responsibilities for Kiwirail and its decision and their knowledge of those decisions. As my colleague David Parker has said; if the KiwiRail board had made the same announcement without telling a Labour government, the board would have been sacked. It is just nonsense and untrue for shareholding Ministers to say they didn’t know Kiwirail’s direction and decisions. And it is very clear that they don’t oppose Kiwirail’s decision to sell Hillside.
There’s more at stake than the nearly 130 jobs, the loss of wages, taxes, skills and the more than 137 year history of a competent and valued rail manufacturing plant to the city of Dunedin. There are more than 70 engineering businesses clustered around Hillside. It’s the backbone of our city. It’s becoming more high tech. It’s a hugely important part of our local and regional economy.
This government doesn’t give a stuff. They allowed (and encouraged) it to be run down and now it’s being sold because Kiwirail says it’s not viable. Kiwirail deliberately made it unviable.
I ask you this. How is that that contracts have been handed to the Chinese to build rail wagons that are dubious in quality, when those same wagons could have been built here? They may have cost a bit more, but the workmanship would have been assured, the maintenance would have been less and have been more easily accomplished, and the people who built the wagons would have been earning decent wages and paying taxes in the New Zealand economy.
Kiwirail, and the government, has blocked any independent scrutiny of the dodgy process in awarding those contracts to China North Rail and the quality issues associated with the Chinese wagons. It’s time for some sunlight on both.
It is not false economy to manufacture in your own country. It’s our productive economy. I’d stand up for manufacturing jobs any day against paying for more pokie machines that create immeasurable social harm and are part of a mates deal to an organisation that will profit, might create a few more service economy jobs, but is unlikely add much more real value to our economy.
And I reckon that’s worth sticking up for.