The Government’s U-turn on the City Rail Link is quite something. It is completely at odd with everything they’ve said on the matter over the last three years.
But as today’s Horizon poll shows, they will need a lot more than a U-turn on the CRL to repair what looks like a pretty sick relationship with Auckland.
Only 18 per cent of Aucklanders rate the government as trustworthy.
While nearly half of the Aucklanders surveyed rated the Government’s performance on the Central Rail Link as poor in the fortnight before it announced yesterday’s U-turn, even more – 65 per cent – gave its performance on affordable housing the thumbs down. It’s lack of action on traffic congestion rankled with 60 per cent.
The survey results indicate there is clearly something rotten in the Government’s relationship with Auckland. I guess it’s not surprising. Ministers like Gerry Brownlee, Nick Smith and Steven Joyce want to run Auckland from their offices in the Beehive, despite setting up the super city so Aucklanders could speak with one voice.
The Herald on Sunday published this story about a model of security cameras used in taxis that is failing to provide usable images that can be passed onto Police after alleged incidents of violence and sexual attack.
Security cameras became mandatory in almost all taxis in 2011 when the Government made a rule change in response to the murder of Auckland driver Hirren Mohini.
The NZTA has attempted to wash its hands of any responsibility for the installation of dodgy cameras:
In a statement, NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the agency was aware of allegations of substandard or counterfeit equipment. “Issues of quality and authenticity are civil matters between the sellers and buyers of the equipment,” he said.
That’s not good enough. Only cameras that appear on the NZTA’s list of approved models can be installed in taxis. The Hikvision cameras at the centre of this scandal appear on that list. It was therefore reasonable for the three companies that have installed them to expect they met the standards required in Schedule 2 of the rule change.
Michael Woodhouse says he is looking into it and well he should. If the NZTA has failed make certain that these cameras meet basic functional requirements, the Government must take responsibility for the fact that vital evidence that should have been available to investigate serious and violent crimes could not be retrieved. Unless the cameras are counterfeits and not what they say they are, this is clearly a matter of Government responsibility.
I wonder if this is really the first a minister has heard of this issue.
Speech to Labour Party Auckland-Northland regional conference, Henderson
You’ve seen the image of Michael Joseph Savage carrying the furniture into the first state house at 12 Fife Lane, Miramar in 1937. It’s a big moment. Bob Semple, Walter Nash and John A Lee are all there. The Ministers have their sleeves rolled up. People are smiling. It’s an exciting moment.
The massive programme of state house building was one of the greatest achievements of the First Labour Government. They did it because they knew sub-standard housing lay at the root of so many social problems: illness, and the vulnerability of the poorest people to extortionate rents.
They did it because they were willing to use the power of the state to tackle problems that for decades the political establishment said were intractable, that such things must be left to the market to sort out, that in any case where would the money come from?
It is time once again to roll up our sleeves.
The quality of our housing, the shape of our cities, the lack of public transport, the cost of buying a house…these issues have once again become red hot issues. Labour’s willingness to pick up a hammer and actually build houses; our readiness to build the City Rail Link; these issues will have an impact on next year’s general election.
Third world diseases, associated with overcrowding and sub-standard housing, have come back to haunt New Zealand as poverty and inequality have risen. 900,000 homes have inadequate insulation. We know these diseases affect the children of the poor. The research shows there are too many kids dying unnecessary deaths from diseases like asthma, rheumatic fever, meningococcal disease. We know that most children growing up in poverty live in private rentals. That is a fact.
Which is why our Healthy Homes Guarantee will make it compulsory for rental homes to be properly insulated and have an efficient source of heating. We will amend the Residential Tenancies Act. End of story. National announced they will consider the development of a warrant of fitness they will trial in Housing NZ homes. They are going to trial this policy in the very houses – Housing NZ homes – that don’t need it. Houses that have all been retrofitted and insulated. But they won’t do a damn thing for the tenants of private rentals where hundreds of thousands of the poorest Kiwi families live in uninsulated damp and cold houses.
Given the Government’s enthusiasm for building Transmission Gully by Public Private Partnership (PPP), you’d be forgiven for believing that the NZTA has told Gerry Brownlee it is clearly the best option for financing the project .
However, reading through cabinet committee papers and ministerial briefings, a very different picture emerges.
It turns out that Cabinet asked Gerry to explore the use of PPPs and he in turn asked NZTA to look at all the projects they currently have planned and decide which might be completed via PPP.
NZTA’s response was that Transmission Gully was the best candidate for a PPP.
Note that NZTA did not say a PPP is the best way to build Transmission Gully. Rather, that if something had to be built by PPP, Transmission Gully would be the best candidate.
This is a classic case of only asking the questions that will get you the answer you want.
Asking “Which project is best suited to a PPP?” gets you a PPP whether or not the case for it stacks up.
Asking “What is the best way to build Transmission Gully?” would have got Transmission Gully built within a sensible timeframe and at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
So has the case been made that a PPP is the best way to build Transmission Gully?
As noted in a Cabinet Committee paper prepared for Gerry Brownlee and Bill English, the cost of capital for the private sector is higher than it is for the crown and the actual value for money proposition will not be known until the proposals have been received.
In the event that neither of the shortlisted consortia can prove that building Transmission Gully by PPP is more cost effective than doing so by traditional procurement, the Government should pull the pin on the PPP.
National is letting ideology and its desire to use taxpayers’ money to create low-risk, high-return investment opportunities for its banker buddies get in the way of making economically rational decisions.
The winners here are the corporate giants creaming profits off public infrastructure. The losers are Kiwi taxpayers and consumers.
Marae Investigates ran an excellent piece today on rural roads in Northland. The report highlighted the fact that unsealed rural roads which carry large volumes of heavy vehicles are both economically inadequate and a significant health hazard as residential properties get showered in choking dust with every passing truck.
This problem is not unique to Northland. I recently met with the Mayor of Tararua District Council who pointed out that his council is responsible for many unsealed roads – roads that, like Northland, already carry significant volumes of agriculture-related heavy vehicles which will soon be joined by log trucks as forests mature.
A similar story can be repeated all over the country.
Several components of National’s approach to transport infrastructure work against any progress being made:
Roads of National Significance trump everything else.
The narrow economic analysis of transport projects National insists upon prioritises congestion relief over all other factors. Therefore unsealed rural roads on which high value goods are being transported get less attention than roads carrying large volumes of single-occupant cars.
Financial Assistance Rates (FAR) – central government’s contribution to local roads – are under review. The review is intended to do one thing only: Reduce the amount central government spends on local roads (to free up more money for Roads of National Significance). Reduced support from central government means local councils either need to increase rates or delay / cancel roading projects.
Changes to the Land Transport Management Act currently before Parliament remove the requirement for land transport programmes to protect and promote public health.
National – supposedly the party of provincial New Zealand – is running a transport programme that will never deal with these issues. In fact resources are being sucked out of the regions to pay for unaffordable, gold-plated monster motorways that simply are not economically, environmentally or socially sustainable.
Labour doesn’t take the regions for granted like National does. We will build a robust transport network using roads, rail and sea that includes building the local infrastructure needed in the regions.
We reject National’s limited analysis that will always deliver the same answer to any transport question: Build a bigger highway.
Roads have their part to play, but a sensible 21st century policy will see the Government investing in a much more diverse transport network. It will take a Labour-led Government to make that happen.
This is the road to the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw), the purpose-built new capital of Burma. It is 20 lanes wide – 10 each way and you could land a 747 on it – perhaps its original purpose? Except that it is a little undulating. And it clearly fixes congestion – there is no traffic! Or is that due to the fact that you need permission to visit Nya Pyi Taw? Whatever the situation, this is clearly a road of national significance. I think Steven Joyce lacks ambition for NZ……
National’s flagship Roads of National Significance policy has come in for a load of criticism. Interestingly, given it is the brainchild of National’s political “genius” Steven Joyce, the policy’s main selling point – its claim as a boost to economic growth – is also it’s great weakness. Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce before him have tried to sell these jumbo motorway projects as an investment in economic development but their economic value is dodgy to say the least.
While there should be no argument that we should be investing in transport infrastructure to make our export supply chain more efficient, we should surely be making sure the investments are wise before we spend billions of dollars of taxpayers money.
In a speech this week I summarised the various ways the RoNS fall short of the Government’s claims for them as some sort of economic development policy:
1. National have over-sold their likely economic impact, misleadingly suggesting that the Benefit Cost Ratios are an indicator of economic development impact. In fact, the BCR simply puts a dollar value on things like reduced journey times and deaths prevented by reducing accidents.
2. By hand picking these huge projects and giving them the green light even before the most basic economic assessment had been done on some of them; by elevating projects with such low Benefit Cost Ratios that a few years ago would never have been built; and by pouring so much money into what is patently a political project the Government has undermined the credibility of the system we use for assessing, prioritising and deciding on new state highway projects.
3. The Government’s obsession with these big roads projects means that other modes for moving freight around like rail and coastal shipping aren’t getting a look in, even though they can more efficiently carry certain types of freight. The Government cut Labour’s policy of support to coastal shipping, and under its unrealistic rail policy Kiwirail is forced to do ridiculous things like laying off 200 staff and deferring three years of network maintenance.
4. The Government is running down the existing road network to free up the funds to build new state highways. This is a common phenomenon overseas where politicians try to woo voters with big shiny new projects while allowing existing infrastructure to fall into disrepair. It’s bad asset management.
5. New public transport projects have been cut for the next three years, even though in Auckland particularly public transport is the only way to keep the state highway network from grinding to a halt. For example the Northern Busway which has taken the equivalent of two lanes of traffic off the Harbour Bridge every morning.
What would Labour do?
We will take a much more hard-headed look at the economic value of new transport projects.
We will reform the funding and assessment processes and criteria to ensure when new projects are being considered that alternative solutions are weighed up.
We are committed to an evidence based approach, investing where it will make a difference.
We will look to invest strategically in all modes of transport, and their connections, to deliver the greatest efficiency for the export supply chain.
We will restore prudent asset management so that we are not running down one part of the network (like local roads) in order to pour money into another (like new state highways).
A Labour-led Government will build a transport system that moves people and freight with maximum efficiency, supporting an economy that allows New Zealanders to do what they do best – come up with world leading ideas and put them into action.
Patrick Reynolds at Auckland Transport Blog has written this must-read post on National’s Roads of National Significance a.k.a. the RoNS.
The RoNS look like a classic case of the general fighting the previous battle, assuming all conditions from that last campaign still hold, but being doomed to fail because he doesn’t see how the world has moved on. In this case it is necessary to believe that road is always the best mode, that sprawl will continue for ever, and that investing aggressively in both will always provide economic growth. The facts on the ground say otherwise.
If you watched Question Time today (see Clare’s post below) you will know Kiwirail have taken out an injunction to stop Radio NZ reporting the contents of a leaked Kiwirail report on the effects of their planned $200 million cuts to network maintenance.
The rail company owned by the people has put a gagging order on the media to stop the public finding out what is going on in the rail company they own. There’s something not right about that.
Gerry Brownlee has accused me and journalists reporting this issue as scaremongering. We’ve simply quoted a Kiwirail report on the impact of the cuts to network maintenance. The cuts have been forced on Kiwirail by the Government’s unrealistic Turn Around Plan for rail.
See the latest communication from Kiwirail to Labour’s team at Parliament. (Click to enlarge) Honestly this an inappropriate way for a State Owned Enterprise to behave and the sooner Gerry Brownlee tells them that the better it will be for everyone.
I’ve been wondering what economic model National has been following with its Roads of National Significance, pouring billions of dollars into motorway projects that are low value even by the Government’s own numbers. After extensive research, I can reveal that they are following the Greek economic model. It turns out Greece went on a motorway building binge in the years leading up to its economic meltdown. It’s all here in my Estimates speech last night:
Here’s a presentation I gave to a public meeting in my electorate this week. Te Atatu is plagued by traffic congestion and poor public transport. The long term solution is a dedicated busway on the North West Motorway, like the successful Northern Busway. But I think a commuter ferry service linking Te Atatu and downtown via Auckland’s blue highway could also be part of our community’s smart transport future.
Auckland’s integrated ticketing saga might seem like just another IT boondoggle with delays and cost blow outs.
But when the progress of Auckland’s public transport system is at stake, not to mention $98 million of public money, it is inevitable the public will want someone held accountable.
The Herald has pointed the finger at Snapper, saying the company should make its smart card compatible with the new integrated ticketing system or face the consequences.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has threatened NZ Bus (which like Snapper, is owned by Infratil) could be “off the run”, losing the $70 million subsidy it gets for running 70% of Auckland’s buses if it can’t get the Snapper machines on its buses to work with the new system.
Back story: in 2009 Snapper lost out to French technology giant Thales in a competitive tender for the integrated ticketing system designed to be set up in Auckland and then rolled out in other centres. About a year later NZTA and Auckland Transport decided to allow Snapper to roll out its card on the NZ Bus fleet as long as it could guarantee compatibility with the new Thales-built system. There have been successive delays and things came to a head last week with a leaked lawyer’s letter from Auckland Transport to Snapper asserting the November 30 deadline would not be met and that Snapper was in breach of contract, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra costs piling up by the month. (For more history on this see Rudman, or Transport Blog if you are really keen.)
Snapper have been painted as the bad guy: losing out in a competitive tender, then sneaking back into the marketplace, and trying to use their dominant market position in Auckland to establish their card alongside instead of within the main system. The commercial incentive is obvious. If NZ Bus uses Snapper they get access to a sizeable cash float as public transport users charge up their Snapper cards. They also get a treasure trove of data about public transport journeys and consumption patterns that would help them wipe out competitors.
I think having a go at Snapper is too easy. We shouldn’t be surprised that a company aggressively competes for market dominance.
But we should expect our politicians to make decisions in the public interest, and not screw the scrum on behalf of private interest which seems to be what happened here. I’ve been told by former board members of both agencies that then transport minister Steven Joyce intervened on behalf of Infratil, putting pressure on both boards to let Snapper roll out their card in advance of the new system.
Last week in the House Gerry Brownlee denied his predecessor had any role in the decision making, saying it was a decision for Auckland Transport and NZTA.
Both Mike Lee, former chairman of Auckland Regional Council, and Michael Barnett, also a former elected member of the ARC, have publicly said that lobbying of and by central government politicians led to what has turned out to be a very unwise decision.
That is why I have asked the Auditor General, who is already investigating Auckland’s integrated ticketing project, to include an examination of the role of central and local government politicians in the decision making around Snapper’s early roll out.
The Capital Connection, the commuter rail service between Palmerston North and Wellington will be cut by August unless a new funding package can be brought together.
The proposal is for Horizons Regional Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the NZTA to fund the Capital Connection as part of the Wellington Metro rail service.
This makes complete sense since the Capital Connection is the only commuter rail service in New Zealand that is currently expected to run on a totally commercial model. The funding proposal simply brings the Capital Connection into line with every other commuter train in the country.
The problem is that while the two regional councils have indicated support for the proposal, the NZTA is holding out. Why? Because a Road of National Significance is being built near by.
Suddenly, the only criteria the NZTA will consider is whether or not the rail line will relieve congestion. Ignore the environmental benefits, ignore the social benefits it’s all about congestion and of course spending billions on roads that don’t stack up economically is much better than encouraging people to use the train.
If yet another regional rail service is lost this year, it will have been killed off by National’s significant obsession with roads.
As New Zealand workers face growing employer militancy with lockouts and demands for give-backs, Australia has been getting on with ensuring secure jobs and improving the pay and conditions of more vulnerable workers.
I’m really pleased to see that the Road Safety Remuneration Bill passed with a resounding vote in favour in the Senate. It comes after a long running campaign to make roads safer for all users by taking the pressure from truckies to work long hours, take short cuts and scrimp on maintenance just to earn a living.
I tried to get an inquiry into NZ truck safety and its relationship with remuneration a couple of years ago, but was blocked by the National Party, despite evidence of a trucking nightmare in New Zealand.
The problem hasn’t gone away. There is still one truck related death a week in New Zealand. Many drivers are owner-drivers, so they have no employment rights, because they are in a commercial arrangement. Some do okay, but others are struggling. Other driving industries, such as the Courier Industry also face enormous pressure.
I just want to see people earn fair income for the work they do.
The other bill the Australian Senate passed this week is the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Inudstry) Bill which extends most provisions of the Fair Work Act to contract outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry by deeming them to be employees. Our legislation covers “Homeworkers” and deems them to be employees, which came about after serious exploitation of Homecare workers in the 1990′s and a major court decision.
It may be that we are ahead of Australia in this instance, but their legislation provides a good study on how we might tackle the ever increasing dependent contracting arrangements in New Zealand.
When I was doing Vote Chat with Bryce Edwards at Otago University on Friday he raised the good question of the political balancing act that surrounds how opposition political parties respond to a disaster, in this case the Rena. As an Opposition there is the risk that people will see criticism of the government as politicising the situation, being opportunistic etc. Equally part of the role of an Opposition is to hold the government to account, whatever the horrendous circumstances might be.
To get one thing out of the way straight up, no one is saying the Government is to blame for the Rena hitting the reef. I am also sure that John Key, Steven Joyce and Nick Smith are as disturbed as I am by the images of the oil on beaches and the death and injury of wildlife. Every New Zealander will want to see the damage from the accident mitigated and the environment cleaned up. What is a legitimate question though is whether faced with the incident the government showed the leadership that we should expect of them and acted as swiftly and effectively as they should have.
My take is that the government were flat footed and to keen to sheet blame and responsibility elsewhere rather than take the leadership role we want our government to take in times of crisis. Someone I worked with once said that people mostly want the government out of their way when things are going well, but they want them there yesterday when things go wrong. I think National got that wrong in the first few days of the Rena incident.
And criticism of this is not just coming from Labour, but also from people who might normally be described as friends of the government like John Roughan, Paul Holmes and even Matthew Hooten. Here is part of Hooten’s NBR column which is not on-line. (h/t Liberation)
Joyce failed totally to comprehend what the Rena grounding meant to the Bay of Plenty’, and ‘He did not see that, as transport minister and arguably the most powerful figure in the government after Mr Key, his role was to lead and improve the quality of the response, and ensure it was sufficiently empowered and resourced. When he spoke publicly, he demonstrated little empathy with locals, telling them there was no point going to the beach to clean up the oil, saying more was on its way and that it could take years to resolve anyway
Then there is the question of whether the government had done the work over the last three years to have us planned for a disaster like this. There are questions here too, with the freeze on funding for Maritime NZ and the failure to put in place the mechanism that would see more of the costs of dealing with the disaster fall on the ship company and less on you and me.
So, in the face of this disaster, we join with all New Zealanders in wanting to protect our beautiful coastline and all those, human and animal who inhabit it. But we also take our role seriously to raise the question- Where was the leadership?, and in this case it was sadly lacking.
Good piece in the Sunday Star Times today about the reality of working as a Courier Driver. The impact of cut-throat competition, unfair contracting and a lack of minimum protection for dependent contractors is illustrated well.
Courier drivers are struggling to earn a living wage, with incomes stalled at about the same level as they were 20 years ago, while running costs have exploded. Urgent Couriers’ managing director Steve Bonnici said prices had been slashed due to cut-throat competition, which only intensified during the economic downturn of the past few years. Bonnici said prices have been cut to “ridiculous levels” – and it wasn’t just small, fly-by-night operators doing the cutting. As contractors, drivers had few of the benefits of employees, yet they were still obliged to wear a corporate uniform, work certain hours, apply for annual leave, and work exclusively for one company – as well as providing their own vehicles.
I’ve been on about this for some time now, including calling for SafeRates and better protections for all drivers. My Minimum Wage and Remuneration Bill, which would have provided at least minimum wage protection to these contractors was voted down early in the term of the National Government.
The National government, despite claiming it is the party for small business, has ignored the problems for small business operators like those in the Courier Industry.
“Anecdotal evidence from couriers looking for work indicates some firms are paying less than the minimum wage of $13 an hour. That’s not enough to live on, especially for drivers with families and mortgages”, Bonnici said……
“It’s sad what’s happened to our industry; there are plenty of owner-drivers out there whose revenue before expenses is barely the minimum hourly wage. After they have paid costs out of this revenue they are below the poverty line,” said Paul Holdom, who developed CourierPost Urgent for NZ Post and is now sales manager at Inter City Urgent.
The industry is now coming around to the view that regulation might work better so that there is protection for small business operators who are totally dependent on one firm for their income.
“Every other industry has the minimum wage. You can’t put an ad in the paper offering employment at $7.50 an hour”, Bonnici says.
I’ve had a lot of contact with courier and other drivers over the last three years. Some of their stories are shocking.
Another piece in today’s SST gives an insight into what Labour’s policy will include when it is announced on the 18th October.
Karl Anderson, First Union’s representative for transport and logistics in the Northern Region, said legislative protection was coming in Australia and it was the union’s desire to see it here too.
“I don’t think we have a bolter’s show under a Key government, which is ironic, given they say they are the saviours of small businesspeople,” he said.
These are the voices of Labour MPs on issues that we care about - and we'd like to hear what you think too. What you’ll read are the individual opinions of MPs. We won’t always agree with each other and sometimes our opinions may change.