The two year media reviews of the Labour led coalition agree it is struggling to get enough runs on the board. Why is this so?
After nine years of opposition it can be expected there would be a running in period. However that doesn’t adequately explain why they are delivering less than they had hoped.
While it is natural to expect Labour would have a modest understanding of how business works, it was a surprise to me also, that far too few Ministers actually understand how Government works. So many don’t understand the mechanisms of government which means they failed to make best use of their time in opposition. Not only that, its apparent they don’t understand the most important law of all – the law of unintended consequences.
In opposition I had several meetings with Phil Twyford and found him to be personable and passionate about his policy areas of transport and housing. As a Minister however he has come across as arrogant, dismissing Treasury officials early on for their questioning of his Kiwibuild targets. “Wet behind the ears” he said. That may or may not have been true, but it is now apparent Treasury wasn’t pessimistic enough.
The Auckland tram (or light rail) project is a true “train wreck” in public policy making. Good journalism from Stuff and others including the Herald’s Matthew Hooton, reveal a picture of chaotic decision making. Early on Transport Minister Twyford transferred responsibility for the City-airport link from Auckland Transport to NZTA. Then an “unsolicited bid” for a quite different proposition emerged from the NZ Super Fund together with a Canadian infrastructure fund (CDPQ Infra), jointly known as NZ Infra, which NZTA was asked to evaluate.
Apparently NZTA decided this proposal lacked merit and continued with its tram project along Dominion Road. Various business entities invested in the NZTA concept in anticipation of bidding for work.
The situation now is the Ministry of Transport and The Treasury are going to evaluate both concepts and Cabinet will decide their preference early next year. They will need to also get NZ First on board, because the project is not part of the coalition agreement.
To further complicate matters Hooten claims that the recently appointed NZTA chair Sir Brian Roche, was informally involved with the NZ Infra proposal along with Sir Michael Cullen at its beginning. He is said to be very enthusiastic about it.
While Brian Roche (a personal friend) is well qualified to navigate his way through this quagmire, the integrity of government procurement processes have taken a serious reputational hit.
Minister Twyford has criticised previous NZTA actions regarding NZ Infra. However it appears NZTA officials repeatedly asked the Minister to clarify the project’s objectives as to whether the focus was in getting to and from the airport in the fastest possible manner or having a tram/train to the airport, which would allow for housing densification.
Twyford thinks we can have both and has referenced London’s tube service from Heathrow to London. I have used the regular tube from Heathrow to the city, which was a nightmare after a long flight and takes about 50 minutes. There is a fast 15 minutes service from Heathrow to Paddington which leaves every 15 minutes from Heathrow and has no stops until it reaches Paddington.
I doubt a service every 15 minutes from Auckland going non stop to say Britomart, would be justified by the numbers of customers, so he really need to make up his mind about what’s required. And while its very easy to publicly slag off officials who cannot publicly answer back, I think it is an unwise practice. Officials can find ways of biting Ministerial critics.
The billion extra trees, which may or may not be additional to what the private sector would have planted, has also created picture of confused policy making. The main justification appears to be to create carbon soaks to help NZ achieve the net carbon emission goal by 2050.
As I understand it pine forests will only buy us time over the first 30 years because once harvested they will have to be replanted. Many in the rural sector don’t like the idea of the landscape being dominated by pine trees and say it will destroy local communities.
Both NZ First and Labour don’t like land being sold to foreigners, but we now have this strange situation where the Green Minister Land Information has allowed Japanese company Pan Pac Forest Products to buy around 20,000 hectares of land for forestry blocks. This decision followed from a 2018 law change which allowed the Minister to by-pass the Overseas Investment Office, the agency responsible for regulating foreign direct investment into New Zealand. Other land has being sold to foreigners who want to take advantage of this Government’s policies in respect of climate change and forestry.
As National’s Paul Goldsmith said: Foreign investors can’t buy farm land to farm, or to convert to horticulture or vineyards, but they can buy productive farm land on a massive scale to put into forestry blocks”. He said “this is creating massive distortions in land use decisions in rural New Zealand”.
In defence Winston Peters said forestry is good for marginal land. But it’s is not clear all the sales to foreigners are for land that is marginal for pastoral farming or horticulture. Meantime Shane Jones has indicated he is sensitive to rural concerns about the impact of forestry on their communities.
This saga indicates a Government that is not thinking through conflicting goals in a rigorous manner. If a National Government had made these forestry decisions there would have been a ballistic response from the parties now in the coalition.