By Jenée Tibshraeny
Labour and NZ First have pocketed political wins from Wednesday’s big infrastructure project reveal.
The Coalition Government has taken the wind out of the Opposition’s sails; Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern now adopting National’s “we’re the party of infrastructure” line.
Both the business community and unions are broadly pleased with the $6.8 billion of transport projects to be brought forward and funded.
The Government is now under pressure to execute its plans well.
With KiwiBuild under-delivering and it still being undecided whether the New Zealand Transport Agency or New Zealand Super Fund will run the Auckland light rail project, the public’s tolerance for teething problems/stuff-ups related to much-needed infrastructure is near zero.
The same goes for the construction sector, which is crying out for certainty and continuity.
Some of the transport projects announced on Wednesday were consented under the National-led Government, and some were earmarked in the second phase of its Roads of National Significance, criticised by Labour when in opposition.
Even though the designs of these projects have been “improved”, National leader Simon Bridges can legitimately claim parts of the Coalition Government’s big reveal are a “copy” of his party’s plans.
He also makes a fair point that the Government wasted time “tearing up these plans and putting them back together again”.
But the reality is, these roads weren’t built under National, so in the eyes of the public (which just want the work done), the Coalition Government comes out on top.
Bridges said National will “go even further” on infrastructure investment.
But the question is, where will it get the money from, especially as it wants to borrow less as a portion of gross domestic product (GDP) than the Government is.
National is open to public private partnerships. It also wants to introduce “revenue neutral” congestion charging, which it will need to pitch carefully so it doesn’t get slammed for going back on its word and introducing a “tax”.
But the Government has left National little to attack it over in election year when it comes to this new infrastructure spend.
NZ First one-ups the Greens
NZ First leader Winston Peters was chipper at Wednesday’s announcement and even had to be dragged away from the media by NZ First MP Shane Jones (who made his presence known) to get to his next engagement.
Just over $1b was secured for rail, as well as $692m to upgrade SH1, Whangarei to Port Marsden, to four lanes.
Questions were raised at the press conference over whether this signalled the Government was leaning towards moving the Ports of Auckland north.
Cabinet is expected to report back on the matter in May. It wasn’t sold on a working group recommendation last year to move the operation to Northport, as NZ First wishes.
As for the Green Party, it looked a bit like the neglected sibling in the Coalition Government family.
While some of the roading upgrades will include cycle and walkways, some investment is going into public transport, and funding has been committed to the Skypath over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the transport package is unashamedly road-heavy.
The party's co-leader James Shaw acknowledged if he could have things his way, the mix of projects would look different.
He characteristically kept face, but will yet again have to tell Green supporters something to the tune of: “We know it isn’t perfect, but we’re doing what we can within the bounds of the political system.”