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Labour-led government's ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure investments were too focused on announcements and were not fully scoped

Public Policy / news
Labour-led government's ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure investments were too focused on announcements and were not fully scoped
Finance Minister Grant Robertson at Budget 2023
Finance Minister Grant Robertson enters the Budget 2023 lockup wearing Michael Cullen's old tie.

The Labour–NZ First Government gave the greenlight to infrastructure projects that were not fully scoped or planned during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Auditor-General says.

In early 2020, Labour and its coalition partners set up a $12 billion infrastructure fund, called the New Zealand Upgrade Program, and later a $3 billion “shovel ready” Covid recovery fund. 

John Ryan, who is responsible for auditing public bodies, has published a 70 page report looking at the investment decision-making process of these funds and found it to be lacking.

“Ministers made decisions to progress some NZUP projects even though those projects were not fully scoped or planned,” he wrote, in an overview. 

“Full business cases were not always available or up to date even when the project’s planning was more advanced, such as for transport projects that were already part of the National Land Transport Programme”.

The report acknowledged these decisions were made in challenging circumstances, as Ministers rushed to strengthen economic conditions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The need for early announcements to provide confidence to the public appears to have influenced how quickly these processes were carried out”.

The Auditor-General said he’d made “similar observations” about other Labour-led policies such as the Cost of Living Payment and the Provincial Growth Fund. 

“It concerns me that significant spending of public money continues to occur without appropriate processes for ensuring value for money and transparent decision-making”.

The report recommended having Treasury ensure there was regular public reporting on the progress of all Cabinet-level investments and review its expedited decision-making process. 

Grant Robertson, Labour’s finance spokesperson, said he accepted the recommendations around better reporting and clarifying investment criteria. 

“I think it is important to remember that both of those were done in the face of significant economic issues …  and in those situations where you need to respond quickly, not all of the full processes will be done”.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis said the report showed there had been “a lack of rigor” when the previous government chose infrastructure investments. 

“Given the information revealed in that report … we do need to look through each of those projects to determine whether they're on track and what's happening”.

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No surprises there!  Just like 100,000 houses etc etc

Great sound bites, PR and announcements but abysmal follow through.  It’s like the marketing department came up with a ‘great idea’ 10 minutes before a big pitch… and the clueless ran with it.
We’re finding out now how inept and wasteful they really were. 


A government consisting of nothing but wastrels. Really is a damning indictment isn’t it. No hiding from that. The RBNZ wilfully printed money and the 6th Labour government wilfully spent it. Pity Mr Robertson wasn’t as mindful and watchful about the nation’s finances as he was off hand and glib about his responsibilities.


Unfortunately they are hiding from it.

A free pass from the mainstream media.



Aye, Jessica, Tova and Jenna “wherefore out thou?”  Or does the light no longer break from yonder window since Jacinda fled the round tower?


Is this akin to the lamp under the bushel?


People confused what "shovel-ready" meant.

Turns out, the shovel in question is for loading a furnace with money, not digging foundations.


The shovel ready stuff was dogshit. I would add that there was no attempt to even put any criteria around whether the projects were strategically important or consistent with the overall government stated strategy. 


Well said. Down here in ChCh spent $20 mill on 800 metres (that is an eye watering $25000 per metre) of an estuary promenade (on which the cyclists are now bullying off  the pedestrians) while further north on the coast residents still have to zig zag down their streets avoiding the pot holes and resort to porto loos because their  sewage repair remains  buried in the too hard basket. Yep more than dog shit for sure. Just an example of woefully wrong priorities in which the Christchurch City Council is utterly complicit as well.



They figured the economy was going to turn to poo-poo due to COVID and figured a lolly scramble would pick things up.

But all the time in the world wouldn't get them in a position to invest money and commission projects wisely.


I think James Shaw had a shovel ready project for a Green private school in Taranki if I recall. So much for a minister doing any homework on the project he's about to approve.


Yes they really shot themselves and all taxpayers in the foot on Transmission Gully by forcing tools down for lockdowns, then going over their contracted key milestone dates which would have incurred $1m per day fines if memory serves. Ended up getting taken for a ride by said contracted companies who were ready to fight it in court when the re-negotiations happened and low and behold the govt tipped a wheelbarrow of cash in their lap to shush them up and told them to just finish the damned job however necessary.

7 mentioned earlier, just like the KiwiBuild programme.  Great article here on it's downfall from it's origins in 2012.…

Most interesting quote regards its origins from a 'back of the car' conversation;

"To tell you the truth, I was a bit concerned with the speed at which they grabbed it. I don't think there was pretty much more than our conversation – which was in the car going to something – it was a not a sitdown meeting, and the next thing they were introducing it," Roberts said.



And apart from no proper(any?) business case, they put the oleaginous Shane Jones in charge. Perhaps he didn't actually trouser any cash, but it is still a form of corruption and I am pretty sure some of the cash just 'disappeared'.


"The report recommended having Treasury ensure there was regular public reporting on the progress of all Cabinet-level investments and review its expedited decision-making process."

The recent debacle over the Cook strait ferries (and infrastructure) highlights that Treasury are not necessarily the right body to make such assessments.

Historically when the MoW existed there was a regular conflict between the Mow and Treasury over how the worth of projects were assessed....and that conflict led (IMO) to a more balanced assessment of the county's needs being presented to the politicians.

Sadly Treasury won the war with the pragmatists in the 80s reforms and a lot of our current infrastructure woes  can be traced back to that defeat.