Gordon Campbell on National’s 20th century transport policy, and Labours’ woes

f2857bcf015747085403In justifying its multi-squillion dollar, ten years in the making, four lane highway linking Whangarei to Tauranga, the National Party did what it always does when climate change gets in the way of business as usual: It waves its hands around and says science will somehow fix it, eventually. Or in the words of its Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown, “We’re going to have electric vehicles, we’re going to have hydrogen trucks… These things are coming they’re happening already…”

Right. So allegedly, we don’t need to worry about the climate change implications of underfunding public transport, and refusing to invest in a light rail mass transport system for Auckland while – in the meantime – building more huge roading schemes for emissions belching vehicles to travel down…. Because allegedly, we’ll all soon be buying Teslas, and shipping goods in hydrogen trucks. In Simeon Brown’s dreams.

Leave aside the fact that National has derided as a “ute tax” the government subsidies meant to encourage the take-up of cleaner vehicles. And hydrogen trucks? Here’s the current state of play on them from professor David Cebon, director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight and the Cambridge Vehicle Dynamics Consortium:

“Three times more on running costs, two times more on capital costs, you’d have to be insane to buy a hydrogen-powered truck, right?”, Cebon says, asks midway through an explanation on why electric heavy goods vehicles have become the best option for de-carbonised road freight. His research shows that the car industry is driving the learning curve for electric lorries, which means that, with batteries becoming cheaper and cheaper, the gap will only widen.

Brown’s overall figure for the above project – six billion dollars – looks as dodgy as his assurances about climate change. It is 357 kilometres from Whangarei to Tauranga. The 27 kilometre Transmission Gully highway cost is 27 kilometres long and has cost at least $1.25 billion to date. Even allowing for differences in terrain, it seems heroic to assume that a highway 13 times as long can cost only a little over five times as much.

National has form in grossly under-shotting on such matters. For a party that has staked its credibility on its alleged line-by-line discipline about government spending. the transport policy it released yesterday has woefully under-estimated the likely costs of its revived set of Roads of National Significance:

  • Tauriko West State Highway 29: National has put the cost at $1.9 billion. Waka Kotahi’s latest estimates put the cost range at $2.5 billion-$3.25 billion ($600 million-$1.35 billion short)
  • Warkworth to Wellsford Expressway: National said $2.2 billion. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $3.5 billion-$4 billion ($1.3 billion-$1.8 billion short)
  • Cambridge to Piarere: National said $721 million. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $1.5 billion-$2 billion ($780 million-$1.28 billion short)
  • Whangārei to Port Marsden: National said $1.3 billion. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $1.41 billion-$1.67 billion ($110 million-$367 million short).

Besides deliberately using out-of-date estimates, National says it can build these new roads (a) without raising road user charges /petrol excise taxes, (b) by putting in a few stretches of toll roads (c) by scrapping the Auckland light rail project altogether and (d) by slashing much of the Lets Get Wellington Moving project, although it simultaneously says it will be keeping that plan’s most expensive features, such as the second Mr Victoria tunnel, and the re-design of the Basin Reserve bottleneck.

In short, National’s costs for its road-focussed transport policy have absolutely no credibility, let alone any connection to the realities of climate change. Instead, National is one again offloading the climate change repercussions of its policies, onto future generations.

Footnote: Lets Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) originated with the last National government. It involves a three-way partnership between Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. The project has been stuck in the political traffic ever since.

Footnote Two: Labour’s transport policy has yet to be released, although PM Chris Hipkins says that Labour is still committed to building light rail in Auckland, and the yet-to-emerge business case will hinge only on the routes it will take and the extent to which it will run above, or below the ground. Labour’s past preference for Lets Get Wellington Moving included a light rail scheme to the south of the city, and a second Mt Victoria tunnel.

For whom the polls toll

‘The latest Roy Morgan poll out today is disastrous for the centre-left. It has Labour at 26 ( down 4.5) the Greens almost stable on 9 (Down .5%) Te Pāti Maori down one, on 6… While over on the centre- right, National is up 3.5% on 33.5, the ACT Party is down one on 14, and NZ First is finally crossing the MMP threshold on 5, up 2 points.

If nothing else, there has to be a change of messaging from Labour. The assurances from campaign manager Megan Woods that everything is fine, the feedback is great, the party is in good heart, etc. etc. seem like a wilful denial of reality. More to the point, Hipkins’ “hand me another sausage roll” cheeky chappie schtick wore out its welcome quite some time ago. Labour now appears to be heading for Bill English territory, 2002. As has already been pointed out, the current government is rating at the hated low point National reached just after Ruth Richardson’s Mother of All Budgets.

Labour is therefore likely to lose a lot of electorate MPs. This is despite the fact the caucus chose Chris Hipkins as leader, froze Labour’s policy agenda, and traded in the party’s historic Parliamentary majority …All because they thought that this would help more of them save their jobs. Plainly, the “safe” option hasn’t worked. If they’d had the courage to lead from the front, they could hardly have done worse – and at least would have gone down fighting. Right now, Hipkins and Megan Woods keep insisting that things are still going swimmingly, even as Labour sinks underwater.

Saved by the list

All of the above meant that yesterday’s Labour Party candidates list was of particular relevance to some critically endangered Labour MPs. The list may mean precious little to the public, but it serves several functions for existing and budding MPs. The list can be an insurance scheme in case of electorate failure; it can propel rising talent into Parliament; and it provides a sign of how the leadership rates the best and brightest within its ranks.

To outsiders, that last bit is always something of a puzzle. How does one explain (other than as a captain’s call) the fact that Jan Tinetti is ranked at number four after an undistinguished stint as Education Minister that is remembered mainly for landing her in front of the privileges committee? Why is Hamilton West candidate Georgie Dansey placed relatively highly at 31 – and ahead of say, the likes of Ibrahim Omar and Rachel Boyack? Why is Jo Luxton rated at 19? And why – apart from quota requirements – has Willow-Jean Prime been vaulted up nine points to number nine, unless Labour thinks it really is going to lose her Northland seat to Shane Jones, and so had better save her via the list. Again, why is saving Prime the top priority among those kinds of rescue missions? Several more talented performers would seem a better investment in the future.

If the swing to the centre-right remains as large as today’s poll indicates – or if it gets worse – Labour may regret elevating so many of its time-serving deadweights.

More Sinead

This (almost) a capella version of “He Moved Through the Fair “ is a great example of Sinead O’Connor’s uncannily sensitive vocal choices, not to mention her famed ‘whisper to a shout’ range:

Over the years, she did any number of terrific duets with musicians of all sorts – – Jah Wobble, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, The Edge, Willie Nelson etc – but this live version (from Top of the Pops!) of “Haunted” with Shane MacGowan is one of the standouts. Great T-shirt, too.

And here she is lifting one of Massive Attack’s best tracks …Here as elsewhere, no-one could ask for a more intelligent, more sensitive collaborator:

Finally this track from fairly early in her career served as a prophetic personal statement. Like the song itself, the video plays with the conventions, but also subverts them: The treadmill effect, the arch non-dancing, the abrupt walk off at the end…