Robertson relishes the patsy questions – when the Opposition quiz him, he is not quite so ebullient

Finance   Minister  Grant  Robertson  can’t  resist  seeing  the  sunny side of  the  economy.  When Parliament  resumed  this  week, he  was   first  up  at  question  time  to  tell  New Zealanders that –  thanks to a strong  export  performance – the economic  recovery  is  going  well.

But  Robertson  didn’t  sound  quite   so  ebullient  when later  he  faced  some  harder  questions  from the  Opposition   benches.

Clearly  the party’s  internal  polling  has  shown rising  dissatisfaction on issues  outside  the Covid  realm, a trend reflected in  polls  like  those  of  Newshub  Reid Research,  which indicated  support  for  Labour had  fallen  nearly  10 points  from  the previous  sampling.

Even  inside Labour there  have  been  rumblings, as  indicated  by its elder  statesman Sir Michael  Cullen contending  the  $15bn  Auckland light  rail  project could be a disastrous waste of taxpayer  money.  And it has been  followed by suggestions the  government itself  is  backpedalling  on the proposed  $700m  Auckland bridge for  cyclists  and  walkers. Continue reading “Robertson relishes the patsy questions – when the Opposition quiz him, he is not quite so ebullient”

The kids will be at school – so let’s check what the speed limit is just now and be sure we know when we can legally quicken the pace

The wellbeing of our young ones is high in considerations in the Beehive today. More bureaucracy comes into it, too, at first glimpse.

The Government is proposing “to make it easier” for local communities to set safe speed limits around schools to help kids get to and from school safely

But much speed-management planning will be required which (we imagine) can only mean more paper work.

Improved wellbeing would be the aim of other new initiatives – 

  • To make our borders even safer, the Government has created a new ‘very high risk country’ category that (it claims) will significantly reduce the number of infected people flying to New Zealand. The new category kicks in from 11.59pm on 28 April. Countries have initially been designated very high risk where there have been more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 1000 arrivals to New Zealand from those countries in 2021, and where there are more than 15 travellers on average per month. India, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan now meet that threshold.
  • Housing Minister Megan Woods has opened a 167 unit apartment in Auckland’s Glen Eden and 83 transitional homes in Ōtahuhu.

Fair to say, the improved wellbeing of Kiwis -all of us or some of us – to some extent is the aim of other statements:  Continue reading “The kids will be at school – so let’s check what the speed limit is just now and be sure we know when we can legally quicken the pace”

Here’s hoping Transport Minister applies Transmission Gully lessons (and delays) to Light Rail project in Auckland

The Transmission Gully interim review has found serious flaws at the planning stage of the 27km highway, “undermining” the successful completion of the four-lane motorway north of Wellington, according to Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson and Transport Minister Michael Wood.

Grant Robertson said the review found the public-private partnership (PPP) established under the last National government lacked the proper rigour and consideration.

The review was focused on how the project was awarded for the agreed price, whether the price was realistic, and whether the risks then identified were appropriately considered.

When  announcing  the  review  in  August last  year,  the  government said Transmission Gully would open by September 2021 but will cost another $208m to build, taking  the  cost  to $1.25bn.  Originally the  project’s  cost  was put  at $850m,   but Covid lockdowns  set it spiralling upwards.

At  that point in 2020 the government was  said  to have   “slammed” the delays and increased costs.

But hey – remember  that  Phil  Twyford  had   already  had  three  years as  Transport  Minister  to  expedite  the  project .  Yet all he  did was  order  a  review. Continue reading “Here’s hoping Transport Minister applies Transmission Gully lessons (and delays) to Light Rail project in Auckland”

How “responsibility” is being redefined on Ardern’s watch – first at the top, and now at ministerial level

The Ardern  government, adding  a  fresh  policy  pile-up to  the heap  it  has  accumulated,  has been  busy re-defining   the  core   principle  of   ministerial  responsibility.

Health  Minister   David   Clark   has   joined   Transport  Minister  Phil  Twyford   in  the  “look, no hands”  brigade,   as he  shrugs  off   responsibility   for   failing  to  ensure  the government’s   strict border  protocols   as  agreed   by  Cabinet   were  implemented.

And  Twyford, adding the failure to deliver Labour’s  key  2017 election pledge to  build   Auckland’s  light  rail  by 2021  to  his  KiwiBuild  performance,  must still be laughing  as he   draws  his  ministerial  salary  and looks  forward to  another term,  after being  promoted  to  number four on   Labour’s list.

The  consequence  is  headlines  such as “Phil Twford, Minister of   embarrassing failures”  and  “David Clark throws  Ashley Bloomfield  under a  bus,  while Bloomfield looks on”.

Not   quite  the sort   Labour   will cherish  as  it  goes  into a general election  campaign.

Point  of  Order, in an earlier  post,  noted   what  is  emerging  in  NZ as  a redefinition  of   leadership:  Ardern  is   there to lead,  not to take  responsibility.  This defies    all  previous conventions in a  parliamentary   democracy.

This  is  now being refined  for  ministers, too.   They  are there   to  get  Cabinet sign-off  on measures,  but not to take  responsibility  when  a programme is not fulfilled. Continue reading “How “responsibility” is being redefined on Ardern’s watch – first at the top, and now at ministerial level”

Light rail was promoted as a “game changer” – but govt must change gear (and the minister, maybe) to quicken the pace

We wonder if there is any surprise among readers that the  Ardern  government   has  made a hash  of  delivering    another  of its   flagship   policies, Auckland’s light  rail  project.

Ardern  labelled the project  to build  light  rail from  Auckland city to  the airport  a  “game changer”.  And  she  promised  to extend it to  Mt Roskill within four years  of taking office.

This  week   deputy PM  Winston Peters   told  Parliament “exploratory” work has  still to be  completed.

As  Point of Order sees it, those who wonder why the project  is close to  foundering should ask who is in  charge of the  project.  They will find it is  Phil Twyford,  whose  performance  with KiwiBuild  was so disappointing – and became so politically embarrassing – that the PM this year gave ministerial responsibility to someone else.

Twyford retained   Transport, though  Ardern’s  judgement was questionable.

Simply,   the  government’s  excuse  in blaming   failures  on   “nine years  of neglect”  by  the   previous   government is  coming back to haunt ministers  like Twyford.  For if  ministers  in the previous  government  didn’t  do their job,  how  come  the  current  crop  so neglected  the preparation and implementation of a better policy that  they are  failing  even more spectacularly to deliver  what they promised?

Twyford, of course, shuffles off  responsibility for  the  botch-up to the  NZ  Transport  Agency  and the  new  chairman of  the  agency, Sir Brian Roche,  concedes  it  did  “drop  the  ball” —but  where does   this leave  the  principle of  ministerial responsibility?

Opposition  Leader Simon Bridges opened   question time in Parliament  on  Wednesday  by asking the PM when construction  would begin on  light  rail  in Auckland. This  was the  answer he  got  from the  deputy PM  (standing  in for  Ardern)::

Like every person that understands both transport and business, when we have the forward costings organised, all the engineering reports, and all the alternative views are put on the table, then we will make a commercial decision”. 

That doesn’t  sound   like any  time soon.

Here’s  another  exchange  from  Parliament on Wednesday:

Chris  Bishop  ( Opposition—Hutt  South)  : Is it correct that the government is assessing only two bids for the Auckland light rail project—one from the NZTA, and one from NZ Infra—and, if so, is he confident that the Crown will receive value for money from this procurement process?

Twyford: After years of under-investment in our largest city’s transport system and the gridlock that that caused, our government is determined to build the transport networks that a modern international city needs. It’s not correct to characterise the process as containing only two bids. Cabinet has asked the Ministry of Transport (MOT) to run a competitive process between two approaches. One is the proposal from NZ Infra which would see it finance, build, own, and operate the light rail lines, and the other approach, being developed by NZTA.

According to  reports, Treasury has warned the government that getting it wrong could see the cost of the $6bn project balloon like Edinburgh’s light rail, which took six years to build and cost twice its initial estimate.

In August the government said work wouldn’t even start in 2020, as it still had to weigh up who would build and run the scheme, NZTA, its own transport agency – or the NZ Super Fund, which made a surprise, unsolicited offer to build and run the project in April last year.

A   report  by Stuff  contended Twyford was warned by officials the NZ Super Fund bid wasn’t up to scratch. In fact, the initial bid was just six power-point slides.

Twyford now says Cabinet has asked the Ministry of Transport to run a competitive process between  two approaches. One is the proposal from NZ Infra, which would see it finance, build, own, and operate the light rail lines; the other approach being developed by NZTA would include the more conventional public-private partnership (PPP), or design and build models.

Early next year, Cabinet will decide which of these two approaches it prefers.

Clearly   it will be a  slow  march to  end   Auckland’s  gridlock.