Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: MP left with awkward promise after Key's rail pledge


I'm guessing that North Shore National MP Maggie Barry will have experienced a true "Oh bugger" moment when she first heard of her leader's shock u-turn in favour of building the Auckland City rail link.

In her shoes, who wouldn't have? Contemplating your own demise has a way of concentrating the mind.

I bet she's wishing she'd observed the advice of a long-time National PM, Sir Keith Holyoake, who advised new MPs to breathe through their noses for their first term. In other words, the way to avoid terminal embarrassment is to keep your lips zipped until you learn the rules.

But in the sweet euphoria of post election victory, back in November 2011, playing dumb was the last thing on Ms Barry's mind. She told her local paper to pass on the message to Auckland Mayor Len Brown that there would be a CBD rail link before a new harbour crossing "over our dead bodies".

Following Prime Minister John Key's volte-face on Friday, signalling Mr Brown had won and promising the rail link would begin by 2020, if not before - certainly well before any one is contemplating a new crossing of the Waitemata Harbour - I guess Ms Barry's thoughts have turned to composing her bucket list. And leaving endless messages on her boss' phone, pleading for another u-turn.

If only, like former Green MP Keith Locke, she'd promised to do a Lady Godiva instead. During the 2005 campaign, Mr Locke had rashly threatened to "run down the main street of Epsom naked if Rodney Hide wins Epsom". Mr Hide scored a surprise 3244 vote majority and Mr Locke duly honoured his promise - well, sort of, with the aid of thick body paint, Y-fronts and shoes.

I'm not sure how Ms Barry will be able to follow in his footsteps and "sort of" simulate a dead body.

I'd be willing to let her off the hook if she agreed to sit in the Britomart train station for a suitable period, without taking a breath, while Mayor Len sang a lengthy waiata to her on the glories of commuter rail. Then lend her TV announcer voice to a promotional video for the project. I think I'd insist on Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee joining her.

After all, just six months ago he was rubbishing the latest Sinclair Knight Merz report on the tunnel - a report Mr Brownlee had ordered Auckland Council to commission - as falling "some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support".

He said that "in a nutshell the report says the case for building the CRL is weak now, [and] improves somewhat if it is built closer to 2030 - based on some extremely optimistic assumptions ...".

What a difference a few months and some bad polling makes.

On Friday, Ms Barry dashed out a press statement claiming the PM's announcement "marks the single biggest transport project affecting the North Shore since the bridge was opened in 1959 ...

"There is no doubt that North Shore residents will be celebrating this long overdue announcement of the most significant development many of us will see in our lifetime."

Rest assured, she wasn't referring to the CRL. She was beating up Mr Key's vague statement that "a new harbour crossing is likely to be needed between 2025 and 2030" and that the Government agrees with the Auckland Council that when it is built, it "should be a tunnel". Far from announcing the biggest thing to happen in anyone's lifetime, Mr Key announced "the first step in what will be a very long-term project is therefore to protect the route for the crossing, which we expect will occur before the end of the year once the details of the preferred alignment have been confirmed".

The North Shore MP seems to have missed the words "very long-term project" and "needed between 2025 and 2030". That's five to 10 years after Mr Key plans to start digging the CRL.

As for it being new, Transit NZ, now replaced by the NZ Transport Agency, lodged a "notice of requirement" for a tunnel route in 2009. In January, NZTA regional director Stephen Town said it was in discussion with Auckland Council and public submissions would open "sometime in 2014".

In the meantime, Ms Barry has a promise to deal with.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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