Fran O'Sullivan: Key's reluctant fillip two years too late

47 comments
Mayor Brown right on the money with rail call but Govt let concerns over his leadership poison its decision-making.

It's notable that there were no cheers - let alone mild applause - from business when John Key announced his $3.5 billion fillip to Auckland's transport infrastructure.

It's not simply that the Prime Minister's announcement had been well-telegraphed. The business people mustered by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce for yesterday's lunch knew exactly why they were there.

Read More:

John Key to kickstart $2.5b Auckland city rail link
Audrey Young: Tunnels, rail-lines, asphalt and tar the order of the day for John Key
Key's state of the nation - full speech


But the reality is Key was two years too late when it came to his Government finally committing to bring forward spending on the $2.5 billion city rail link (dubbed Len's trainset) so construction could begin two years earlier that the previously agreed 2020 deadline.

It had taken a concerted behind-scenes campaign by business lobbies to shift the Government off its lofty perch in the first place and start listening hard (and acting) on what Auckland needed.

Key's Government had initially allowed its concerns over Len Brown's leadership to spill over to poison decision-making.

Brown can be a strange fish (at times) but there is no doubting that he was on the money with his campaign to build a through connection through Britomart.

The mayor did not help his case by initially pledging a suite of major transport projects as the centrepiece of his 2010 mayoral campaign without doing sufficient due diligence on the city's ability to pay for these major investments or the Government's capacity to step up.

But the major immigration boost which has latterly resulted in Auckland bursting its seams, combined with pressure on public transport, meant it was inevitable that the Government had to move now.

The upshot of inaction would be that the Key Government would have become a neat target for Labour MP Phil Goff in his campaign for the Auckland mayoralty in the local body elections this year.

This had the potential to spill over into the 2017 national elections when Key will be shooting for a fourth term in Government.

Key is now saying that Auckland Council will have to "justify" introducing congestion charges or motorway tolls to help fund its "50:50 share" of the new transport infrastructure.

This is unnecessarily provocative.

Most modern cities use tolls or congestion charges to both fund and constrain motorway construction expenditure.

Aucklanders are now in broad support of this move.

The Government should simply fall into line.

Mayor Len Brown on Auckland's new electric trains. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mayor Len Brown on Auckland's new electric trains. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Its tardiness in moving down this funding route will give rise to suspicions that it wants Auckland Council to realise other commercial infrastructure assets to pay its share of the new investment.

But there is no reason why Auckland Council cannot do both: Simply sell down its shares in Auckland International Airport and Ports of Auckland and also introduce more motorway tolls and congestion charges.

The $1 billion East-West Connections road project which was also put onto the fast track yesterday is also long overdue.

The big plus from a Government perspective is that the infrastructure spend will underpin economic growth in Auckland.

The Government - like others around the world - invested big in infrastructure to revive the national economy after the global financial crisis. Late last year the Reserve Bank suggested it was time for the Government to do the same again by upping infrastructure spending.

Yesterday Key was maintaining there was no need for a stimulus package. The reality is this $4 billion injection into the economy is exactly that.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 28 Sep 2016 12:35:42 Processing Time: 510ms