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John Armstrong: Brownlee takes ribbing over rail link u-turn

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Gerry Brownlee. Photo / Greg Bowker
Gerry Brownlee. Photo / Greg Bowker

One of Gerry Brownlee's more endearing qualities as a politician is that when he gets caught out he does not bother too much trying to hide it. A sheepish-looking smile instead creeps across his face.

There was certainly sufficient reason for Brownlee to succumb to such a facial expression yesterday after he was rumbled in his capacity as Transport Minister by Labour's Phil Twyford.

The latter had got wind of Government plans to go ahead with the construction of the Auckland city rail link - a complete u-turn on Brownlee's oft-stated dismissal of the supposed benefits of the near $3 billion project.

An announcement had been scheduled for tomorrow, Friday being a day on which Parliament normally does not sit. That would have saved Brownlee from the ribbing he consequently got in the House yesterday.

Twyford did not hold back, saying Brownlee and Steven Joyce, another opponent of the rail loop when he held the Transport portfolio, had been made to look "total idiots" by their Cabinet colleagues.

When he spoke, Brownlee devoted little effort to countering Twyford apart from saying he would have thought the Labour MP would have realised that "every loop has a u-turn in it".

Twyford's exposure of National's plan helped deflect some of National's otherwise unadulterated glee at the slump in both Labour's and David Shearer's ratings in the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey. The poll had provided the cue for National's Chris Finlayson to warn Shearer to watch both his front and back.

The former did so via a history lecture during the debate on the subject of loyalty and treachery in the Labour Party.

The Cabinet minister described the Labour Party as being like "some kind of macabre Byzantine dance of killers" who habitually plotted to get rid of the incumbent leader simply so they could turn on the next one.

Finlayson said Shearer was "a very nice guy and a good and decent man" who had done a lot of good in his work overseas with international agencies like the United Nations.

"But none of his dealings with central African dictatorships or Balkan civil wars could have prepared him for the leadership of the Labour Party," said Finlayson somewhat sarcastically, provoking laughter from applauding National colleagues.

Twyford got the last laugh, however, noting that Brownlee had only days earlier dismissed the city rail link as "a short, little loop".

Added Twyford: "I wondered in fact if he was talking about Mr Finlayson."

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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