Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Labour casts net for votes, heats pan for Collins

95 comments
Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Former Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen's 2006 prophecy of "jam tomorrow" will come to fruition today, although it may not quite be the kind of jam people were hoping for.

It will be a traffic jam.

Realising there are votes to be gained from angry holidaymakers stuck in traffic for hours, Labour took measures to try to harvest them this week by releasing a groundbreaking holidaymakers' transport policy.

Labour has long been driven by a drive to reduce inequality. So it announced it would drop the need to register caravans and trailers and cut road user charges for motorhomes and campervans.

The coup de grace of the policy was the ban on trucks from using the right-hand lane on three or four lane motorways - an attempt to peg into the futile rage that swamps drivers whose aims are thwarted by said trucks.

As "Kiwi families" loaded up their surfboards and fishing rods, David Cunliffe's Caravan of Love was here to help. "Fun can quickly turn to frustration when the family realises the rego for the caravan has expired or there's a big truck hogging the fast lane."

Cunliffe declared, "Kiwis are sweating the small stuff too much."

Somebody else may be guilty of that as well.

The trouble with delivering something to entice voters while sitting in traffic jams is that it also gives them time to think things through to their logical end. Once they get to that end, Labour's policy could well be counterproductive. That logical end is even bigger traffic jams.

Encouraging the use of caravans and campervans by making them cheaper to run is only likely to make those jams worse. It is also debatable whether banning trucks from using the right-hand lane only on three or four lane motorways will make any difference at all. It is not the large motorways, but rather two- or one-lane places such as the Brynderwyns where motorists get stuck behind trucks trying to overtake each other for weeks on end.

Then there was the us and them mentality it risked encouraging. The caravaners can console themselves with knowing that the $34 saving on registration helps pay for the extra fuel used up in hours of idling in those traffic jams. But for bach owners, tent campers and hotel users, banning caravans and trailers altogether would be more beneficial. There is a further blow for bach owners. Not only would they get stuck behind more caravans and motorhomes with happy families inside beaming at the extra dollars in their pockets, but they would also have to pay the capital gains tax Labour intends to impose on baches.

The cynics on Twitter were quick to point out that there was benefit in the policy for Labour because the caravan measure would help Labour keep campaign costs down. Caravans are used as campaign stations by several MPs.

That said, let us look at that policy for what it is. It is a relatively harmless gimmick, a water cooler policy tossed out to create a talking point. In that regard it has succeeded. The other aim is to try to send the message that Labour understands even the petty frustrations people face. Had it been meant for anything else, Labour would have timed it so as not to coincide with the royal visit and would have made much more of it.

Other parties are guilty of doing exactly the same thing. In his very first few months as Prime Minister, John Key pledged to investigate banning crab pots at popular beaches in case they were responsible for attracting sharks. We haven't heard any more about that in the intervening five years. A few years ago, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters cannily used the slow news period of Easter to release a call to bring back the 10-year passport and got a much better run of it than he would have at any other time. Surprisingly, National did the policy the honour of taking it seriously and getting all hot cross bun over it.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee issued no fewer than three press releases about it seeking to drive a further wedge between campervaners and motorists, saying it would mean motorists were subsidising the campervans.

Labour by now had moved on. They were putting on their Easter drama production, a joint Labour-New Zealand First production titled "The Crusherfixion".

The two parties mounted a pincer movement against Justice and ACC Minister Judith Collins in Parliament. New Zealand First and Labour dedicated much of question time and their speaking slots in the debate to Collins' connections with Oravida and dinner with a Chinese border official. To rub things in further for Collins, National put Steven Joyce in charge of mounting the great defence. That defence consisted of pointing out the long list of leadership hopefuls behind Cunliffe.

The obvious corollary was the now diminished number of hopefuls Joyce now faced in National.

While the holidaymakers were preparing for the traffic jams to go fishing, Labour had its own fish to fry.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

Read more by Claire Trevett

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 02 Aug 2014 19:49:16 Processing Time: 463ms