Andrew Alderson: Govt funding an election winner

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Our appetite for America's Cup hasn't diminished. Photo / Chris Cameron
Our appetite for America's Cup hasn't diminished. Photo / Chris Cameron

Just for a moment, imagine you're sitting around the Cabinet table.

A paper entitled 'Should the government invest in another America's Cup challenge?' has landed in front of you. Your eyes rise to the ceiling's soft oval lighting as you ponder.

Hmmm, what to do, what to do. Well, the answer's simple, isn't it?

Look at what has unfolded over the last month as New Zealanders swarmed into a patriotic frenzy over what is essentially a corporate Emirates v Oracle event.

Investing in the America's Cup is a bona fide vote winner and can be justified as an investment in economic development (minister Steven Joyce) and tourism (minister John Key). Regardless of the event's underlying corporate ethos, New Zealanders' appetite to watch challenges for the Auld Mug has not lessened.

Let's look at some numbers. In a 2013 Budget document labelled "Key facts for the taxpayer" - no Prime Minister pun intended - 934,000 New Zealanders earn over $50,000 per annum.

The 30c tax in the dollar rate starts from $48,001. If a new America's Cup campaign was budgeted at $100 million it would be an investment of around $100 for each taxpayer, divided by the duration in years. It might need tinkering. For example, skew the burden towards Aucklanders, given they will be the major beneficiaries of any infrastructure or employment gains.

Hard decisions would be required regarding campaign personnel. New Zealanders must accept the current team needs a reshuffle and/or injection of fresh talent to improve. Dean Barker's sportsmanship has been exemplary throughout, but he's had three cracks (one defence and two challenges) as an America's Cup skipper and lost on each occasion.

It's not to say his sailing skills wouldn't be valuable, perhaps as a tactician. Grant Dalton also seems unlikely to continue as a team boss responsible for wooing sponsors and the government for cash. A change in leadership might be necessary after his 10 years' service. At least he has been stoic in defeat, a perception enhanced by his denial of any potential ETNZ legal challenge to question the improvement in Oracle's speed over the regatta.

Dalton's dignity has been contrasted by nauseating radio talkback where callers began with "I'm not a sailor but ..." and proceeded to give their 'expert insight' aka 'the latest conspiracy theory' into why their so-called 'national team' was robbed.

Three names spring to mind as possible recruits: Sir Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth and Sir Ben Ainslie. Feel free to cherry-pick any nationalities for the boat too. It is, despite misconceptions, a corporate-sponsored event; the Formula One of sailing. You don't hear too many complaints when those dreaded Johnny Foreigners get recruited with success for the Warriors or the Breakers.

The value of any government investment would be aligned to what it could deliver in pragmatic terms for industries like boat-building and as a tourism and sporting spectacle on New Zealand waters.

Coutts is a sailing genius, arguably the best nautical mind this country has produced . Butterworth's eyes are like US military-issue binoculars when it comes to identifying zephyrs of breeze. Ainslie was part of the ETNZ campaign in the 2007 America's Cup. Given his impact on this regatta - and the fact he'd love to drive a British syndicate - it'd be hard to match his price tag or patriotic calling.

Whatever the decision, the government needs to act quickly. Populist polling to get the people's verdict is presumably underway, but the clock is ticking. Dalton has said most team members would only switch through necessity, but who could blame them if it guarantees the bills get paid while the government hesitates.

- Herald on Sunday

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