OUT OF LUCK, LEN
Some comment has focused on the fact that the Government's latest Land Transport Amendment Bill allows the Transport Agency to borrow more money for its projects. Not so many have noted that the bill also says regional fuel tax provisions will be repealed, which seems a stinging rebuke to Mayor Len Brown's hopes that a regional petrol levy might help pay for the Auckland Council's transport wish list. Ministers have decided repealing the power to levy regional taxes will avoid the costs of a tax in one region being spread across the national fuel market. Interestingly, the bill will make it easier to set up road tolling schemes.
Adman John Ansell's latest campaign for a referendum on a "colour-blind" New Zealand sparked a few headlines, but some may recall he and others such as Muriel Newman also planned to stir things up with a citizen's initiated referendum on foreshore and seabed issues. They failed to get anywhere near the necessary number of signatures with that. The fact is, it is damned hard to get the required number, and lots of activists are needed to reach the mark. Labour and the Greens are finding it hard work on their asset sale referendum, even with all their activists and the issue high on the public agenda. It will be interesting to see how many valid signatures they get as there seems to be a lot of confusion, with many people believing signing online counts - it doesn't.
MISSING THE BOAT
The Cabinet will soon have to decide whether it is worth pursuing the long-mooted $200 million ferry terminal at Clifford Bay, south of Blenheim, to speed up freight and passengers across Cook Strait. There is an economic case for the port, in that it will cut two hours off the Auckland to Christchurch rail/ferry trip. KiwiRail is in no position to fund the project and there is talk of a public-private partnership to get it going. However some ministers are likely to baulk at having to fork out any money, or take on any risk, and may class the project as "nice to have".
BIG GUNS COME CALLING
General James Mattis, Commander US Central Command, was in New Zealand this week, the latest in a stream of American top brass to wheel their way to the bottom of the Pacific. General Mattis' responsibilities include the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia.
News that Rio Tinto already wants to renegotiate its long-term contract with Meridian Energy, which was due to start next year after three years of negotiation, has come as little surprise in Wellington. The multinational has previously gamed the Government on issues such as the emissions trading scheme, and taken on its SOE over the price of electricity. Most believe Rio Tinto is just trying it on again, but times are tough in the aluminium industry, so who knows? If it did pull out of New Zealand, it would free up a huge slice of the country's electricity production, pushing down power prices but also creating chaos for power companies' bottom lines and those planning to build new power generation capacity.
YES, IT IS ALL ABOUT ME
Officials working on reform of the MMP electoral system have years of experience working with politicians, but say they are still gobsmacked by the reaction from MPs on their recommendations for change. One mused to the Insider that no MP seems able to think beyond the next election, and the effect it may have on their immediate job prospects. Many politicians seem permanently stuck in the present and cannot seem to remember that political scenarios change and what suits their party now, may not suit their party in future.
GETTING THE MESSAGE
As well as chewing away at NZ Post, email and the internet have also eroded a Parliamentary institution. The number of Parliamentary messengers making their rounds through the halls of power has been reduced yet again. It is estimated that the amount of mail being sent around Parliament has almost halved in the past decade, and further changes to the way ministerial documents are handled are likely to reduce the messengers' ranks even further in the coming year.
Another print-media colossus appears doomed by the online onslaught, with news this week that Britain's oldest comic, the Dandy, is likely to close after 75 years. The Dandy, home to Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat, sold two million copies a week in its glory days in the 1950s. Dundee publisher DC Thomson says it is reviewing all its magazines and no decision has been made, but with the Dandy attracting a mere 8000 buyers an issue, things look grim. Another British literary institution, the Beano, is also doing it tough, selling only 38,000 copies.