COMMENT:

You will know if you are a regular, that I have broadly been a fan of the Government's Regional Development Fund.

As a concept that can inject tangible life into parts of the country that need it most, it stood up in terms of common sense, practical help, not to mention political capital.

It was the policy that might well elevate New Zealand First into the category of serious political heavyweight. The Gold Card was fun, but it was niche, and smacked of itch-scratching policy.

The regional fund is billions and can, if handled properly, reshape entire communities for generations. And in that is potentially the thing you worry about. The early announcements all seemed to revolve around trees, and I like trees, as far as I can work out you can't have enough of them.

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They're good for the land, good for the environment, they help our Paris accord promises. And when they grow, you chop them down, cut them up, and sell them to people for money, and as part of that entire process you create work around them.

But last week not only did we have the Northland scandal - we also had a departure in approach.

The Northland scandal around the trees that were never planted because no one checked the land is exactly what happens so often to public money. When it's slushing about in such volume, waste is never far behind. The tighter your budget, the more careful you are with it.

This is the sort of laissez-faire approach that will undo the likes of Shane Jones. He has to take himself a lot more seriously if he expects others to take him seriously. This isn't a game, it's not funsies, you don't laugh those sort of mistakes off.

So assuming it's lesson learned, we them turn our attention to another of last week's announcements, $40 million to KiwiRail to develop a regional hub to better move freight.

Once again, not bad in theory. Trains are good, trains carry more than trucks, and trains take trucks off the road.

But trains are in trouble, KiwiRail is a mess and has been for years. Lines are closed, access is an issue.

And what's the $40 million actually buy? An ongoing, profitable extension to the rail network? Or is the $40m a subsidy because rail can't make ends meet. And we will see in a decade that nothing came of it and it's $40m down the drain?

There is a reason rail is in the shape it is. It's already propped up by the government to the tune of tens of millions, and this is another $40m on top.

The Regional Development Fund's success will be measured in real jobs, real expansion, and real return on investment.

It can't afford to be a lavish handout to projects going nowhere.