It's one of the dreadful Americanisms that has crept into New Zealand's political discourse. At the beginning of the political year, the leaders all do their "State of the Nation" speeches. Except they're nothing of the sort. A more accurate title would be "Why we're better than the other bunch." Though the Greens are of course different, they do a "State of the Planet" speech. Kill me.
That said, when the Government parties do their speeches it's worth listening to because there are often announcements - or at the very least signals - of what we can expect to see this year. Or in the case of Labour, what we're told we can expect to see. Whether it shows up, who knows?
Late last year we got some pretty strong hints about what we should expect to hear from the PM when she delivers her State of the Nation speech this week. There was a lot of talk about infrastructure, and even an announcement that every state school in the country would get money for new classrooms, or painting old classrooms, or whatever the school wanted, provided it was infrastructurey.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson told us the Government would be spending about $12 billion on infrastructure over the next four years which sounds like heaps! But it's not that much when you compare it to the $14 billion that gets spent on education every year. But still nothing to be sneezed at. Under National, if you were a piece of infrastructure but your name wasn't RON, you weren't getting squat. National basically let New Zealand rot. Or it sold the good parts off. See: State Owned Assets and State Housing.
It's likely the PM will announce some actual projects that this money will get spent on. And it's a delicate balance. Because there are things that need to be tidied up that aren't sexy, like wastewater, and power and that sort of infrastructure. Then there are things that the voters need to see like ribbons being cut for new hospitals, or sods being turned for new train lines or high viz jackets being worn at the start of a new highway.
What would be great would be to see a mix. Despite having had an almost allergic reaction to the idea of new roads it's time to announce that there'll be shovels in the ground soon and new tarseal being rolled out. I'm a big environmentalist, but I still drive a car. People drive cars. They're not going to stop driving cars anytime in the immediate future, so we need to make sure that the roads they do drive on are safe and can get us places in a reasonable time. Labour can be the party of roads.
But those road announcements should be part of a suite of transport spending that also includes better cycleways so my social media feeds don't get filled up with Go Pro footage of car drivers being jerks to cyclists and nearly killing them. There should be wads of cash thrown at better public transport - not just to Auckland and Wellington either, there's a whole rest of the country that needs better public transport. In fact a whole rest of the country that needs better infrastructure. The Government should be aiming to touch every town in New Zealand.
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One of the excellent things I've heard is that a lot of the infrastructure spending is going to have an eye on climate change. Whether that's through decarbonisation or through making sure that whatever is built can withstand a different climate to the one we currently live in, it's excellent to see that there is thinking happening beyond just the three year term limit that has been the scourge of so many successive governments.
National has tried to trot out the line that only it can properly deliver infrastructure. Which is absurd. On the one hand it's a tacit admission that we genuinely do have an infrastructure problem, one that nine years of National rule helped contribute to, and on the other hand is just a big old lie. Simon Bridges promised Northland multiple bridges as a bribe for the Northland by-election that National subsequently lost. He didn't follow through on many of them.
National is also the party that saw our hospitals decay, schools rot, and it had to be strong-armed into giving the green light to Auckland's City Rail Loop - a project it now complains about. There is no credibility to the idea that National delivers infrastructure. National delivers roads, and misery to the poor.
While a healthy dose of spending on roads, transport, health, and education infrastructure is a good thing, and the focus on climate change is a great thing, New Zealand is still a country full of people struggling to just live. Let's see the same generosity extended to our neediest as it is to our trains, let Labour be the party of roads, trains, health, education, and people.
• David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green parties and interned for Bill English while studying.