Poor Judith Collins. There she was quietly knitting away on the sidelines like Madame Defarge, readying herself for the leadership battle that will engulf the National Party if they lose at the polls on Saturday, and then some country bumpkin drops his digger blade onto the liquid fuel pipeline carrying the majority of Auckland's refined petroleum products.

Serving out her punishment for past transgressions as the lowly ranked Energy Minister, Collins was suddenly thrust off the naughty seat into the limelight, expected to magically conjure up enough petrol and aviation fuel, to keep her colleagues - and the voters - happy as E-Day looms.

Given the lethargy this government has demonstrated over crucial issues such as homelessness and house prices, its response to this eve-of-election crisis was as if one of Kim Jong-un's stray missiles had ended up its nether regions.

The navy was ordered to abandon war games with Singapore, and despatch its sole tanker Endeavour to Marsden Point to collect diesel to distribute around the country. Twenty Defence Force tanker drivers have been offered to the big oil companies as back up drivers. All of which is not a very good look for the party of private enterprise. Fancy having to call on Nanny State in a crisis. Let's just hope Nanny charges out at time and a half.


The immediate effect of the fuel shortage has been on aviation, and the impact seems to be greater than we were first told. As I write this, news is now emerging of a run on the petrol pumps. The risk is that panicky Aucklanders will start queuing for petrol they don't need, so causing more problems for poor old Judith.

With a full tank in my car and no plans to take up Air New Zealand's latest grabaseat specials, I can't get too worked up about this. Though the thought of a panicky National Party trying to retrofit Wynyard Wharf to accommodate an emergency aviation fuel tanker does raise a few warning flags. I recall at the time of the America's Cup circus down there, and during the lengthy planning hearings for converting Princes Wharf and then the precinct westward, into expensive residential accommodation, there were extensive safety reports warning of the risks of mixing tanks of highly flammable liquids with humans.

At that stage, the emphasis was on decommissioning the Wynyard Wharf area as a fuel depot to make way for intensive housing. It is alarming that to help National win an election, we're suddenly going to reverse this process, and experiment with transferring a ship-load of aviation fuel, through this new residential precinct, and then presumably through the new Waterview tunnel and on to the airport. All for a crisis which, we're told could be over as early as Sunday.

Approaching the finish line of what appears to be the closest election in years, the pipeline leak has inevitably become an instant headline. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has somehow even seen it as another justification for building his rail link from Marsden Point to Auckland.

The reality is the experts have looked at the issue in the past and dismissed a duplicate 168km to the Wiri storage depot, costing around $300 million, as overkill. Getting planning permission for another dangerous pipeline across the crowded Auckland isthmus alone, would be fraught.

A more likely alternative would be to increase the storage facilities at the refinery company's Wiri terminal to ensure adequate supplies for the next time we experience a "once-in-30-years" break in the pipeline.

But of course, on the eve of an election. Ms Collins and the National Party won't want to admit there's any shortcoming in the infrastructure they've been presiding over for the past nine years.