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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington

Richard Prebble's
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 04 March 2002

Poll-Driven Government

Last week Labour broke its clearest promise - "read my lips, no new taxes" - to impose a 4.7c petrol tax. Why? Labour's polls say Auckland traffic has become an election issue.

It's an example of how an Opposition party can change opinion. It was the ACT Party that first advocated for completion of Auckland's motorway network. John Banks made it part of his mayoral election strategy.

Transport Minister Mark Gosche last election campaigned against widening the Southern Motorway that goes through his electorate. The number one roading priority in Auckland is widening the motorway between Otara and Otahuhu. The project has the support of the Auckland Regional Council, Auckland City Council, Manukau City and the two community boards in the area through which the motorway runs.

Thirty-one houses are affected. Most are rental properties and the owners were delighted to sell, as Transit's valuations are way above market.

Mr Gosche, as Transport Minister, could not interfere directly so he got Helen Clark to write to Transit, asking it to review the project. The review has caused a delay of at least 24 months - work won't start until 2003 - and delayed every motorist on the southern motorway by about 10 minutes every night.

Labour realised it had to do a U-turn to meet public opinion. What's more dramatic than a petrol tax?

Roading Politics

The petrol tax will raise $182m a year. The government has siphoned off $101m for the "green package" and other spending. Just $81m is for roads. Normally, Auckland gets about a third of roading spending so it could expect about $27m - not enough to make a difference. So why was John Banks so enthusiastic about the package? The Letter understands a National Transport Strategy will be drawn up, directing Transit to give priority to Auckland's roads. Auckland will receive an extra $73m from the directive - the maximum the government claims the roading industry can use in a year.

This will be political dynamite. No government has given a political directive to Transit for over 40 years. NZ politics used to be about "roads and bridges". This led to a massive misdirection of the roading vote. So politicians set up the National Roads Board - now Transit - to allocate money for roads on a non-political basis. It's been the longest-standing political agreement in New Zealand.

If Transit can be directed to build Auckland motorways, then why not Wellington's Transmission Gully or a scenic route in Southland?

Package Will Make Things Worse

The Greens, in return for supporting the package, not only got $3m for walking and $30m for rail, but also a promise of a new, more lengthy process for motorway approval. Sue Kedgley has publicly said she believes this means the Wellington bypass won't proceed. The bypass was planned 40 years ago, approved in 1994 and nothing's been built.

The Mayoral Forum and the Business Forum agree the real reason for the failure to complete Auckland's motorways is the Resource Management Act. Even with the extra spending, the RMA means the Eastern and Western corridors won't be built by the 2007 target date. Clark has ruled out changes to the RMA.

So Labour last week: - got itself $101m election bribe money - convinced the Holmes Show it was fixing Auckland's roads - promised the Greens that new planning procedures would stop motorway extensions. And Banks says it's the best thing since the Auckland Harbour Bridge. No wonder Labour's polling so well.

More Goss on the State Dinner

Helen Clark's breaches of protocol during the Queen's visit were all deliberate. Paul Keating, when he was Australian PM, breached protocol by putting his hand on the Queen. This outraged the BBC but did no harm to Keating's popularity. Clark's actions such as sitting down before the Queen, refusing to play God Save the Queen or say grace, and wearing trousers, were all intended to appeal to our Kiwi patriotism.

Perhaps it worked. Bill English's thoughtful speech at the dinner didn't get a word of media coverage. Helen was not the only one to breach protocol. Jim Bolger left his table and went over to speak to the Queen. This gave Sir Geoffrey Palmer the same idea, at which point Jenny Shipley remembered she is also an ex Prime Minister - so the Queen had to endure a queue of ex-PMs. Thank goodness Mike Moore's in Geneva.

'Spud' in Coventry

The National Party won't be inviting Jim Bolger to speak at its conference this year. Members regard his acceptance of the NZ Post chairmanship as betrayal. Bill Birch, whose family holidayed with the Bolgers for 15 years, refuses to speak to him. Bolger is laughing all the way to the bank.

Alliance Goss

Alliance MPs believe Jim Anderton's revenge will be a late announcement that he's not standing for Parliament. Kevin Campbell (he's an Alliance MP) is jockeying to succeed Jim in Wigram. "I've lived in the electorate longer than Anderton," Kevin tells anyone who asks.

ACT Conference

Workshops at ACT's conference this month are designed to address key issues facing NZ - health, education, tax (with Rob McLeod), and law and order. A new speaker is Roger Moses, the inspirational head of Wellington College who recently gave a thoughtful address as part of ACT's Liberal Project. The conference is March 15-17. You can register at

Greens' Maori Policy

Jeanette Fitzsimons has written to Richard Prebble complaining that the Greens' "two treaties" Maori policy has been posted on the ACT website. Jeanette says the Greens have taken down this policy from their own website, for review. (They thought they had destroyed every copy but we in ACT are very conservation-minded.) So it's official. The Greens have no Maori policy - which makes sense as they have no Maori MPs. Jeanette's letter and the non-policy are at

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