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Land Transport Summit - Hon Peter Dunne

Hon Peter Dunne

Leader, United Future New Zealand Party
Land Transport Summit

Crowne Plaza Hotel

Auckland

1230 hrs, Wednesday, Feb 19

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the invitation to discuss with you one of the most serious issues confronting New Zealand at the present time.

If that sounds a bit dramatic, that's precisely what I intended.

In fact, my party believes the management of New Zealand's land transport infrastructure is so important, we made it one of the major conditions of agreeing to support the Labour-led government in matters of confidence and supply.

But before getting down to the nitty gritty, I'd like to address the wider question of why we get so worried about road and rail.

And the answer lies in my vision of New Zealand as we all want it to be, and how we can make it so.

"New Zealand - it's great to be home!"

That feeling all Kiwis get when, having travelled the globe, they get off the plane sums up United Future's vision for New Zealand.

"It's great to be back!"

My view of this nation is encapsulated in our name.

We want a New Zealand that is not only united in family, and in community, but also in our vision for the future.

Our New Zealand is a safe New Zealand - in the physical sense, certainly, but also safe in the way that home is safe.

Warm, welcoming, non-threatening.

A place where we feel secure in our identity, in our opportunities to advance ourselves, in our opportunities to meet and greet our neighbours and where everyone feels welcome.

So ours is also a welcoming New Zealand, a creative New Zealand, a New Zealand where fresh ideas are encouraged, a 'can-do' country where patriotism and a sense of nationhood are not emotions to be ashamed of or hidden.

Our New Zealand is a positive place, an enabling society, where people take responsibility for their own actions, their own futures, their own opportunities.

Our New Zealand celebrates, and just as importantly encourages, success wherever it happens - in the arts, sport, business, in academic endeavour.

In our New Zealand, tolerance is a virtue and diversity is celebrated, not condemned.

All of these are attributes we would want for our own family - not just for our country.

That is why it is our passionate belief that the family is the very cornerstone of New Zealand.

That is not because of some quaint belief in family values - although there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

It is because strong and healthy families mean a strong and healthy New Zealand.

And strong, healthy families live in vibrant communities and neighbourhoods.

Vibrant communities are much more than any dry economic statistics or the daily parade of health and welfare horror stories.

They are what will ensure we have economic growth and prosperity, rather than a consequence of it.

They are rich in their diversity, bold in their willingness to take on new things, confident in themselves, but also places where all their members, whatever their status, are nurtured, respected and encouraged.

So how do we make vibrant communities?

We make sure communities have the facilities that make them work, like schools, swimming pools, green parks and clean beaches, public transport and security.

We encourage the essential volunteer groups that are the glue of our communities, through grants and other assistance programmes.

We encourage the many events - large and small - that bring communities together - be it Carols by Candlelight, or street parties for Waitangi Day, local festivals and market days, and so on, the list is endless.

Strong and vibrant families are the key to strong communities.

They are the engine room of so much of our economic and social development.

And that is why United Future will continue to champion the cause of the family - because it is also the cause of New Zealand.

When you ask New Zealanders why they come home their reasons are invariably the same: it's where my family is; it's a neat place to live and raise the children; and it offers a great lifestyle.

Our country will succeed and prosper only when we make those objectives the end point of our policy direction, rather than continue to treat them as merely coincidental.

And we have much to do here.

Family breakdown is costing us billions of dollars a year.

We have the world's second highest rate of single parent families.

Divorces have doubled in the last 30 years, while marriages have fallen 60%.

321,000 children - a third of all children - are raised on a benefit, twice what it was 15 years ago.

Child assaults are up almost 200% in the last decade and 40% of our criminals are aged between 14 and 18.

Our country will succeed and prosper only when we make those objectives the end point of our policy direction, rather than continue to treat them as merely coincidental.

So where does land transport fit into this vision of strong communities and strong families?

Our road and rail services are the veins through which flow our economic and social bloodstreams.

They connect and keep our communities alive and throbbing with activity.

That's why we fought so hard for the Land Transport Management Bill, because we desperately need much greater investment in road and rail and there is no sign that Government, for which read the taxpayer, is willing or able to make that massive investment.

United Future believes that Bill is a step in the right direction of making public-private partnerships work.

Indeed, we would go further and say that the concept of public-private partnerships ought to be considered for other areas of the economy where resources are limited, such as capital expenditure in education, health and even defence.

We reject the narrow, partisan criticisms of Opposition parties that public private partnerships are a cop-out, or a form of "crony capitalism."

These might be easy political statements, possibly even worth a snappy headline, but they are not in New Zealand's long-term interests.

None of those parties has offered any constructive alternative to public private partnerships, and the record of the 1990s when our transport system was allowed to stagnate offers no confidence any fresh and innovative policy options would be on offer should an alternative government be in power.

Nevertheless, I make no bones about it; the Land Transport Bill as it stands has too many caveats in it, too many Green-sponsored restrictions on transport development.

I am concerned that without significant amendment it will not lead to a great many public private partnerships being established, and much major change in transport infrastructure provision as a consequence.

The problem is that in addition to the provision for public private partnerships, the Bill also incorporates much of what the Labour-led government had previously agreed with the Greens should form part of broader transport strategy.

We have a long hard task ahead of us this year as the Bill comes under select committee scrutiny to amend it so that it will let New Zealand develop a 21st century transport infrastructure.

The Greens' attitude to these matters is fundamentally reactionary; they want a return to some vague, Arcadian past where the internal combustion and steam engines do not run and we all ramble in pleasant pastures while cows moo gently on the horizon.

My colleagues, and I on the other hand, look at the figures.

New Zealand spends close to $2 billion a year on more than 92,000 kilometres of road. That money comes from Road User Charges, vehicle registration and licensing fees, taxes on petrol, LPG and CNG and local body rates.

And let me tell you, that level of funding from those sources may be as good as it gets.

There are predictions that the current level of funding for roading development in real terms may be a peak for the next 20 years.

Therefore, the need for alternative sources of funding through PPP's grows greater by the day.

And it is important we get the process right so that there can be effective public private partnerships.

While the concept is a developing one worldwide, I believe there are sufficient experiences we can learn from in both Australia and Britain to ensure that we get it right here.

The Bill's provisions are not necessarily correct, and it is therefore important that we hear clearly from you who are expert in these areas precisely what changes are needed to make public private partnerships work effectively in New Zealand.

If you have not already done so, please make a submission to the select committee on the points that concern you, and please also talk to my colleagues and me about how the legislation can be made more workable.

We have a limited time to get things right, and it is vital in the national interest that we do so.

But it is important that we do not place a panacea value on PPPs that they do not deserve.

They are an important part of the solution to our infrastructure, but they will be only a part.

PPPs will need to supported by other initiatives such as greater financing powers for Transit and Transfund, including the power to borrow for approved projects, and a progressive transfer of as much as possible of the revenue raised from fuel excise taxes to transport development projects.

We may also have to contemplate more direct revenue sharing arrangements between central and local government to ensure the progressive development of an effective national transport network.

In that regard, I also have grave concerns about our national rail network.

The current operator wants to get out of the people business and stick to carrying freight over New Zealand's almost 4000 kilometres of rail.

As an MP for an area in North Wellington, I simply cannot ignore the need for good passenger rail services.

Of the approximately 12 million passenger trips made each year by rail, a massive 82% are made in Wellington.

So we must have a high-quality, modern commuter rail system because our communities and our families need them.

The issues surrounding Tranz Rail are many and complex and thus irrelevant to many people.

But they know what they want and see that far more in terms of the one irreducible and constant local reality: how do we ensure that New Zealand's commuter rail services remain and are maintained and upgraded as required?

Focusing on that outcome will help us resolve the difficult issues of regulation, and ownership and investment, not the other way round, as is too often the case at present.

The only way we will keep the trains running is to focus all our efforts on just that - keeping the trains running.

Simple and straightforward, and cutting through the nonsense.

The challenge is to see the obstacles and then overcome them.

United Future has fought long and hard to get legislation passed that will make it possible to get more flexible funding arrangements so our roading network can be improved.

We don't subscribe to any anti-Auckland feeling over who gets the lion's share of New Zealand transport funding, because our major city must be a functioning economic unit if we are all to prosper.

The trick is not to argue over the share of the cake, but to increase the size of the cake and that's what we're fighting for.

As New Zealanders we all possess a unique gift, no matter what our status is, where we come from, who we are, or how long we have been here.

We possess the unique of gift of being a New Zealander and thereby knowing that taken together our individual elements of that gift weave the tapestry that makes New Zealand the place we are all proud to come home to.

When you look at things that way meaningless current slogans like getting back into the top half of the OECD, one standard of citizenship for all, or cutting immigration to the bone, are shown up for their trite absurdity.

It's time to stop wallowing in the mire, and celebrate afresh what makes this country great and why Kiwis are proud to come home to it.

They say nothing promotes success like success.

Promoting our successes is the best way I know to ensure we have more of them, and to ensure that our families and communities prosper and grow stronger as a result.

That is United Future's vision for New Zealand and I am determined to provide the leadership to achieve it.


ENDS

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