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Winston Peters Speech to Rail & Maritime Transport Union

Rt Hon Winston Peters

New Zealand First Leader

6 December 2013

Rail & Maritime Transport Union

Friday 6 December 2013, 10.45am
Elizabeth Street, Moera, Lower Hutt

Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

This occurs in a most significant week in that Sunday 1 December 2013 marked the start of railways in New Zealand – 150 years ago.

Some of you might not be aware that in an earlier life my CV included being a labourer on the Mangere Bridge project and also a very persuasive union delegate.

In New Zealand First we know what it’s like being out there.

Today we have some ideas to share with you and would appreciate your feedback.

We were asked to talk about transport with an emphasis on rail.

Our policy is for New Zealand to have an integrated transport strategy – in which road, rail, air and coastal shipping all play an effective part.

New Zealand First is not anti-road but transport policy must be rational and we should use the transport best suited for the type of freight and passengers being moved.

The National Government is obsessed with road transport and has a history of shafting railways.

You will recall the botched privatisation on 20 July 1993, (two days after New Zealand First was born) by the then National Government, and the asset stripping of this previously owned taxpayer asset that then happened.

You will recall also that on that date, Labour’s only opposition to that sale was the timing of it.

And more ominously back then, there were members of this union that supported the sale.

Instead of rebuilding the rail network after this scandal, rail is neglected and struggles for funding.

In contrast, the Government is treating its $12 billion so called Roads of National Significance (RONS) programme as sacrosanct and immune to any cut backs. 

New Zealand First considers that the rail network is a national asset that must be maintained and developed with a view to its long term role.

Under this Government rail is again being deliberately run down, with the closure of the Hillside workshops – hundreds of staff sacked – and the closure of the Napier-Gisborne line.

National has also failed to fund as a priority vitally needed infrastructure, like the Auckland City Rail link and the Auckland airport rail link. 

It’s obvious National are anti-rail because they are in the pay of the road transport lobby. 

If they had their way we would have no rail system at all!  

Their policy towards rail is as flawed as their economic policy in which they seem to place foreign interests ahead of New Zealanders.

New Zealand First believes in rail and that’s why we believe there should be a Railways of National Significance Programme.

While KiwiRail has to operate as a business, we take a strategic view of the rail network.

This means where there is a proven case for rail projects in terms of the overall national interest, those projects should be included in the new programme.

Funding for rail projects would be on a case by case basis but given their priority and urgency the Government would contribute just like it is funding the Roads of National Significance Programme.

This Government has no regional development programme. If you were to ask them where to build a factory, these would be the options:

Overseas or Auckland.

Why? Because although land is cheaper in Dunedin, Invercargill, Taranaki etc, the transport of products to main centres and ports is too costly.

They don’t understand that until governments treat transport like rail as a service, such as Education or Health, the outer regions will continue to decline.

Transport has to be treated as an essential public utility, which back in the 1870s a far sighted premier called Julius Vogel realised was essential for our stretched, strung out country which needed rail links to survive.

We still need those links – how stupid is it to send a logging truck into a capital city?

The Railways of National Significance Programme that we propose will apply to the wider national network. 

Here are some of the projects we believe need closer study.

1. North Auckland and Marsden Point Line

Northland needs a reliable rail connection to the rest of New Zealand if it is to develop.

That means upgrading the Auckland to Whangarei line.

Good rail links to Northland also means developing a rail link from the main North Auckland line to the Marsden Point Port. 

Whangarei has great natural advantages as a deepwater harbour that does not require dredging and there is also plenty of reasonably priced land for expansion. 

There is great scope for it to serve as a container port and take pressure off Auckland and Tauranga.

But the potential of the Port of Northland for the region, as well as for the country as a whole, is being strangled by the lack of an effective rail link.

2. Rolling Electrification Programme

We should continue a modest but on-going rail electrification programme to use the skills and expertise built up in the current Auckland suburban rail project.

Rather than just let that valuable team go to waste the first project will be to extend electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe.

Other potential projects to be investigated include electrification between Auckland and Hamilton, extending electrification north from Waikanae and from Upper Hutt to Masterton.

If we had a switched on electric system – with WiFi – it means taking commuters off the roads and into railway carriages – hopefully built in New Zealand.

3. Regional Opportunities

We would also look after the heartland railway lines – like the Napier-Gisborne line.

It would cost only $4 million.

It is absurd to have shut this line for what is a trifling amount of money given the billions being lavished on the Roads of National Significance.

4. Ferries

This brings us to some other matters of public interest.

You might have noticed how New Zealand First has highlighted problems with the Cook Strait lemon, the Ferry Aratere.

We have received many messages from deeply concerned people on the wharf about the safety of this ship.

We believe that KiwiRail management has failed the country and its workforce.

KiwiRail was warned by people who knew about ships not to go ahead with stretching it by 30 metres.

Its cost must be hitting $150 million, plus the loss of freight, and they are talking about spending millions more.

They’ve gone cap in hand to the Government for more finance.

You know what that means – they will continue to screw the workers.

We know that on the ferry Arahura, KiwiRail is trying to reduce the number of skilled seamen – or seapersons if you like.

This is a blatant attack on the wage structure.

This will be followed by bringing in immigrants to work on the ships because Kiwis prefer not to work for slave wages.

This is happening all over New Zealand – name an industry and you’ll find a plan to use immigrant labour at greatly reduced prices.

It is scandalous.

We know that the future of this operation in the Hutt is also uncertain.

After bringing in locos and rolling stock from Korea and China, KiwiRail prefers to contract out maintenance or use the buying contract to include maintenance by the supplier.

And as you know the free trade agreement with China allows them to bring in their own workers!

This is not just happening to you, it’s also happening to the dairy industry.

New Zealand farmland is being sold at an alarming rate.

And yes, immigrants will be brought in to work on the farms to keep costs down.

This is the stuff that revolutions are made of.

This Government cares more about big foreign owned business than it does its own citizens.

New Zealand First believes government must be consistent and fair to everyone.

With industrial relations, it should not side with one group above the other.

There should be firm rules about safety and these must be policed.

There are mutual obligations and all parties should stick to them.

There must be firm rules about the misuse of drugs and these too must be policed.

We know that in some industries drug misuse is widespread.

You all have a duty to ensure that you do not condone this by your silence.

It’s not narking when you pot someone (forgive the pun) for coming to work stoned.

We believe there should be a fair days pay for a fair days work.

We do not believe in the widespread casualization of the workforce.

Down on the wharves where they bunker ships some people have been doing a difficult job for five years or more and they are still regarded as “casuals”.

They cannot get a loan to buy a house because they do not have permanent jobs.

This sort of “half” employment is becoming widespread.

It’s a way of keeping wages down and the workers suppressed.

This Government is all for it.

If you have a big pool of unemployed and a casualised workforce – plus immigration running at full tilt, there is little or no future for New Zealanders.

Many are voting with their feet.

You know – over the past thirty years everything has been turned upside down.

New Zealand’s Government believes the so-called “living wage” of just over $18 an hour is too much.

Yet the news media carried stories a week ago that state sector bosses on $600,000 a year are not being paid enough!

If that doesn’t hurt your head just think of the struggling Auckland council boss on $800,000.

Apparently these people need to be paid more and you should get less.

There is another alarming point that should be made here.

Taxpayers are subsidising the wages of tens of thousands of lower paid workers.

Welfare payments for accommodation – supplements – are paid to prop up landlords by subsidising rent payments.

Working for families gives credits because wages are too low.

In effect this means taxpayers are subsidising big business – as well.

And of course most big businesses send the profits offshore.

We really are caught between a rock and a hard place.

That is where we come in.

We want to make our position with both National and Labour very clear.

Voters decide government – not other political parties or the media.

For the past five years there has been a very cynical manipulation of the democratic process by the National Party.

They can’t get enough votes to govern alone so they create lapdog parties to prop National up.

Words like Ōhariu and Epsom spring to mind.

Now, with Banks and Dunne having done themselves in, National is frantically searching around for yet another gerrymander.

This is an abuse of democracy.

Some in the media love it because most are foreign owned and National always puts foreign interests above Kiwis.

New Zealand First is not aligned with National or Labour.

We have a practical election programme ahead and it will be about doing the right things for New Zealanders.

We are going to target:
·         Jobs and job training for New Zealanders.
·         A fair days pay and job security.
·         The bizarre immigration policies that allow overseas students to take Kiwi jobs.
·         Paying full pensions to immigrants who’ve been here for only ten years.
·         The racial divisions created by the National Party and the Māori Party.

In the ensuing months you’re going to hear all kinds of commentators tediously making all kinds of predictions about the formation of the next government.

Where New Zealand First is concerned, the smartest thing you can do is to treat those comments with total ignore.

We are not going to be pre-programmed or pressurised into any coalition arrangements before the people of this country have voted.
What we are preparing for is to do whatever it takes to hold the other parties to account on the issues, some of which have just been mentioned.

If that means that we may have to do that from the cross benches, then that is exactly what we will do.

That is what we have done for the past three years and we will do it again because these issues are that important.

We urge you not to let the National Party organise the election outcome by creating puppet parties.

New Zealand First is the only party that puts New Zealanders First.

Last Sunday as previously mentioned, it was a hundred and fifty years since the first rail link opened.

The founders of that railway had foresight and vision.

It was essential to build a country and rail is still essential to build a future.

It’s up to you to elect members of parliament with those qualities.

Mobilise your forces. Get everyone out to vote.

Too many people at the last election gave up and accepted their fate.

This must not happen again.

We suggest you try New Zealand First.

We don’t mind a fight…and we are prepared to fight for you and your families.

Back in July 1993, only one member of parliament launched a sustained attack on the National party’s sale of NZ Rail. You’re looking at him now.

Back then, after the sale was announced, New Zealand First pointed out that the National party had lied about the sale price, it wasn’t $400 million but $328 million because the railways had a debt of $72 million that had to be paid.

That $328 million was a fire sale price and within three weeks of the international market learning of the bargain, the buyers Faye Richwhite and Wisconsin Railroad shares went up a massive $188 million.

So you’re not being asked to trust someone or some party with a patchy record.

Your votes are ammunition.

Give them to us and they won’t be wasted.

We will get you a better deal and a better future.

Grab both with both hands.

ENDS

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