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National evades tough questions over toll roads

Monday October 20

National evades tough questions over toll roads

With less than three weeks till the election, the National Party still hasn’t answered the hard questions on toll roads, says the car buyers’ watchdog, The Dog & Lemon Guide.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says: “It seems likely that a National government will hand out toll road contracts to a businessman who’s a former head of the National party and who is also National’s advisor on toll roads. This is a blatant conflict of interest, yet National refuses to answer questions on the subject.”

“National has also failed to explain how much toll roads will cost the consumer. For example, their transport spokesman said recently that some motorists could be paying $50 a week for road tolls. Then National retracted that statement, saying the real tolls would be much lower. Either National hasn’t done its maths, or it’s hiding something from the voters. Taxpayers have a right to know what the real-world costs of these public-private partnerships will be.”

The Dog & Lemon Guide has posed a number of yet-unanswered questions to the National Party.

1) One of National’s advisors is former party leader Jim McLay, who is executive chairman of Macquarie New Zealand, a branch of a major Australian builder of toll roads. Because of the clear conflict of interest in such an arrangement, can National categorically promise that it will not sign a contract with Macquarie or its subsidiary companies?

Matthew-Wilson comments: “During the last National government: Messrs. Fay & Richwhite were advisors to the government and solemnly recommended that NZ Rail should be sold to private investors. Fay & Richwhite then bought NZ Rail, asset-stripped it and fled overseas with several hundred million dollars, leaving NZ Rail on life-support.

Given the Key-McLay link, what's to stop this happening again in a slightly different form?”

2) In 2006, Treasury concluded that funding roads by tolls was less efficient than simply building them from taxes. What is National’s response to this?

3) Many toll road projects in Australia have been an economic disaster. For example, the Brisbane’s newest toll road, EastLink, is currently running at 28% below projections and Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel project went bankrupt.

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby the government has to compensate the private road builders if the road builders make less money than they expected?

4) Metronet, a public-private partnership responsible for maintaining and upgrading two-thirds of London's underground network, went bankrupt, leaving the taxpayer to bail out the project to the tune of billions of pounds.

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby the government has to pay out any part of the road building costs in the event that the project goes bankrupt?

5) National’s transport spokesman Maurice Williamson has stated publicly that National will repeal the ‘Greens amendment’ that requires that whenever a toll road is built, the public must always have an alternative route available for free.

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby existing roads are closed down or restricted in order to force motorists to use a nearby toll road?

6) Will National legislate to control the tolls on private roads, or will the private road operator be free to charge whatever the market will stand?

7) Faced with high fuel bills, many motorists are now looking to take public transport to work.

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby public transport is effectively excluded or restricted from competing with a toll road?

8) John Key is promising that there will be no privatisations of state assets in his first term of office. Building a privately owned road on state land is effectively privatising a public asset, surely?

ENDS

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