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Roading policy subjected to Patrick Gower’s style reporting

National’s Roading policy subjected to Patrick Gower’s style reporting.
This is not a real article – fake news you could say – although the facts in it are real enough – but hold your judgment and see what you think. This article is a reversal of a recent one by NewsHub’s Patrick Gower about Labour’s proposed tertiary policy. I’ve changed the names to the corresponding politician in the opposite party and the topic from Labour’s tertiary education policy to National’s roads policy which was announced in the same week to show the kinds of arguments he makes stack up when the tables are turned. Below the article are some thoughts and discussion.

National signals drivers and infrastructure companies are at the forefront with 10 more roads promised.

Drivers and infrastructure companies are front and centre of the election campaign as National sets out to create a “roads-quake”.

Drivers are being promised more roads by the party – with leader Bill English & transport Minister Simon Bridges releasing a major new policy.

However a 2014 Stuff Research poll shows it is unlikely to be popular with the public. Asked, if voters needed more roads a the poll found that nationally people wanted a government focus on better public transport over roads by a margin of 30 per cent to 24 per cent who wanted more roads. 40% wanted a joint focus on roads and public transport.

However commuters Scott Adams and Penny Kirk are finding it hard getting to work. “It’s not easy – there’s a lot of queues, which is frustrating,” Adams told our researcher.

But with the election is coming, it’s a chance for them to vote for policies that improve their lot.

“I can’t lie, a lot of us will be voting for more roads,” said Kirk.
National leader Bill English says they need to “read up on the policy”.
“We’re looking at driver support across the board – new high quality roads, helping drivers get where they want to go – this policy will also have an effect on engineering companies ability to survive and thrive.”

Scoop says that National’s major announcement for drivers, involves 10 new roads of national significance. All together, these new roads would cost $10.5 billion a year but Labour General Secretary Andrew Kirton calls it a bribe.

“I suspect what they are looking at is, you know, buying votes,” he said.
“While we’re all keen to attract votes, it’s an election campaign – it’s also important that we do the right thing for the economy as a whole.”

David Cameron even promised to privatise new roads building programmes in the UK election and it worked for him. National’s done it before with new roads promises in 2008, 2011 and 2014.

Adams said he doesn’t think it is a bribe.

“Getting to work is at the heart of New Zealand business and if we can’t get to our jobs there’s no way to support the future of New Zealand,” she said.

The key question – how is National going to pay for it when they are also committed to seriously cutting the proportion of public spending to GDP?

“I think they are being a bit shifty on where the money is coming from. They’ve got a lot of things that they don’t want to talk about related to budgets and public spending, so if they are going to spend a lot on roads then I think we can safely assume they’ve got some hidden plans – additional cuts to core public services like health, education and social services,” says Mr Kirton. As for National’s leader – there is no question, about his priority.
“I fundamentally believe in more roads – I think its benefits everyone in New Zealand,” he said.


Analysis: What happens when you turn the tables?
I edited a Patrick Gower article from 14 August that speculated about Labour’s Tertiary spending plans by altering to cover the National Party’s actual policy announcement made the same week on 10 New Roads of National Significance while keeping the general tenor and logic of the article.
Firstly I made a set of global changes:
• Andrew Kirton replacing Steven Joyce as party spokesperson
• Bill English replacing Jacinda Ardern as party leader.
• Motorists and engineering companies replaced students
• A recent survey of students needs with a 2014 one about transport policy preferences.
• Roads replaced tertiary education policy
• The actual cost 10.5bn over 10 years replaced the speculation of $2.1bn / year.
• Then I made the minimum number of additional changes to make the article make sense and I changed the names of the young people quoted.
And here is what I found.
1. Gower’s article included figures for student allowances and student fees of $2.1bn a year based on policy, which he made up in the article and supported with a made up graphic. The article forced Ardern to play down expectations in an interview with Duncan Garner the following day when he quoted Gower’s imaginary Labour policy.
2. First of all both sides accuse the other of election bribes so that is not in itself noteworthy. It’s interesting that Gower quoted Steven Joyce calling the policy that he – Patrick Gower – had made up – a bribe. How does this even work? What was Steven Joyce referring to? Does Patrick have carte blanche to quote the National Party’s campaign director saying that any and every Labour spending initiative – irrespective of whether it is imaginary – is a bribe.
3. By turning the tables we also discover that Labour’s imaginary student policy would be highly popular whereas, as the altered article shows a roads only policy is likely to be pretty unpopular with the public.
4. So National’s actual (not imaginary) new roads policy is not meeting the expressed need but speaking to a constituency of motorists and road-building companies.
5. Articles about Labour policy routinely ask “where the money is coming from” to meet Labour Party policies and raising the spectre of new taxes and Gower’s article did this (despite Gower himself having made up the figures) and then he quoted National Party politicians saying Labour were shifty and dishonest (in relation to a speculative article on a policy the journalist had himself made up and costed).
6. Reason dictates that National’s actual announced spending plans will also have a financial impact and in the adapted article I’ve tried to imagine how a ‘turn the tables’ article would actually play out? It seems to me, and readers must judge for themselves but National’s supposed economic credentials seem to allow that huge decisions to be made without analysis.
7. Commentary on “where the money is coming from” are deeply unfamiliar in a good deal of media coverage of National Party spending plans. Similarly failures in services are rarely sheeted back to National’s policy of cuts to core public services like health, education and social services and the problems of delivering services by tender and contract. There is little analysis of New Zealand’s level of austerity in public spending which is far less generous than public spending in the UK, Greece or Spain whose economies are widely regarded as being subject to austerity.
8. We don’t hear much about National’s need to work with the figures or to show how spending promises will be achieved. Perhaps the cost will be added to existing public debt. Will it be at the expense of services elsewhere? Perhaps the roads will be tolled to repay private investors. Perhaps our roading companies will shoulder the risk. With big spending promises like this at least 1 of these downsides to the announcement must be true.
9. Finally and not insignificantly Newshub’s actual article about the $10.5bn of new roads projects was literally a top and tail from the National Party’s own press release containing no analysis whatever of where the additional spending will come from. If you doubt this check it out There was nothing to indicate the public sentiment that this was not popular policy. No journalist made up National Party policy ahead of time arguing that a popular public transport policy was being introduced alongside the new roads only to force the transport Minister to negate the situation the following day making him seem indecisive and lacking knowledge about his own party’s policies.
10. Playing with 1 article isn’t definite proof of anything but I think you’ll agree it’s been a thought provoking experiment.


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