National’s decision – very much John Key’s decision – to bite the bullet and set a 2020 start for building the $2.9 billion Auckland City Rail Link is a political masterstroke.
Once again. Key has trumped National’s opponents and neutralised the political advantage they had held by jumping across the political divide and setting up camp in their territory.
He first did it with nuclear ship visits when he became National’s leader in 2006. He simply used his honeymoon in the job to declare the anti-nuclear law would remain intact under his leadership. And that was that. It may not have greatly impressed the Americans. But in an instant, a political millstone had been removed from National’s neck.
On numerous occasions since, Key has likewise swallowed hard and taken positions which do not sit that comfortably with National ideology but which spike the guns of the party’s enemies and leave them with nowhere to go.
Regardless of the merits of the City Rail Link (and I actually think it does have merits), one can look at this in a very calculating way.
The Government has said it will fund it by 2020. It is unlikely this Government will actually be in power in 2020, so the actual funding for it will be an issue for the future. The announcement though gives certainity.
If they had not announced future funding for it, well what is the probability that there will not be a change of Government before 2020? Very very low. Even Labour can’t get stuffing up for that long. And if a change of Government means it would then be getting built anyway, well what is the point in holding out?
But there are other advantages. By agreeing to it now, it removes the ability of Labour and Greens to sabotage the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension which they were promising to scrap to fund the CRL. Are they now going to keep campaigning on scraping what they call the holiday highway? I doubt it.
So yes, a masterstroke – and one that doesn’t really impact the books long-term as it was inevitable it would be built anyway when there was a change of Government. Instead, it now happens on a more affordable time-frame.
With yesterday’s confirmation of a tunnel as the second harbour crossing plus sundry motorway extensions and developments, Key has mapped out National’s vision for Auckland transport and, perhaps more importantly, laid out the stages by which that vision will be achieved.
In one swoop, he has taken the steam out of what, after housing affordability, is the thorniest issue in the country’s biggest city – traffic congestion – and one on which, according to opinion polls, National’s management has less than impressed the public.
In particular, Key has now marginalised Labour and the Greens in the one aspect of public policy where those parties thought they safely had it all over National – public transport.
Armstrong also points out:
Apart from shoring up National’s support in Auckland, the go-ahead is intended to remind the rest of New Zealand that National – unlike its opponents – looks at the big picture and gets things done whereas they are consumed by the relatively trivial, such as the fate of Peter Dunne and his parliamentary allowances.
And their obsession with the GCSB. Don’t get me wrong – the GCSB is of importance, but it seems the opposition have talked about nothing else for the last few weeks or months. The average family really does not care that much about the GCSB. They care about having a job, a growing economy, better schools and better healthcare.
Fran O’Sullivan also writes:
John Key’s lip-smacking munificence has been writ large as he moves into agenda-setting mode in Auckland and Christchurch, the two cities that will decide next year’s election.
Key’s spreading plenty of pixie dust about, promising multi-billion-dollar transport projects in Auckland – including the City Rail Link which his transport ministers have seriously dissed – and big-ticket projects in earthquake-savaged Christchurch, like a new convention centre.
I joked on Twitter that John Key has spent more in one week than Rob Muldoon spent in nine years on Think Big!
But the comparison, even joking, is unfair. The transport projects are not (generally) being funded by taxpayers. They tend to get funded out of the national land transport fund which is basically user pays funding through petrol tax and road user charges.
Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, was yesterday reduced to carping about the cost of the city’s transport projects and complaining that the timing for some of the construction was still vague.
Which they are, but they allow the planning to begin such as route protection for the harbour crossing.
But he later confined himself to telling journalists it could come from various sources, including (take that, Labour!) the Future Investment Fund, into which his Government is tucking the proceeds of its partial privatisation programme; the Land Transport Fund, which holds the proceeds of petrol excise tax and road-user charges; taxpayers through the Consolidated Fund and even the private sector through some nifty public/private sector partnerships (PPPs).
I think using the proceeds of asset sales to help fund the CRL would be wonderful! Labour then has to argue that shares in a power company are more valuable than the CRL!
And Christchurch mayoral challenger and Labour MP Lianne Dalziel was reduced to complaining from the sidelines as Key and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee cosied up publicly with Parker to announce agreement had been reached on $4.8 billion of investment in Christchurch – $2.9 billion of it coming from the Crown and $1.9 billion committed by the Christchurch City Council – so that projects like the new stadium and a convention centre can proceed.
Key couldn’t resist having a flick at Labour during yesterday’s stand-up, telling reporters he could understand why the public wasn’t warming to Labour because it was “too negative”.
Labour need to learn that endless negativity is not appealing.
The big question is how much further the PM will drive the knife in; particularly as speculation has now been sewn that Labour leader David Shearer has been given two months to turn his party’s dismal poll showing around or face questions over his leadership.
The parallels with Australian Labor leader Julia Gillard are obvious. Their respective publics warmed to neither of them.
The posturing was obvious at the US Embassy’s Independence Day festivities (celebrated early) in Wellington on Wednesday night.
Shearer and two potential leadership pretenders – Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe – maintained a studious distance from each other.
Tick tock, tick tock …