National’s $10.5 billion transport bungle


Yesterday, Prime MInister Bill English announced a major new road funding programme that would cost N.Z.$10.5 billion. It involves a series of projects throughout the North Island and upper South Island that would improve road capacity and ease congestion.

But when we look objectively at them, are they all needed and are there not other transport projects more deserving of the funding? Are there not planning issues that arise with an obsession with the car?

My point is simple. Like the roads built in the $12 billion plan unveiled in 2011, National once again has its priorities wrong. They were called Roads of National Significance (R.o.N.S.), and were intended to enable freer flowing traffic in the areas of highest traffic growth, such as between Auckland and Whangarei, Hamilton and Auckland and in the South Island around Christchurch.

More motorways simply because there is more demand is not the whole answer or the only answer. More motorways simply for those reasons have flow environmental and planning issues, in that suburban sprawl tends to follow suit, which poses its own – entirely different and not relevant to this article – set of challenges.

In Christchurch road transport seems to have taken priority during the rebuild with State Highway 1 being upgraded to a dual carriage way from Main South Road to Belfast. A dual carriageway diversion that bypasses Belfast completely is also underway and will pick up traffic from the north end of Johns Road.

New Zealand is about 15 years behind European countries and also large American cities where city planners have put greater emphasis on railways and buses, land use planning that encourages these modes of transport and so forth. This is why my view of transport is that we need to get trucks off roads that the largest of them were simply not meant to be on in the first place. Their cargo can be just as well distributed by rail, the merchant marine or by aircraft. This is why we need to stop looking at these modes of transport in a piece meal fashion, that does not seek to integrate them.

Yes we have a problem in the South Island with quake damaged road and railway lines. However, they are being fixed and will soon be able to have slow freight trains running the length of the Main Trunk Line from Christchurch to Picton. If transport planners really put some thought into it, how about resuming the overnight ferry from Christchurch to Wellington?

This is a bungle. We simply do not need some of these roading projects and others should be scaled back as if rail were given the same opportunities as roading, it could take much of the heat out of our congestion. National are throwing money around funding public transport projects as a desperate attempt to draw some of the votes from Labour. But their lack of cohesion, focus on roads and outright ignorance of some transport modes shows where their real priorities lie.

T.P.P.A.???? No way!!! T.P.P.A.???? No way!!!


Today, scrolling through my Facebook feed I stumbled on something disturbing, but not terribly surprising: National are still trying to get the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement through in some form.

One should not be surprised. To many this is like the crown jewel in National’s economic and trade policies. It is something that they have spent huge diplomatic effort trying to shore up overseas – Prime Minister John Key, former Minister of Trade Tim Groser, current Minister of Trade Todd McClay in particular have gone to huge lengths in the course of their time in their respective roles talking to diplomats, trying to reassure the public in those few instances where the media has been brave enough to investigate.

I first became aware of the T.P.P.A. in about 2011. Someone in the course of a conversation over human rights told me about it and mentioned that human rights would be affected. I initially did not think too much about it, until when assisting New Zealand First in the 2011 election campaign it became a topic of debate. Still the media were not – and are still not really all that interested to this day – in why it is such a controversial subject.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I realized what a danger this was, when listening to members of the New Zealand First caucus talk about it at the party convention in Palmerston North. At that point I started investigating. What I could deduce was nothing more than what was already known – that 12 nations including New Zealand wanted to conclude an all Pacific Rim trade agreement. The problem was that the negotiations were being conducted behind closed doors, were not being scrutinized by the media and most New Zealanders were indifferent to it. I began to be involved in the protests that were organized by Its Our Future and prior to that Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.

But it is the same T.P.P.A. that rallied the left wing spectrum all those years ago. It is the T.P.P.A. that I am hearing is turning some National Party supporters away from their party. It is the same T.P.P.A. that New Zealand First and the Green Party have consistently opposed from day one and refuse to have a bar of now or in the future. It is the same T.P.P.A. that prompted New Zealand First list M.P. Fletcher Tabuteau to draft his Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill, which was sadly shot down by National, A.C.T. and United Future in March 2017.

Basically it is the same ugly old trojan horse dressed as something New Zealand and New Zealanders should accept. It still has the hugely dangerous Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses that would take the T.P.P.A. beyond New Zealand’s court system and into the hands of a secret kangaroo court controlled by corporate interests.

I have said much that is harsh about United States President Donald Trump and have plenty more still to be said, but one thing I cannot be at all harsh on him about is the T.P.P.A. His point blank refusal to accept the agreement is something New Zealand should have done. It is the one action of his that I totally and unapologetically identify with. It is something that for New Zealand to do likewise, will require a change of Government to one that involves New Zealand First and preferably Labour.

So, if we cut a long story short, the rallying cry of the left in Parliament on this should still be: T.P.P.A.???? No way!!! T.P.P.A.???? No way!!!

A.C.T.’s grandiose housing policy


The other day A.C.T. released its housing policy.

I was initially quite dubious about what the policy would hold in terms of responsible housing for New Zealanders. However I decided to make a stern challenge of this – not to A.C.T., but to myself – to read through the policy and have an honest go at critiquing it.

The major tenets of the policy appear to be:

  1. Removing what A.C.T. considers to be red tape around building houses – it interprets this to be building codes, land use planning and labour laws
  2. It would build 600,000 houses
  3. It would require compulsory insurance for new buildings

The A.C.T. Party has never been a fan of the Resource Management Act 1991, and has variously said it will either repeal or completely rewrite the Act. It blames the land use planning rules provided for in the Act as having a choking effect on housing. The actual purpose of land use planning is because not all land zones will be appropriate for housing, and the local council in identifying and providing these different uses needs to have tools that enable – e.g. an asbestos dump covered over is not appropriate to have housing built on top and the base of it would need to be secure to stop contaminants leaking into the ground water.

A.C.T. proposes a policy that I am not aware of other parties having come up with, and that is the use of G.S.T. as a means of funding infrastructure such as roading, sewerage and electricity connections. All of this is infrastructure that councils are obligated to build when they let new construction go ahead. Although I am not sure how well the G.S.T. will work in this regard, I acknowledge A.C.T. has at least thought about how it is going to fund this.

600,000 houses will be built. That is a huge number of new houses for such a small country – and would far exceed what is probably needed. Even 300,000 would solve housing issues, assuming they were affordably priced. Would there actually even be market demand for such a huge number – which I assume would largely consist of dwellings with 1-4 bedrooms, bathroom and toilet/s, kitchen, laundry and maybe a double garage. We know nothing about the land they would sit on

A.C.T. says it would require compulsory insurance for new buildings. Here is something I agree with, though I thought that this might have been better suited to a wider construction policy than just for houses.

I still have credible concerns about the policy though. I am not sure where they will find enough tradespeople to do the work. New Zealand simply does not have a big enough population to provide these workers. As we have seen with the current construction environment in N.Z. cities, there is a risk of exploitation by industry cowboys who just want a fast dollar.

To process the necessary legalese (what can I call the planning phase when A.C.T. is taking this away from councils?), a substantial – and I find this quite ironic – bureaucratic machine will still be needed. A.C.T. cannot just walk away from the City/District/Regional Plans set down under the Resource Management Act, or Long Term Plans which area Local Government Act 2002 requirement would either have to be allowed to run out or substantially modified.

So, lets see how all of this turns out, but I think A.C.T. will find New Zealanders consider this a rather grandiose policy.

Addressing banking sector concerns in N.Z.


I remember the onset of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis all too clearly. In the space of about two years 31 separate New Zealand finance companies crashed and burned, taking about N.Z.$3 billion worth of savings with them. The crash of so many companies and the resulting fallout cost numerous jobs, led to criminal trials for fraudulent activity and caused a loss of trust in banks. Nine years later, not having learnt much from the previous crash New Zealand, like the world at large is at risk of another, possibly bigger, crash.

The causes of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis are well documented. In the United States lax banking regulations led to the failure of Fannie Mae’s, Freddie Mac’s, Lehman Brothers amongst others . Hundreds of billions of dollars was wiped from the value of the U.S. economy when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The bailout plan authorized by U.S. President George W. Bush cost about U.S.$700 billion to enact. Following these collapses President Barak Obama passed legislation called Dodd Frank Act which enabled large scale reform of the banking sector, in terms of transparency, tightening up reporting requirements and protecting whistle blowers.

In New Zealand the following are just some of the financial institutions that failed in 2006-2010 (N.Z.$)¹:

  • Capital Merchant Finance ($190 million)
  • South Canterbury Finance ($1.6 billion)
  • Provincial Finance ($296 million with $273 million recovered)
  • Bridgecorp ($467 million)

¹67 went into liquidation or receivership, or entered moratoria all up between 2006 and 2012

I believe that legislation needs to be passed in two respects to bring accountability to the banking sector, but also institute a better code of practice than the one that exists. Elsewhere I have mentioned the need for better whistle blower protection. This is to ensure that the fate of whistle blowers at the Ministry of Transport who exposed fraudster Joanne Harrison and lost their jobs for doing so, is not repeated.

But perhaps the biggest reforms that I think need to be made are to how individuals enter and exit the financial industry, and the range of tools that can be used in dealing with significant breaches. We have the Financial Markets Authority investigating significant breaches, which is well and fine. But, given the size of some of the aforementioned collapses and the fact that individuals who had leading roles in precipitating said collapses were handed what I think were very light sentences, I think the law needs an overhaul.

For small fraud (less than N.Z.$250,000), claims can be dealt with in the District Court and the High Court deals with larger claims. We saw out of the court trials arising from the collapses of companies like Bridgecorp that in many cases the sentences were too light. The sentences did not appear to take into account ill gotten assets such expensive cars. Nor did they appear to stop the defendants from working in the industry again. The sentences should be proportionate to the size of the losses incurred by the investors. Such a scale could look like this:

  • Category E (dealt with in District Court) up to $250,000 = suspension of trading license + fine (up to $250,000) or jail sentence (up to 2 years)
  • Category D – $250,000 to $10 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets or fine (up to $500,000) or jail sentence (up to 5 years)
  • Category C – $10 million to $100 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets + fine (up to $1 million) or jail sentence (up to 15 years)
  • Category B – $100 million to $250 million = loss of financial trading licence + plus fine (up to $2 million) + jail (up to 25 years)
  • Category A – $250 million+ = loss of licence + fine (up to $4 million) + jail (up to 40 years) + confiscation of luxury assets + loss of passport

Sound harsh?

Not as harsh as thousands of investors having their retirement plans and anything that they might have been relying on their investments to fund now having nothing to show for their efforts. Not as harsh as hundreds of people working for these forms in good faith finding themselves without a job because of the collapse. Nor as harsh as any community finding that sponsorship of community events and projects have just gone up in smoke.

Report on options for Manawatu Gorge route ignored


For as long as Manawatu Gorge has had transport links through it, they have been subject to slips. Some of them have been cleared in a matter of days. Some have taken several weeks.

With each slip business has been lost by the towns at either end of the gorge. People’s livelihoods have been disrupted, with locals and tourists alike forced to take detours.

A few weeks ago another slip came down. The gorge had not been long reopened after several previous slips. This time it looks like the disruption might be terminal, the patience of the communities having run out and the issue now a political football in election year.

In 2012 after a particularly severe slip event the New Zealand Transport Authority commissioned a report into alternative transport routes in the Manawatu Gorge. There were four options being suggested:

  1. A direct route that is the shortest and involves building a 5.9 kilometre long straight bypass – COST: $309 million
  2. Bridging to provide a straight a carriageway in parts of the gorge – COST: $415 million
  3. Overhaul what is commonly known as the long route, which is about 10 kilometres long and currently carrying most of the traffic, but which is not really suited for the volume of traffic it is carrying – COST: $120 million
  4. A tunnel, which would be New Zealand’s longest road tunnel and start and end about the same place as the direct route – COST: $1.8 billion

The geological structures and strata that any overhaul would have to be worked on is tricky. Large faults including, but not limited to, the Wellington Fault are nearby. The strata is largely sedimentary in nature and likely uplifted by seismic activity on the nearby faults. Old landslide zones abound along the slopes of the gorge

The report was ignored. It was shelved because despite the frequency of slips closing the gorge, it was not considered to be a priority.

Now, finally, with a slip closing the gorge blocking the road indefinitely, the Government has finally admitted there is a problem. But how do we know that this is not simply a case of electioneering in election year to counter resurgent opposition parties?