Rail trail

02/03/2009

Lou Taylor at No Minister said, If only Mickey had thought of a cycleway.

News that KiwiRail could cost taxpayers $1.5 billion over five years could mean that isn’t a joke.

If we can’t afford the trains why not turn the rail corridor into a cycleway?


Running between rack and ruin

13/07/2008

Not content with buying the trains, Labour is now talking about building them. 

The Government will consider assembling new KiwiRail locomotives in New Zealand instead of overseas, State Owned Enterprises (SOE) Minister Trevor Mallard said.

 But the National Party says the plan is “an idea from the 1950s” and would waste taxpayer money.

Make that waste more money.

The Government bought rail operator Toll this month for $690 million. The purchase also included $140 million in debt. Finance Minister Michael Cullen has said an $80 million injection will be needed over the next five years to keep rail running. He has also signalled a “reinvestment package” of about $380 million which will include new locomotives.

Mr Mallard today said although the components of those locomotives would be bought overseas the Government was investigating the possibility of assembling them in New Zealand.

“There is no doubt there is a possibility of assembling locomotives in New Zealand,” he said on TVNZ’s Agenda programme.

“It’s probably a very logical thing to do from a currency perspective, from a value for money perspective.”

I don’t think logic has anything to do with this suggestion.

But National’s SOE spokesman Gerry Brownlee said the plan was “daft”.

“New Zealand’s economic well-being will not be served by returning to the glory days of NZ Railways, which everyone knew was a huge waste of taxpayer resources,” he said.

“New Zealanders still don’t know what the final bill for the railways buy-up is, let alone the cost of something like this.”

He said the fact the locomotives would be assembled in Mr Mallard’s Lower Hutt electorate suggested it was little more than a “save-my-seat campaign”.  

My first flat at Otago entered a float in the annual University capping parade. We built a railcar and one of the slogans we painted on its side was : NZR – running between rack and ruin. The more I hear about Kiwirail the more I think that slogan would apply to it too.

Update: No Minister   shows what going back to the 50s would mean and Inquiring Mind  says Labour’s indulging in time travel.


Consent Appeal Off Track

08/07/2008

While debate rages over KiwiRail nationwide, North Otago has a local argument over whether a disused line should be re-opened to allow trains to run at all.

A branch line used to run from the limeworks on the outskirts of Weston to Oamaru. It was closed in 1997 and the lines were lifted a couple of years later but its owner, then NZ Railways, retained ownership in case it was needed for a cement plant.

However, when the Waitaki district plan was reviewed in 1993 the designation wasn’t properly recorded. OnTrack now needs it redesignated because it’s the best means of transport for Holcim NZ  if its plans for a new cement plant in the Waiareka Valley come to fruition.

The new plant would be a $400m investment for Holcim but its plans have not been greeted with universal enthusiasm and the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society  was set up to oppose the proposal.

Resource consent was granted in February but both Holcim and the WVPS have lodged appeals – the former over some of the conditions, that latter over the approval.

OnTrack’s application to redesignate the line came in the middle of all this and the WVPS submitted against it. Independent commissioner Allan Cubitt recommended that approval be given and because OnTrack is a requiring authority under the Resource Management Act it makes the final decision. Not surprisingly it accepted the commissioner’s recommendation but now the WVPS, which submitted against the application, is appealing that consent too. Their appeal will be considered with the others on Holcim’s proposal in the Environment Court.

We farm next to the site for Holcim’s plant and another of our properties neighbours the company’s sand pit, which will be used if the cement works go ahead. 

I submitted in support of Holcim’s proposal at the resource consent hearings. I’ll cover the details in a future blog, but the short argument is that there would be substantial economic and social benefits for the district if the cement works go ahead; and RMA conditions will safeguard the environment.

As for the railway line, I crossed it several times a week when it was open before and can’t recall any problems then. People who have built beside the rail corridor since the track closed will have concerns; but once they get used to them they’ll hardly notice a few trains a day – and they will not run at night.

I think the WVPS objections have more to do with the society’s opposition to Holcim than the reopening of the railway line. And that’s one of the frustrations with the RMA – it allows people objecting to one thing to object to another in the hope of stopping the first.


Hager’s Hollow Horror

05/07/2008

John Roghan  says Nicky Hager is carving out a new career in disingenuous political naivete.

Not content with a book based on Don Brash’s emails, since brought to the stage and soon to be a movie too, Hager is running a sequel on the discovery that some of the same “hollow men” are consultants to John Key.

The fact that someone in the National Party must be passing this material to Hager is far more interesting than the use he is making of it, and I have no objection to his using it.

I agree that where the material comes from is the more interesting, and for National, more serious point.

…email, I think, is fair game. A fair reporter, though, could reveal what he learns without feigned horror at the fact that people running for public office hire consultants who try to conceal some of their intentions during an election campaign.

Parties of all stripes are coy on some subjects before an election for good reasons.

The public interest can be greater than the sum of personal interests, sometimes even in conflict with direct personal gains. It is easy to sell benefits to a section of the electorate, harder to explain how the benefits hurt a country in the long run.

Some are minority interests that should be advanced in the national interest. Hager should ponder how much progress Maori would have made in recent decades if every step in their recognition had been an election issue.

Quite.

Public debate usually favours the status quo. Not much could ever be done if every decision was put to the electorate for a prior mandate.

Take the present Government’s biggest economic moves, KiwiSaver and, this week, KiwiRail, which I don’t remember being canvassed, with all their costly implications, at elections beforehand.

Had Labour given an inkling at the last election of the premium they have had to pay to re-nationalise the railway, and the fortune it is going to cost to cover its likely losses, National’s last campaign would have feasted on the information.

If only.

But now that the deed is done, the politics have changed. The purchase is the status quo and National will not dare put re-privatisation before the electorate this year, though that may be what it ultimately does with the trains if not the tracks.

Yep – once something is underway it is difficult to change it, even if it’s because sometimes bad policy is good politics.

Likewise KiwiSaver, a year old this week. At the last election the savings scheme was an essentially voluntary proposal. The following year it was to become compulsory for employers and acquire some costly enticements of dubious economic value.

Not long ago my employers wound up my company super fund. I couldn’t blame them; from April they had to contribute to KiwiSaver if staff favoured it. And who of us were going to turn down Cullen’s $1000 handout and tax credits?

The scheme celebrated its first birthday on Tuesday with 718,000 members – more than double the number predicted in the first year. The only people complaining about it are those annoying economists who see the difference between individual gains and the national welfare.

They fear the scheme will not add to total personal savings, merely displace previous savings schemes.

In the Herald last weekend Maria Slade reported an estimate that as little as 9 per cent of the money in KiwiSaver accounts so far is new saving, a percentage the researcher reckoned would not cover the administration and compliance costs of the scheme.

Is anyone surprised by this?

Westpac economist Dominick Stephens said KiwiSaver had cost the taxpayers $497 million in its first 11 months, an amount that could have added to national savings if it had been left in the Budget’s fund for future public pensions.

Even that fund is questioned by some savings professionals who point out that a superannuation scheme is only as good as the future economy that will have to pay out. From that point of view, the best retirement insurance is the investment made in the economy today.

And not just retirement – health, education and every other service will be more secure in the future if we strengthen the economy now.

Anyone who believes that the best investments are made by those who stand to lose if they get it wrong would argue the economy would be stronger in the long run if the KiwiSaver incentives were turned into personal tax cuts.

And yes again.

Nevertheless, National will have to keep the scheme now that it is replacing private savings on such a scale. The best the party can do is continue to avoid saying whether it will keep the incentives.

It will not be easy, and should not be easy; it is the job of political opponents and the press to pin all policies down. But adroit tacticians can keep the options open and enable a government to come to power with room to move in the national interest. Voters, I think, understand this. They don’t need horrified disclosures that it happens. It is the horror that sounds hollow.

Exactly. National has learnt from the damage done by stupid promises made by Jim Bolger before the 1990 election; and Helen Clark has too which is why she keeps trying to under promise and over deliver.

Parties should be upfront about their philosophy, principles, general  policy, and – sometime before an election – some detailed policy. But they can’t be specific about everything because, once a party is in Government it must have room to adapt to events and circumstances.


If you’re only half right are you half left or just wrong?

03/07/2008

In a discussion ont he irony of Jim Bolger chairing Kiwi Rail, Tracy Watkins  notes

If we ever doubted, meanwhile, that Bolger truly is a formidable  politician, his response to questions about whether National was right to sell rail back in 1993 pretty much summed it up.

It was right to sell it at the time, Bolger suggested – but times had changed and it was now right to buy it back.

Well he’s right about the sale but wrong about the buy-back.  So is he half left -what Cactus Kate  calls a pink tory – or just plain wrong?


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