Documents released by Treasury reveal why vital new roads across the country are being scrapped or stalled – because Labour’s trains have swallowed up the transport budget for the next ten years, National’s Transport spokesman Chris Bishop says.
“The next decade will be tough for Kiwis who drive because they won’t be getting much in the way of new highways from this Government, despite paying billions in new taxes.
“Recently-released Budget documents show Labour, the Greens and NZ First have – in just two years – fully committed the transport budget for the next decade to pay for their extravagant pre-election rail promises.
“In other words, if their investment in a handful of rail projects goes ahead, it will mean no new highways for ten years.”
“Since becoming Transport Minister, Phil Twyford has plundered the fund topped up by motorists’ fuel taxes and road user charges to the point where $3.5 billion less will be spent on state highways over the next six years, according to Treasury.
“Over the next decade, $5 billion less will be available to build the safer, high-quality highways this country desperately needs.
“This explains why a dozen new highways that were progressing under National have either been cancelled or pushed back until the 2030s, including the Mill Road Corridor and Penlink in Auckland, the Tauranga Northern Link, Ōtaki to Levin north of Wellington, and Christchurch to Ashburton.
“This has stalled NZTA’s building programme for up to 18 months, prompting warnings from Treasury that there won’t be any projects ready to go when National’s roads are finished.
“This would be devastating for the economy as the workforce on these projects may leave construction, or move to Australia where they’re spending $100b on transport infrastructure.
“Motorists will feel justifiably angry. This Government has milked $1.7b out of them through fuel tax hikes and extra GST, but they’re getting no new infrastructure in return.
“That’s because the Government can’t make rail stack up economically. Labour thought Auckland’s light rail to Māngere would cost $2b before the last election, now it’s heading towards $7b with no start date in sight.
“National will rebalance the transport budget if elected in 2020, providing a wider variety of transport infrastructure that ensures all Kiwis can get around the country quickly and safely.”
The full Treasury report can be found here
The Green Party has made its stance on petrol-fueled cars very clear; not only does it want to tax people who drive them, it would outlaw them altogether if it could, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“Cabinet papers released under the Official Information Act reveal the Greens were working on a law change to ban fossil fuel vehicles from entering New Zealand by 2035.
“Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter can play this down, but the fact a Cabinet paper was produced shows she was working behind closed doors to change the law.
“Reducing emissions from our vehicle fleet is an important step in the fight against climate change. But it would be irresponsible to make petrol cars illegal so soon without a solid plan to help people into electric vehicles.
“Sadly, this Government thinks the best way to do that is to penalise Kiwis for buying petrol-fueled cars regardless of whether or not they can afford an electric vehicle, or whether models exist that can cater to their needs.
“The best way to green our vehicle fleet is to incentivise, not penalise, the purchase of low-emission cars. Legislating higher-emitting vehicles out of the fleet will force many New Zealanders to retain them because they can't afford to switch.
“Now that we know a law change to ban petrol cars is being kicked around at the highest levels of Government, the Minister needs to be honest with New Zealanders about whether such a move will happen at any point in the future.”
The Cabinet papers can be found here
The mind-boggling prospect of no new major transport projects starting in this term of Government is now very real after Phil Twyford revealed Auckland’s light rail has been delayed even further, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“You can chalk up another broken promise for the Transport Minister after he told Infrastructure NZ’s Building Nations Symposium that the business case for Auckland’s $6 billion slow tram to the airport won’t be considered by Cabinet until next year.
“That means there won’t be enough time to get it started before the election, leaving Phil Twyford with nothing to show for his term as Transport Minster except broken promises.
“The Twyford era of non-delivery is becoming laughable. He’s already made a hash of Labour’s pledge to build 100,000 KiwiBuild homes, and lost his housing portfolio as a result.
“Light rail was Labour’s other big election promise. They said it could be delivered to Mt Roskill in four years but that won’t be possible now.
“The business case was supposed to be completed by November 2018. The delay suggests the Minister can’t stack up an economic argument for spending that much taxpayer cash.
“Phil Twyford has single-handedly destroyed any credibility the Government had when it came to infrastructure.
“While this news is disappointing for Auckland commuters, it’s also a massive blow to the construction sector, which employs 250,000 people and generates six per cent of our GDP.
“Labour’s decision to stall or cancel a dozen transport infrastructure projects that were ready to go under National, while he mucks around with light rail, has left the sector with nothing new to work on, pushing this country to the brink of an infrastructure crisis.
“If work doesn’t get underway soon on major new projects, we’ll lose our construction workforce to Australia – where the Government just announced a $100 billion roading and rail investment package – and we may not get them back.”
The New Zealand Transport Agency must commit to funding a detailed business case and resource consent for a Melling Interchange when it meets this week, Hutt South MP Chris Bishop says.
In April, NZTA announced funding for the new interchange would not be considered until 2029. It did not commit to funding the detailed business case and resource consents, saying they would be considered in “early 2020”.
“I’m pleased to say that after intense pressure from myself as local MP, Hutt Valley mayors Ray Wallace and Wayne Guppy, and from hundreds of Hutt residents, NZTA is now looking at committing that funding earlier than planned.
“I understand the NZTA board will, on Friday, decide whether the agency will join its partners in the RiverLink project – Hutt City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council – and undertake the detailed planning and resource consent phase contemporaneously.
“Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace has previously said that if NZTA does not join with his council, it will consider funding the work itself. Ratepayers shouldn’t have to stump up $4 million to do this.
“While NZTA’s involvement won’t solve the underlying problem of the Government not wanting to fund construction until at least 2029, it will at least mean some progress.
“The Government has cut $5 billion from the state highway budget and the consequences of that are being felt in the Hutt. Rimutaka MP Chris Hipkins’ recent meeting with NZTA laid the facts bare: the funding cuts have meant projects like Melling and the Petone to Grenada link road have either been significantly delayed or cancelled.
“The best thing Hipkins could do as a local MP is to tell his colleague, Transport Minister Phil Twyford, to increase state highway funding.”
Phil Twyford is clearly more concerned about his public image than he is about improving the transport network given the number of NZTA spin doctors has almost doubled since he became its Minister, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
Information released to National shows the number of fulltime equivalent employees (FTEs), working in media, communications, marketing, stakeholder engagement or public affairs at the New Zealand Transport Agency grew from 26.13 in July 2017 to 40.05 in July 2019.
In 2017, the agency employed 17.53 permanent and 8.60 fixed-term employees in those roles. By 2019, that had grown to 37.05 permanent and three fixed-term employees.
“It’s a slap in the face when the NZTA can find extra money to spend on spin doctors but it can’t find the cash for vital new infrastructure and safety upgrades,” Mr Bishop says.
“Instead of building the roads Kiwis are crying out for, Phil Twyford and his Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter appear more interested in finding new ways to spin their ineptitude in the media.
“The reality is, they’ve pushed New Zealand to the brink of an infrastructure crisis by cancelling, delaying or gutting a dozen major transport projects that were ready to go under National, and not starting any of their own.
“Under their watch, the pipeline of NZTA projects has dried right up as the agency has pivoted towards investing in rail over roads. The problem is, the Government can’t do either very well and the NZTA’s public perception has hit rock bottom.
“The most telling quote from Phil Twyford came after the Budget when he fronted a Select Committee, without his army of spin doctors, and said there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways ‘for decades’ in this country.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth. But even if it was, it would be a better use of taxpayer cash than this Government’s over-investment in spin doctors and fancy adverts.
“National would rather see that money spent on projects designed to relieve congestion and improve safety, like Auckland’s East-West Link and Wellington’s Melling Interchange.”
Two years on from the Prime Minister’s pledge to have light rail from Auckland’s CBD to Mt Roskill within four years, the project is on the fast track to nowhere, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“All the signs point to this being yet another broken election promise from Labour.
“Jacinda Ardern said her slow tram down Dominion Road would be a ‘game-changer’ but it has turned out to be slower than a game of Risk with the basic first step of a business case still not done at what was supposed to be the project’s halfway point.
“When she was asked last week what transport projects her Government had started, this was the only one she could name – but it hasn’t started.
“The Government’s ineptitude has been on full display throughout with Ministers unable to agree on whether the extended line to Māngere will cost $4 billion or $7 billion.
“The business case was supposed to be ready by November 2018. The delay suggests Phil Twyford is struggling to stack up an economic case for spending that much taxpayer cash.
“There’s also the looming problem of APEC and the 2021 America’s Cup. The disruption that construction would cause may mean the project can’t begin until 2022, if at all.
“The Government’s dilly-dallying on this couldn’t have come at a worse time. It has pulled the handbrake on our economy by cancelling dozens of infrastructure projects that were ready to go under National, and it hasn’t been able to get anything off the ground itself.
“This is why New Zealand is at an ‘infrastructure crisis point’ according to the Business Council. The Government has shut down this country’s infrastructure pipeline just so it can press ahead with an ideological dream it cooked up during the election campaign.
“Phil Twyford has now placed the construction sector in a precarious position. If the business case for light rail doesn’t stack up – and that is a real possibility – what will he do? Push on regardless and waste billions of taxpayer dollars, or scrap it and leave the country in a huge infrastructure hole?
“This term of Government has been littered with Labour’s broken promises: KiwiBuild, a cancer agency, free doctor’s visits, police numbers, a capital gains tax – the list goes on.
“Light rail to Mt Roskill within four years is on track to wind up on that list.”
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter has run roughshod over the rules governing Ministers by penning a secret transport letter to Phil Twyford, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“The Cabinet Manual is very clear. At 8.25, it notes: ‘Ministers should always be clear about the capacity in which they are creating or using information’.
“Julie Anne Genter’s secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter to the Transport Minister was anything but clear.
“It was written on Ministerial letterhead and signed by her as Associate Transport Minister, yet when the heat came on she claimed to be merely communicating as the Green Party transport spokesperson.
“She has answered oral and written questions in Parliament about this issue in her capacity as Associate Minister, but won’t answer questions from the media or release her secret letter.
“Phil Twyford has made things worse by telling media ‘she was writing as the Associate Minister but expressing a view on behalf of the Green Party so it’s not all that easy to separate those things out’.
“Twyford has inadvertently hit the nail on the head – Genter has confused matters horribly for all concerned and she is thumbing her nose at one of our important constitutional documents.
“The Prime Minister has already been embarrassed by Clare Curran’s rule-breaking. She now needs to bring Julie Anne Genter into line, to ensure her Government is operating to the high standards expected of it by the public.”
An official investigation has been launched into Julie Anne Genter’s refusal to release her secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter, National MPs Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis say.
“The Associate Transport Minister’s excuses for keeping her letter hidden from the public have worn thin to the point where the Chief Ombudsman is now investigating her conduct,” Mr Bishop says.
“I gave Julie Anne Genter the opportunity to come clean and read the first few paragraphs of her letter in Parliament today, but she doubled-down and thumbed her nose at the public.
“It’s extraordinary that she continues to argue her letter to Transport Minister Phil Twyford, which we believe convinced him to push back construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel for at least a decade, isn’t in the public interest.
“It took repeated questions and some stern comments from the Speaker of the House for her to even admit it was written on her ministerial letterhead. Getting openness and transparency from this Government is like getting blood out of a stone.”
Ms Willis says she is pleased the Chief Ombudsman has listened to her complaint and will investigate whether the letter can continue to be withheld under the Official Information Act.
“I’m confident the Chief Ombudsman will agree with what Chris Bishop and I have been saying for weeks now; that Wellingtonians deserve to know how much Julie Anne Genter was responsible for pushing back plans for a second Mt Victoria Tunnel to beyond 2030.
“She now claims that because she is a Green MP she isn’t subject to the public disclosure requirements normally faced by Ministers. She is wrong. Her confusion shows an appalling lack of understanding of the public accountability that comes with her Ministerial warrant.
The Ombudsman has poured cold water on the Government’s desperate attempt to stop the public from seeing Julie Anne Genter’s secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“On the back of my enquiries, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has today made public the ruling that Associate Transport Minister has been using as a shield to keep her letter secret.
“Julie Anne Genter now has no reason not to release her letter after the Ombudsman made it clear the Official Information Act only offers protection for free and frank correspondence between political parties, not between Ministers.
“She has already confirmed she wrote to Transport Minister Phil Twyford in her ministerial capacity, weeks before construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel was pushed back by at least a decade.
“We then saw a complete farce in Parliament last week as both Phil Twyford and Leader of the House Chris Hipkins tried to bamboozle the Speaker of the House by hiding behind the Ombudsman’s ruling – but the Speaker was having none of it.
“Taxpayers and ratepayers are being asked to cough up $6.4 billion to pay for Let’s Get Wellington Moving and they deserve to know how much Julie Anne Genter tinkered with the project before it was signed off.
“She needs to start being open and transparent, and release her letter now.”
The Ombudsman’s ruling can be found here
The Government needs to stop hiding behind spurious arguments for not releasing the secret letter between Ministers that dramatically altered Wellington’s transport future, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“Transport Minister Phil Twyford needs to explain his role in what is increasingly looking like a Government cover-up.
“The refusal of Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter to release the letter she sent Twyford weeks before the Government pushed back construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel for at least a decade led to farcical scenes in Parliament today.
“It has become so serious that even the Speaker of the House isn’t convinced by the Government’s justification and is seeking advice from the Chief Ombudsman.
“In answers to Parliamentary Written Questions, Julie Anne Genter confirmed both she and Phil Twyford were communicating as Ministers. That makes the letter subject to the Official Information Act and leaves her with no argument for keeping it hidden a second longer.
“As the Speaker himself noted in Parliament today, he regularly obtained letters between Ministers when he was in Opposition.
“If the Government has nothing to hide then why is it going to so much effort to keep the public from seeing how much the Greens influenced Let’s Get Wellington Moving?
“It’s a slap in the face to Wellingtonians if it thinks there’s no public interest in a document that discusses $6.4 billion in taxpayer spending and 20-plus years of transport projects.
“My colleague, Wellington-based MP Nicola Willis, has once again written to the Ombudsman requesting this letter be released in light of the significant public interest in its contents.
“It’s looking like we can add the Government’s pledge to be ‘the most open and transparent ever’ to its list of broken promises.”
Parliamentary debate on whether the letter is subject to the OIA can be found here