Shane Jones’ revelation that he talked to the chief of the NZ Transport Agency about a court case in which he had a distant family connection raises further serious questions for this minister, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“It is constitutionally inappropriate for any minister to wade in on a matter before the courts which is exactly what Mr Jones has done by saying an adverse outcome for Semenoff Logging in its case against the NZTA could lead to job losses in Northland. We need to know the full extent of his inappropriate behaviour.
“This is the transport company owned by ex-Whangarei mayor Stan Semenoff, who is more than a passing acquaintance of Associate Transport Minister Jones. Back in 2009, Mr Jones said he got a $2000 donation from Mr Semenoff because ‘he's my mother's cousin’.
“This isn’t the first time Mr Jones has been conflicted as official papers show he was at meetings in 2018 when the Government decided to give $4.6 million to the Manea Footsteps of Kupe project. In that case, he was caught out after publicly denying any involvement in a project where he had publicly declared a conflict of interest.
“It is disturbing that wearing his Regional Economic Development hat, Mr Jones has control of a $3 billion provincial slush fund which refuses to make public the salient details of its funding arrangements.
“National believes in open, accountable Government based on prudent, properly assessed policies.”
Decisions around the future of the Ports of Auckland, rail and light rail need to be made on clear analysis of costs and benefits, not on the basis of rushed coalition deal trade-offs after elections, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“We’ve seen a pattern of poor decision making by this Government as a result of horse-trading in coalition negotiations, as appears to be driving light rail and Northland rail and port thinking.
“There are huge pressures on the most congested parts of our transport network requiring massive investment. We have to prioritise our spending rationally and carefully and decisions on Ports need to fit in with wider transport plans.
“For example National pledged to build a four lane motorway between Whangarei and Auckland, a vital project for Northland that would unlock the region’s economic growth.
“There is no sense in cancelling projects like this in favour of ill-considered coalition arrangements.
“It is becoming a trend from this Government to forge ahead with coalition agreements in the absence of any real data. These are political decisions and the Government is not being open-minded about what will really benefit the regions.
“Transport Minister Phil Twyford’s determination to build light rail in Auckland is a result of the Labour-Greens confidence and supply negotiations, and moving the Ports of Auckland looks to be the equivalent for NZ First.
“Government needs to stop using transport projects as a political football and seriously re-evaluate how it’s spending taxpayers money on transport. Simply picking and choosing different projects on the basis of negotiations rather than clear analysis isn’t in the best interests of New Zealanders.”
A $7.5 million loan from Shane Jones to privately owned luxury hot pools in Methven leaves more serious questions hanging over the Provincial Growth Fund, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The hot pool funding brings total loans from the fund to $47.8 million. Taxpayers remain in the dark about all of them – no details have been given that would show the level of risk involved or how much of a discount they’re getting on commercial borrowing rates.
“We wish them all the best. No-one can blame businesses for accepting cheap loans or grants and the solar power-heated hot pools will be an added attraction for Methven. But there are 534,933 businesses operating in New Zealand who would no doubt appreciate such help. Why are these any different?
“The Minister also needs to explain why he is shovelling more money out the door than the applicants sought. In this case, we understand the thermal pool operator asked for $2 million and Jones’ Independent Advisory Panel affirmed the sum, yet he’s more than tripled that to $7.5 million.
“Mr Jones is struggling to find viable projects that will be ready by 2020 for him to use as an electioneering tool, so when he does, he’s more than tripling the amount going out the door.
“Although the Government has enjoyed many photo ops from the Provincial Growth Fund, only 38 of the 166 announced projects have received any form of payment so far. And at last count based on MBIE’s own figures, just 54 jobs have been created.
“It’s sloppy, fast and loose spending from a Minister who is quickly realising that his Provincial Growth Fund is not delivering to expectations.”
Transport Minister Phil Twyford confirmed today that the Government has no intention of keeping Jacinda Ardern’s campaign promise to build light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill within four years, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Talk is cheap, delivery is much harder.
“Time and time again we’ve seen this Government set targets it has no hope of delivering. As yet we don’t have any time table for the light rail project, expected to be completed within four years of taking office.
“National’s plan would have adapted existing routes and existing modes of transport, resulting in less disruption and more delivery.
“We were securing the public transport route for a rapid bus network that could have been adapted to other modes of transport as demand and technology progressed, and we were continuing to invest in major arterial routes such as Mill Road and the East-West Link.
“We know the New Zealand First members of the coalition are sceptical of the light rail proposal. Frankly, we share that scepticism.
“We await the release of any business case for the light rail project, and are yet to be convinced this very expensive proposal is the best use of scarce transport resources.
“It is important for the public’s confidence in politicians that they keep their promises.”
A direct result of this Government’s ill thought through transport decisions will see Kiwis spending more time in the car stuck in traffic than with their families, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“It will be disappointing for New Zealanders sitting in congested traffic that reducing congestion is no longer a priority of their Government, which is taking the time and money of New Zealanders for granted instead.
“We now know this because NZTA’s former CE Fergus Gammie has confirmed to MPs that the current ‘Government Policy Statement doesn’t prioritise travel time savings, and that is quite a significant change’. This will be extremely disappointing for Kiwi motorists.
“New Zealanders around the country trying to get home, to work, or heading off on holiday are facing longer travel times and more time spent sitting in traffic, all as a direct result of this Government’s decisions.
“This is because the Labour-led Government doesn’t see New Zealanders stuck in traffic as an issue.
“Transport Minister Phil Twyford has stripped $5.3 billion from regional highways, which would’ve made a big difference to Kiwis travelling – saving them time and making them safer.
“This is all to fund a tram in Auckland that is not going to be completed for nearly a decade, will cause disruption on main transport routes, and further increase congestion in Auckland while it’s being built.
“Kiwis want to be confident their hard earned taxpayer money is being put to good use, like reducing congestion on roads. But it’s clear from the ideological decisions made by the current Government that its priorities lie elsewhere.”
Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones is right to criticise Auckland Mayor Phil Goff on his push for light rail while the City Rail Link costs continue to blowout, but he should be talking to his Government colleagues who are the real drivers of light rail, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Mr Jones has got the broader point right, a slow tram from Auckland city to the airport doesn’t stack up and the Government shouldn’t be pushing ahead with it while the cost of City Rail Link continues to accelerate.
“But he should be talking to his Government colleagues instead. The decisions to put a slow tram down Dominion Road was made in the Labour-Green coalition negotiations, in the absence of any real data.
“Mr Jones is a Minister under pressure and he is lashing out.
“The Minister publically criticising the Mayor doesn’t help the situation. The ever increasing runaway costs with the City Rail Link raises questions about the Government’s ability to manage its finances.
“Light rail is likely to go through the same issues. Sydney is facing its own budget blow out with its tram. It’s extremely concerning Transport Minister Phil Twyford is still charging ahead with the project while the City Rail Link has another cost blowout.
“If Mr Jones is happy to publically criticise the Mayor, then he also needs to start criticising his Government colleagues, because at the moment Mr Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter are letting ideology drive their desire for light rail, not the needs of commuters.”
The Government may be in denial over the realities of Shane Jones’ slush fund, but official figures show so far it has hired two bureaucrats for every new job created, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“After a year in operation, Government figures show 118 civil servants have been employed to administer the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), with most based in Wellington. Only 54 actual jobs have been created so far – a run rate of less than 0.5 FTE for each official.
“Both Mr Jones and the Prime Minister have attacked the credibility of the numbers, which is ironic because the data is from their own officials in response to questions from National.
“It is the PGF Minister who is quickly losing credibility. He’s the master of the photo op but delivery so far has been weak.
“New Zealanders deserve straight answers from Mr Jones, given he has responsibility for $3 billion of taxpayers’ money. Instead, he shrugs and makes vague promises that jobs may materialise down the track.
“MBIE has responded – no doubt under pressure from the Beehive – by claiming upwards of 10,000 new jobs might result from the PGF’s growing catalogue of grants and soft loans. It was unable to offer an exact figure of how many jobs have been created. Under this Government, the total number of public servants has climbed more than 5 per cent.
“The Government is spending money like it just won Lotto but in reality, it’s gambling with the taxes of hardworking New Zealanders. It is adding new taxes and driving up the cost of living with poor policies and promising more to come.
“National believes Kiwis should keep more of what they earn. We favour sensible economic policies that nurture New Zealand’s economic growth, create more jobs and help lift all our communities.”
Shane Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund has created just 54 jobs in its first year, making a mockery of the Government’s claim to be helping regional New Zealand, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The Fund is all about maximising NZ First’s re-election chances in 2020 but the Prime Minister is fully on board, turning up in small towns supposedly with an open cheque book and a feel-good soundbite. Trouble is, it’s big on hot air and miniscule on substance.
“Despite all the hoopla, only 38 of the 135 announced projects have received funding and just 3.4 per cent of the funding has actually been paid out. That’s $26.6 million for 54 jobs, or the equivalent of $490,191 per job.
“That’s a dismal outcome considering the mountain of press releases, town hall meetings and hyperbole being rolled out by this Government. Mr Jones would have you believe he’s the saviour of the provinces but the only thing he seems intent on saving is his political career.
“The facts about the PGF are elusive and the Government hasn’t willingly disclosed what’s really going on. It has taken endless questioning by National to penetrate the layers of Government obfuscation.
“Meanwhile, Mr Jones’ claims become more fanciful every time he speaks. Prior to Christmas he claimed 4000 jobs had been created as a direct result of the PGF. A day later that had jumped to 9000. In reality the Fund is as shambolic as KiwiBuild – an epic fail that has seen just 47 of 100,000 houses actually built.
“What’s worse is that the Government fails to understand the basics of employment, in terms of helping young, unemployed Maori in particular. Their job prospects have dimmed as a result of 90-day trials being dumped and the massive increase in the minimum wage.
“National favours sensible economic policies that nurture New Zealand’s economic growth, create more jobs and help lift all our communities. That’s the route to prosperity. Carefully stage-managed publicity events in the regions are just politics.”
The investment from the Provincial Growth fund for transport links in Kaipara will no doubt be welcomed by local residents but the Government’s overall approach to roading in Northland makes no sense, National’s spokesperson for Transport Paul Goldsmith says.
“The reality is that although the Government has provided this funding, it is not going to build the key road that the region needs - the highly engineered four lane highway from Wellsford to Whangarei.
“On the one hand the Government is going to continue to drip feed funding for a half measure, a single laned highway to Whangarei, frustrating all Northlanders, and at the same time sporadically throw a bit of money from the Provincial Growth Fund to favoured regions.
“This is part and parcel of the politicisation of the fund from Shane Jones with a bias to particular regions.
“The extra capital for the development of Māori land will be welcomed by Māori – it’s a pity,however, that the Government has axed the Te Ture Whenua Māori reforms which would have added hundreds of millions of dollars of value for Māori landowners and their whanau by unlocking the economic potential of the around 1.4 million hectares of land.
“We should be wary of the PGF becoming the banker of last resort for general business or Māori land owners.”
Leaked information that the cost of Auckland’s City Rail link, New Zealand’s largest transport project, has blown out by $500 million is deeply concerning and raises questions about the Government’s ability to manage its finances, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The cost of the project has already risen to $3.4 billion, but revised estimates have increased this figure by $500 million. If this is true, this is a big failure of oversight by the Government, as the project is jointly funded between the Government and Auckland Council.
“Transport Minister Phil Twyford is happy to go 18 metres below Albert Street for photo opportunities, but so far has done nothing about the ever increasing runaway costs.
“You can be sure that if the City Rail Link project is facing this type of blow out, a slow tram to the airport would show a similar pattern.
“Sydney is already facing issues with its slow train. The light rail was initially expected to cost $1.6 billion but the budget has blown out to at least $2.1 billion, with a contractor suggesting it could go even further.
“The Government needs to be taking better care of taxpayer money. Transport Minister Phil Twyford needs to come out and explain how much the blowout is going to be, and what he is doing to minimise any further costs.”