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John MacDonald: You can't do infrastructure on the smell of an oily rag

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 9 Feb 2024, 12:42pm
Photo / Newspix
Photo / Newspix

John MacDonald: You can't do infrastructure on the smell of an oily rag

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 9 Feb 2024, 12:42pm

Remember the days when we used to build things in New Zealand like harbour bridges and hydro schemes and tunnels through to places like Lyttelton?

These days we talk about building these kinds of things. But not a hell of a lot seems to actually get done.

And Auckland mayor Wayne Brown is saying that even less is going to get done up his way after the Government announced yesterday that the regional fuel tax there is going. He’s saying ‘you want to cut the tax, there’ll be less money for roads. A lot less’.

I thought it was a great line from him when he said “this is my city, not theirs”. So there’s going to be some argy-bargy.

As there should be, because as Wayne Brown points out - the Government can ditch the regional fuel tax, but it’s going to leave a hole of about $1.2 billion for spending on critical roading and transport projects in Auckland over the next four years.

Not that that seemed to worry the people I saw on the TV news last night, all banging-on about how great it’s going to be paying less for their fuel.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, if someone drives a Toyota Corolla for example they’ll pay about $5 less every time they fill the tank. That will depend on fuel price fluctuations, of course.

But that was enough for the Aucklanders I saw on the news. All smiles. Perfect examples of the “what’s in it for me” attitude that seems to influence or even dictate all the big political decisions these days.

And I think we need to get away from that and, when it comes to stuff like critical infrastructure, we need to take the cross-party politics out of it. Because I reckon we are heading down the track of having an infrastructure crisis in this country.

In fact, we may already be there. Because this obsession with running things on the smell of an oily rag is just nuts.

Cruddy roads. Cook Strait ferries breaking down every second day. Talk of electricity brown-outs and black-outs. 

And just on that, did you see what the bosses of Meridian Energy and Transpower told Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee yesterday?

They told MPs that, between now and 2050 so over the next 25-or-so years in that time we’re going to need $130 billion invested in our electricity infrastructure.

Transmission and distribution is where most of the spend is going to be needed - and that’s because of a couple of things. 1. Increasing demand. And 2. A lot of the electricity grid was built in the 1960s and 1970s and needs money spent on it.

Alison Andrew, who runs Transpower, says a lot of the existing grid is (quote): “at the end of its life and needs to be refurbished”.  

So you see, while Auckland roading and transport is being talked about because of the fuel tax being scrapped up there, it’s just one example of the mess we’re getting into with our infrastructure planning and construction. 

So how do we fix this? Well, I’ll tell you what I’d do. It will never happen, but I would bang some heads together in Wellington and tell our politicians to go into a room, stop fighting over stuff, and come up with a 50-year infrastructure plan.

I think the closest we’ve ever got to that was some talk from ACT leader David Seymour before the election of a 30-year plan - but that seems to have gone west because he’s all focussed on this treaty principles stuff.

But that’s what I’d do. Put in the effort, get some consensus, and agree on a plan for the next 50 years. Because, the way things are at the moment and the way we’re going, the infrastructure in this country is going to continue falling to bits if we think we can run things on the smell of an oily rag.

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