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Only last Friday I think it was, we were talking about infrastructure and how New Zealand is one of the most expensive countries in the world to build new infrastructure, and the importance of having a bipartisan approach with a long-term vision, a pipeline that's going to deliver what the country needs over the next 30 or even 50 years.
We had a really good discussion about this.
Interestingly, a week later, an article in the New Zealand Herald today reveals warnings from Treasury that Labour's transport plan was substantially underfunded and undeliverable. Treasury was so concerned that it recommended the ministers drop all the projects from its plan until they could be staged in a way that made them more deliverable, until officials could devise more up-to-date costings.
The fact the previous government proceeded with its plans only backs up the call for a more long-term bipartisan infrastructure pipeline to be in place. But that's not the only surprise when it comes to infrastructure this week, with a more pressing issue being laid at the new government's door. And that is the escalating cost of portside infrastructure needed for Cook Strait’s mega ferries.
Finance Minister Nicola Willis has revealed that the potential cost to the taxpayer is now many times what the Government initially signed up to. The financial situation of this project is extremely troubling, she said. Now Willis has been in a meeting with Kiwi Rail. They have completed a review as to where the project is at and at this stage, she's placing the blame firmly at the feet of the previous government.
“I am concerned that this blowout reflects casual and competence by the outgoing Government and its approach to the scoping, management and delivery of major infrastructure projects” Willis said. All very good and well, but what's done is done right? And we've got to deal with what is in front of us and it's time to move on and find a way to get this vital service up and running.
We need a reliable ferry service. We're a nation of islands, but the connection between the two main islands is pivotal to Kiwis needing to move vehicles between islands. For tourism, for the many businesses that freight their goods between islands, the cancellation, the delays, the breakdowns, quite frankly, they've all just been embarrassing.
Yes, we have new ferries coming and this is excellent news, even if they are still two years away and the first one is running a little bit late, but there is no point in investing in new ferries if we can't get the landside infrastructure set up to support it. Kiwi Rail has reported work on the port side infrastructure on both sides of the Cook Strait is well underway. But there are concerns that there might be insufficient space for rail vehicles to get onto the new ferries, which potentially has implications for ship turn around times.
Now look, I do not like the idea of a cost blowout. None of us do. But I also believe that the project needs to be completed to a standard that makes it future proof for at least the next 30 years. There is no point in getting new ferries that increase passenger capacity by 50%, can carry 40% more trucks, and increase rail capacity by almost 300% if we can't use it to its full potential.
Our government will be much more careful stewards of taxpayers' money, Nicola Willis said. And the question of how to manage the project is an ongoing consideration for the incoming government, she added. And I totally appreciate that. They've got to get their heads around this. They've got the report, it's going to take a little bit of time to get up to speed, even though Nicola Willis has already had a couple of meetings around this. But let's get this issue sorted once and for all.
I don't think I can cope with another summer of depressing stories of ruined holidays, lost productivity and potential disasters. It's going to cost us, but let's just get it done and get it done properly.
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