Steven Joyce and the new Think Big

Written By: - Date published: 12:59 pm, January 29th, 2010 - 18 comments
Categories: transport - Tags: ,

The first half of an excellent piece by Kent Dunston of Save the Basin (which is opposing the construction of flyovers around the Basin Reserve by National):

Back in the halcyon days of the Muldoon administration circa 1979 the then-National government embarked on a series of large-scale interventionist construction schemes called ‘Think Big’ that were designed to transform the economy. The projects ranged from hydro dams to petrochemical plants and were amongst the largest-scale civil engineering works ever undertaken in New Zealand.

This orgy of infrastructure was immensely lucrative for the politically-connected construction firms of the day, but the profligate scheme was funded almost entirely through debt, which in turn contributed to the virtual collapse of New Zealand’s economy by the mid 1980s, thus ushering in the Rogernomics era.

Thirty years later, Transport Minister Steven Joyce is hell-bent on repeating the same failed experiment. Rather than petrochemicals and electricity generation, he’s intent on throwing $11 billion into New Zealand’s roading infrastructure again largely to the benefit of a few politically-connected construction firms.

National's white elephant motorways, $11 billion & one peak oil later

Here in Wellington we’re on the receiving end of Joyce’s Road of National Significance, a four-lane monster highway running from Levin to the Airport. The project will cost billions more than budgeted once the inevitable cost over-runs have occurred, will slice through heritage areas, destroy homes and disrupt communities. And the Minister now admits that key sections Transmission Gully, the Terrace Tunnel, the second Mt Victoria tunnel don’t make any economic sense, even with the best creative accounting from the NZ Transport Agency.

– the rest of the piece is here. [hat-tip, Clarke]

18 comments on “Steven Joyce and the new Think Big”

  1. George D 1

    Silence is usually a sign that everyone agrees.

    So, we’re all agreed then? No need for more pointless spending on roads? Or do we still like to think that roads are good when they’re the roads that we want?

  2. RedLogix 2

    It’s one thing to get wound up about some political, specifically personal stupidity… like Hide’s astounding expenses rort…but when faced with a stupidity of this impersonally massive dimension, it’s like one of the alien craft from “District Nine” actually floating there in the sky before you.

    A gobsmacked silence is the only dignified response.

    • Armchair Critic 2.1

      “A gobsmacked silence is the only dignified response.”
      No it’s not. Laughter, contempt, protest, argument, but not silence. These plans are ridiculous.

  3. George D 3

    There’s also the gold-plated Holiday Highway, with a $1.4billion solution to a $150million problem (bypassing Warkworth). The BCR on that one is pretty awful.

    Must be pretty good times if you’re one of National’s friends owning a large construction company….

  4. millsy 4

    Its PC to attack ‘Think Big’ these days.

    But the reality is, if it wasant for the Clyde Dam, our power generation system would be a lot more fragile than it is now.

    • Morgan 4.1

      Would you care to define PC?

    • Clarke 4.2

      Yes, but the context of the article is that Muldoon nearly sent the country broke making a bunch of “investments” that produced no economic return for the country. Clyde Dam might have had merit on its own, but there’s no arguing with the fact that the whole Think Big debacle made no fiscal sense. And the same argument does seem to apply to Joyce’s roading spend-up.

  5. millsy 5

    well, its certainly not PC to build state owned infrastructure such as hydro dams, oil refineries, power stations, etc.

    • Clarke 5.1

      An equally valid assessment is that you should never trust a National government with infrastructure investments as they have a proven record of incompetence and pork-barrelling.

  6. Outofbed 6

    So since we are just about at peak oil and the cost of fuel is only going to go one way
    The building of these large road schemes is about as silly as you can get.
    I notice they are going to spend a ton of dosh in Canterbury extending the southern motorway etc. Having just spent a very enjoyable few months in Christchurch, one of things that I noticed was how low the traffic volumes were. hey for about an hour a day
    there might be slight problems here and there. but nothing of the scale of European cities. I think that instead of heavily subsidising the trucking industry we should look more into developing coastal shipping which is the most cost effective way of moving freight around
    Here is a study commissioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency on freight transport in New Zealand, including an analysis of the prospects for coastal shipping.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      If it was commissioned by the NZTA then why do we have to pay for it?

      And why was it removed from the NZTA website?

  7. ropata 7

    The Think Big projects were constructed during the oil shocks of the seventies and made economic sense at the time. Then oil became ridiculously cheap again and grand projects such as Marsden Point suddenly were superfluous. But somehow every one of the Think Big projects is in use today and contributing to the economy.

    Jordan Carter: aNew Zealand suffers from a “think small” syndrome.

    This is the opposite to Think Big, which was not a New Zealand syndrome but a Robert Muldoon / Bill Birch / Jim Bolger / National Government syndrome.

    Think Small is most obvious in our infrastructure planning and development.

    * Who would have thought we would be in a situation as a developed country where a lack of rain could conceivably lead to power shortages in winter time?
    * How strange is it that a lack of investment in Transpower means the national electricity grid is often under serious pressure?
    * What kind of developed country would truly not regulate its dominant incumbent telco provider to deliver fast broadband affordably and well?
    * Why does Auckland not have – note have, not consider building – a mass transit system to complement its motorways? And given that it doesn’t have one, why don’t we invest $20bn over the next ten years to make it happen?
    * Why do we allow traffic congestion choke points to exist in our major cities?

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      The Think Big projects were constructed during the oil shocks of the seventies and made economic sense at the time.

      That’s only partially correct. There was more happening at the time that also would have had an impact and which would, IMO, have made the Think Big projects less economically sound. Most notably would have been our falling terms of trade, Britain joining the EEC etc etc. The only way they would have been economically sound would have been if we maintained or grew our exports which we didn’t do at the time.

    • millsy 7.2

      Hear hear Ropata.

      Unfortunately subsequent governments sold most of the TB assets, most into foriegn ownership for a fraction of the amount we paid for them in the first place.

      • Clarke 7.2.1

        Clearly the assets weren’t worth anything near what they cost to build – which rather underlines Muldoon’s complete incompetence, and reinforces the point that their construction should have undergone proper cost-benefit analysis, rather than National Party pork-barrelling.

        Based on their track record, the National Party shouldn’t be trusted with the petty cash tin, let alone billions of dollars of hard-earned taxpayer money.

    • Clarke 7.3

      The Think Big projects were constructed during the oil shocks of the seventies and made economic sense at the time.

      How do you know that they made economic sense when Muldoon never released the construction costs for any of the projects? We do know, however, that the Clyde Dam ran years and many millions of dollars over budget, so that must make a pretty big hole in the cost/benefit analysis …

      Why does Auckland not have note have, not consider building a mass transit system to complement its motorways? And given that it doesn’t have one, why don’t we invest $20bn over the next ten years to make it happen?

      Because Steven Joyce is busy pissing all the money away in nonsensical roading projects so that he and John Key can get to their holiday homes faster.

      Why do we allow traffic congestion choke points to exist in our major cities?

      Because the traffic planning morons at the NZ Transport Agency keep building roads instead of investing in public transport, and Steven Joyce is aiding and abetting them.

      There’s nothing wrong with building large-scale infrastructure projects, but it is doomed to failure when you leave a National Party ideologue like the bottom-feeding pork-barrelling dinosaur Steven Joyce in charge.

  8. The thing is that spending $11 billion on building motorways only makes sense when oil prices are NOT particularly high. In 2008 we saw 10% declines in traffic across much of the roading network when petrol passed $2 a litre. So Joyce clearly hasn’t learned from Muldoon’s mistake – he just expects oil to remain cheap whereas Muldoon expected it to remain expensive.

    I am incredibly suspicious of Joyce’s connections with the roads lobby. Every public transport gain since the 2008 election has been hard-fought – just to retain the status quo (electrification, integrated ticketing, funding for railway stations etc.) whereas Joyce effectively approves billion dollar roading projects on the spot. There’s something highly dodgy going on.

    • Clarke 8.1

      There’s something highly dodgy going on.

      You mean, aside from the trucking lobby attempting to purchase politicians?

      Or perhaps that’s an overly cynical view – there’s also a chance that Joyce is the same sort of deluded fool that Muldoon was, and genuinely thinks that what he’s doing is in the best interests of the country, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

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