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Style over substance: no real answers

Written By: - Date published: 9:54 am, December 13th, 2007 - 58 comments
Categories: same old national - Tags:

In a continuation of Key’s “style over substance” policy approach, his consultants have found him a new buzzword – “infrastructure”.

“Australia’s been more productive because they’ve invested in infrastructure… they’ve made sure they’ve got private sector capital going in there as well as the public sector investing… we need to deliver that infrastructure

he said last week in a Radio Dunedin interview. Infrastructure was even mentioned part way through his ill-fated DVD:

“…look at the traffic building up here in Auckland. We need to do something about New Zealand’s infrastructure“.

I thought it might be interesting to check the Nats’ record on something like roading infrastructure. Turns out it’s so poor I’m not really sure why they’d want to draw our attention to it – perhaps their shameful past is why John Key keeps imploring us to look forward…

The graph below shows National Land Transport Programme infrastructure spending – National in blue and Labour in red:


Maurice Williamson – you might remember him from this post of Tane’s – was National’s sleepy Minister of Transport from 1993-1999.

Instead of actually developing any infrastructure during his time as Minister, Williamson fell asleep at the wheel. He spent nearly a full decade, stuck in the slow lane, trying to figure out a way to involve private enterprise in highway construction – primarily because National didn’t want to fund the roads themselves.

Nearly a decade and Williamson couldn’t figure it out.

Ask him how he’d accelerate transport spending now and he’ll still tell you “private enterprise” – and still without a real plan.

The Trans-Tasman said of Williamson only last week:

“Great debater. Strong on Auckland’s transport problems – no real answers. Star may be waning.”

Recycled policies, recycled MPs – sounds like the same old National to me.

58 comments on “Style over substance: no real answers ”

  1. the sprout 1

    good point AYB, although let’s face it – investing in infrastructure would hardly be a “recyled policy” for National, it’d be a radical departure from its past history

  2. all_your_base 2

    I stand corrected sprout 😉

  3. lemsip 3

    I think Sprout needs remedial history lessons. Think Big anyone?

  4. As I read that graph, National’s funding for auckland land transport programmes was rising at about 15% a year between 1993 and 1998.

    Labour appears to have cut off the growth in funding when it came to power, and only started to play catch up with the funding needs in 2002. Labour underfunded land transport in Auckland for three years, and the taxpayer is facing the consequences of that.

  5. all_your_base 5

    15% of “piss all” is still “piss all”.

    Williamson was a waste of space.

  6. lemsip 6

    It also appears to be nominal not real expenditure. Construction costs have risen alot in recent years.

  7. the sprout 7

    “history lessons. Think Big”

    hmm yes, about 30+ years ago, Muldoon’s over-capacity white-elephant monument to himself that nearly bankrupted the national economy and left debts for generations yet to be born. if you think Think Big is anything to be proud of it’s hardly eusprising you have such poor political judgement.

  8. lemsip 8

    Who said anything about being proud of Think Big? Just pointing out your mistake.

  9. the sprout 9

    fair enough. how about then “investment in useful, effective, nationally beneficial as opposed to National-friendly contractors, infrastructure would be a radical departure for National”?

  10. ayb:

    If you factor in growth in Auckland, rising construction costs, inflation, and the costs of building infrastructure, then that graph doesn’t show a considerable improvement at all. National was adding 15% a year to the budget between 1994 and 1998. If they had remained on that track, they would be ahead of where Labour is now.

    Labour spent three years starving Auckland of infrastructure expenditure. We’re paying the costs of it now.

  11. Robinsod 11

    I’ve gotta say the problem we have with infrastructure investment is economic capacity. There is simply not enough space in the economy to invest much harder. The best thing we can hope for in terms of infrastructure is a bit of a downturn so labour becomes available and money can be spent without inflationary impact. If increased spend comes as a smooth transition timed well to coincide with such a downturn (and we may be looking as a US driven one) we’ll get a win/win situation in that infrastructure spending will be able to increase and we’ll avoid the trough we may otherwise have faced. I don’t trust National to manage the economy that well.

  12. Prisoner Porter 12

    Our roads to our prison are fill of pot holes and my Auntie Edna is always crashing her Hummer because of the roading money is going to fix the problems in retard city -Dorkland !!

    Urgency bills red hot today , quick lets get EFB through before mid night deadline . Go girls . Oh dam , feminazi lockdown again – bye -bye !!

    [Tane: Dad, you’re not fooling anyone with your new identity.]

  13. Matthew Pilott 13

    IP you can’t really spin stats when they’re freely available – it’s a bit too transparent to lend your analysis any credibility.

    For example, National went from just under $100m to just over $200m in eight years. With an extra $100m in another eight years, they’d be spending $300m now – just over half of teh current spend.

    You’re lucky, Auckland would be a real dog’s breakfast had National cuntinued to underspend on infractructure for the last eight years.

    You can also look at the average spend of the parties and Labour’s is easily three times that of National’s…

  14. uk_kiwi 14

    What’s the bet the Nats start threatening the long-dead idea of PPPs (so-called public-private partnerships)

    These have been a complete failure nearly everywhere they have been used, the flagship one in the UK to fix the London Underground cost taxpayers 6 billion dollars and collapsed in very expensive fashion, after the private sector had stripped as much money as possible from the public purse. The project was almost a total loss.

    That actually does sound like a continuation of National policy.

  15. lemsip 15

    Matthew what is the percentage increase between $100m and $200m? If you were to apply this same percentage increase to $200m what would the answer be? Now what would happen if took into account inflation and rising construction costs?

  16. Matthew Pilott 16

    Yes Lemsip, exactly my point you can’t just spin the stats your way and expect that to be the be-all and end-all of teh topic.

    However in answer to your question, National’s spend would be $400m by now, still less than Labour’s. With inflation and rising construction costs, well, however you look at it, $400m buys less that $600m 🙂

    Bandy stats about all you wish, but it’s pretty obvious with that graph who’s funded transoprt in NZ more… the only way IP managed to spin it was to ignore half of the National Party’s spending.

    Why not ignore all but their last two years? We’d still be under $300m!!!

  17. Lampie 17

    HAHA love the spin on this crap, regardless of who spent what and increases and crap, the objectives were never met. We now have huge investment into a much needed roading which has been overdue longer than 1990.

  18. Phil 18

    The costs of “other construction” – Roads, bridges, railways etc have increased 35.7% between Sept 1999 and Sept 2007 (see Statistics NZ’s Capital Goods Price Index – CGPI)

    So, the $550-odd million in 06/07 is really only $405, when you consider what that additional spending actually gets you – in real terms, double.

    During the 1990’s, the CGPI remained pretty much static, so the roughly nominal doubling during the term of National govt works out in real terms to also be roughly a doubling of expenditure.

    Hardly a damming criticism of either party…

  19. Sam Dixon 19

    All your base , if those are financial years and the year you’ve written indicates the end of the year (ie 2000 = June 30 2000), then the first one that Labour had control over was 2001.

    or if the graph indicates the start of the financal year then Labour’s first year should be 2000.

    so, depending on whether thats start or end of the financial year – you need to move the start year to 1991 or 1992, respectively and the changeover year to 2000 or 2000, respectively.

    a slight correction of the graph and it shows a better story for labour

  20. lemsip 20

    So Matthew you got your figures, fail to account for inflation and rising construction costs and then suggest other people are spinning the stats? You also fail to account for historical context i.e. the government being in a very difficult fiscal position in the early 1990’s – both Labour and National governments. Undoubtably Labour have spent more than National did but it isn’t so simple as Labour good, National bad. Unless your a partisan fool.

    Also don’t you find it ironic that a government who is so keen to tackle climate change is spending so much on roading?

  21. Good of you to crunch the numbers, Phil.

    What you’re saying is that in real terms, National roughly doubled roading expenditure in Auckland, and in real terms, Labour has roughly doubled roading expenditure in Auckland?

    That would tend to make AYB’s conclusion an act of spin.

  22. Matthew Pilott 22

    Lemsip I did no such thing. I suggested that $400m, a figure arrived at by running the stats under the way you suggested I look at it, would buy fewer products and services in the transport area, than $600m would.

    Do you disagree with that statement?

    I also said that Labour has spent more money on transport, do you disagree with that or have you some more words you’d like to put in my mouth/keyboard?

    What’s the term for someone putting words in your mouth on a blog anyway? Maybe that’s a question for the ‘sod or someone else…

    Also don’t you find it ironic that a government who is so keen to tackle climate change is spending so much on roading?

    That’s like asking if I find it ironic that a government for the workers hasn’t nationalised all industry and means of production in the coutry, and given them to the workers. But sure, why not?

  23. Matthew,

    What the graph actually shows, thanks to Phil’s number-crunching, is that National doubled expenditure on roading in real terms during its term, and so has Labour.

    It is legitimate political conjecture as to whether enough money is being pumped into roads in Auckland, given the level of growth and congestion in the city. I have to admit, some parts of Auckland have done pretty well over the last eight years–the north western until about Great North Road has seen a massive improvement. The lack of an Eastern corridor sees all of the Eastern suburbs in a shambles. Esmonde Road has been improved, and the motorway network south is reasonably good, but the arterial routes are generally in an outright mess.

    Traffic levels in Auckland aren’t improving. They’re getting worse. Much of that is a function of growth, for sure. But for all the Labour Government’s rhetoric about plugging a lot more money into the system, they haven’t resulted in any better traffic outcomes.

  24. Matthew Pilott 24

    IP, have you asked Phil where his CGPI stats from the 1990’s came from or are you happy to take them for granted since they support your views?

  25. Tamaki Resident 25

    The lack of an Eastern Corridor is not really a central govt issue – I’m sure most people will remember that it was one of the reasons that John Banks lost the mayoralty to Dick Hubbard 3 years ago. Yes, traffic volumes are increasing, but so are the numbers of train and bus travellers.

    You’re arguing that black is white if you’re trying to say that Maurice Williamson was really doing anything about infrastructure (roads, telecommunications…) in the time he was in cabinet.

  26. PhilBest 26

    uk_kiwi, tell us if there have been any miserable failures in Public-Private-Partnerships for ROADS?

    Commuter Rail is a disaster everywhere, whether public or PPP. There is NO fully private commuter rail anywhere (at least not without massive public subsidies), because it is just not economically viable – period.

    National OR Labour, not enough money is being spent on ROADS in NZ. Annual subsidies to public transport are NOT “investments in infrastructure”. They are money burnt for which the benefits are gone the moment they are spent.

    Here’s something VERY INTERESTING about infrastructure investment:


    What kind of “infrastructure investment” most helps the poor and disadvantaged?

  27. Tamaki Resident 27

    “National was adding 15% a year to the budget between 1994 and 1998. If they had remained on that track, they would be ahead of where Labour is now.”

    IF THEY HAD remained on track… – what track is that? 1999 should really be blue on the chart – the expenditure for that year would have been approved by the blue team, and that year shows a DECREASE in $ terms (even more in real terms). Even for 2000 it could be said that much of that expenditure was planned for under the previous administration. Large infrastructure projects don’t just start overnight – they requie a lot of planning before the big dollars start getting spent.

  28. Phil 28


    The CGPI figures come direct from SNZ’s INFOS system, and show an 11% rise from Sep90 to Sep99.

    The reference, if you’re interested, is “CEPQ.S2GC – Other Construction”

  29. Matthew Pilott 29

    Thanks Phil – that wasn’t a dig at you btw, I was interested and nitoced the linked stats site said their info started from 1999.

  30. Lampie 30

    I agree Tamaki, regardless how much they (National) have increased expenditure, nothing was been achieved. It is only in 2002 we see a big injection that was needed which just really show that the so called 15% increase over the 1990’s was not enough to address the issues. Inflation increases tax takes

  31. The Double Standard 31

    What happens when Teh Parties carbon-neutral theme collides with this massive increase in transportation spending?

    Or is it a case of more taxes to pay for more roads, then more petrol taxes to pay for the carbon emissions? Doesn’t seem that sensible to me.

  32. lemsip 32

    “For example, National went from just under $100m to just over $200m in eight years. With an extra $100m in another eight years, they’d be spending $300m now – just over half of teh current spend.”

    Where does that say $400m Matthew? Sloppy sloppy sloppy

  33. lemsip 33

    Lemsip said “Undoubtably Labour have spent more than National did but it isn’t so simple as Labour good, National bad”

    Can’t you read Matthew?

  34. Tamaki Resident 34

    Actually TDS, the road improvements will make the existing journeys more fuel efficient, so it’s a win-win situation.

  35. lemsip 35

    “That’s like asking if I find it ironic that a government for the workers hasn’t nationalised all industry and means of production in the coutry, and given them to the workers. ”

    Actually its not Matthew. There seems to be scientific consensus that carbon emissions are directly related to climate change. This means that policies which allow more carbon to emitted are ceteris paribus going to increase climate change.

    In your example it does not necessarily follow that nationalisation will result in better outcomes for workers.

  36. Pascal's bookie 36

    tell us if there have been any miserable failures in Public-Private-Partnerships for ROADS?

    Funny you should ask…

    SMH 13/12/07:

    “TOLLS from the Harbour Bridge are being used to prop up the privately owned Sydney Harbour Tunnel, it emerged yesterday as the NSW Auditor-General warned the tunnel was struggling financially because of rising costs and fewer cars using it….

    …The tunnel company’s expenses are more than $95 million a year while toll receipts have fallen to $43.7 million, a report from the Auditor-General said, leaving a shortfall of $52 million which is picked up by those use the Harbour Bridge.

    In the latest blow to public-private partnerships touted by the Iemma Government as a fix-all for funding the state’s infrastructure, the Auditor-General has found that the tunnel company could struggle to repay its loan to the RTA.

    The RTA lent the company $223 million in 1992 to be repaid in full in 2022, but the Auditor-General urged the RTA to reassess whether the company would be in a position to repay it in light of its losses.”


  37. The Double Standard 37

    Recycled policies

    Remind me again, who introduced and passed legislation in 2003 providing for public/private partnership funding of roading?


    “Road controlling authorities will be able to use private sector financing and expertise to develop large-scale projects. This will speed up improvements to our land transport system, and encourage further innovation.

    At present, roading projects are paid for in the years of construction which means current road users bear the full cost, even when the benefits arise years into the future. Public/private partnerships (PPPs) are a useful way to spread the cost of infrastructure over time.”

    Oh, I forgot Labour Good, National Bad?

  38. Robinsod 38

    DS – I recognise Nat research unit work when I see it boy. If you are IP then you should not have mixed business with pleasure. Not a good idea to use your personal handle to do party work, eh?

  39. Billy 39

    I thought I was TDS.

  40. Robinsod 40

    No Billy, you’re Robinsod. I’m not sure who I am yet but y’know what they say – life is a journey of self discovery…

  41. The Double Standard 41

    Robbo – Are you still drunk from last night?

    Here’s a little tip for you – it’s not that difficult to use google these days. In fact most 7 year olds could do this search:

    http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=public private partnership site:.beehive.govt.nz

    Did I get my punctuation right?

  42. James Kearney 42

    There goes double with his personal attacks again.

  43. The Double Standard 43

    James – are you a new reader?

    Robbo thrives on personal attacks. However he has a small delusional issue, think that I work for the Nats, or that I’m IP.

  44. Robinsod 44

    Double – you either get paid to do this or you lead a sorry, sorry life. I hope for your sake you’re in the Nat’s research team.

    Oh and I puked early, had a kebab and woke up fine this morning. I’m nothing if not durable…

  45. Matthew Pilott 45

    Lemsip, back to 3:48 (apologies for ze delay) the $400m was in the following post, with an alternte method of figuring out the amount National would be funding as per your suggestion at 11:41 (you were referring to the wrong post of mine, 11:33 instead of 11:52):

    However in answer to your question, National’s spend would be $400m by now, still less than Labour’s. With inflation and rising construction costs, well, however you look at it, $400m buys less that $600m

    Hope that clears it up, bit sloppy on your part though 😉

    Lemsip said “Undoubtably Labour have spent more than National did but it isn’t so simple as Labour good, National bad”

    Can’t you read Matthew?

    I sure can. What does my literacy have to do with your statement?

    Here’s a hint – I didn’t say Labour Good National Bad at all, I was purely looking at levels of funding. You can draw whatever inference from that you wish.

    Road funding vs climate change – I am happy to admit that functioning roads are a requirement of our society. No earthshaking admission there eh? So it follows that roads require funding to remain viable. No dilemma, s’long as there are are other plans to fight the Evil Karbon. Which there are. All happy?

  46. Robinsod 46

    Oh and double it’s not that difficult to use google these days. No it’s not but there’s skill in from knowing where to look and what to look for to get fast results.

    For example, to get the link you posted you first have to know (or have a suspicion) that PPP’s were introduced under labour (that’s institutional knowledges) then you have to know where that information is likely to be held (ie knowledge basket, clerk’s office, beehive, etc).

    You pulled it up quickly and by the looks of your provided search you knew exactly what you were looking for and where to look. That’s not amateur material bro, that’s research unit. I know journo’s who would struggle to get to that info that directly.

    So how how much are they paying you? No, let me guess, I hear the research team’s banded from $60k – $70k nowadays and you’re a web monkey so I’m guessing… $60?

  47. PhilBest 47

    Good on ya Matthew Pilott. Let’s get a nonpartisan thing going on this shall we? Roads good, congestion bad. For the prosperity of everyone. AND the environment. There ARE ways in which the evil carbon will be and is being defeated, just as the buildup of horse shit and its threat to health 100 years ago was defeated.

    PLEASE NOTE the article I linked to above. Infrastructure investment of the basic kind (roads, drainage, energy, etc) is a major driver of the prosperity of the poor and disadvantaged sectors of society. Here it is again, just in case.


    Pascal’s Bookie, fair comment, although an underharbour tunnel may not represent the general “rule” here, eh?

  48. The Double Standard 48

    I know journo’s who would struggle to get to that info that directly.

    I’m flattered that you think so highly of me Robbo. Of course, it can’t be that hard to get a job as a journalist, given the unemployment levels.

    I know it gives you a thrill to suggest that I work for a research unit, but I can assure you that I don’t.

  49. Phil 49

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree (partially) with Robinsod on this one.

    Part of my job involves dealing with the journalists who use data my team publishes, and the level of ignorance from some of them about how to find something (and what they’re looking for) is truly startling. However, I’ve found that once you figure out HOW to quickly find one thing on a govt website, the rest falls into place fairly quickly. You don’t need to be a professional researcher to be net-savvy in that respect.

    But if TDS really is a researcher earning $60k then I’m really in the wrong job…

  50. Robinsod 50

    I know it gives you a thrill to suggest that I work for a research unit, but I can assure you that I don’t.

    Well you obviously have some experience in political research and working knowledge of some pretty obscure political stuff. I think you’ve been around the political block (knowing to look for stuff like who was in power when PPPs were first legislated for is a good sign of institutional knowledge).

    You’ve not been around for that long though, you seem to have gaps pre-2000ish and you don’t show a really deep knowledge of the game. Perhaps you’ve done research as a public servant, or perhaps you work on the campaign side of things? Actually, yeah I’m starting to tend toward the campaign advisory side of things, you run a lot of tropes that are spin-related such as your by-the-book misdirection and that would give you access to research too. You also seem to do a lot of holding-pattern trolling – it’s as if you’re just keeping up the white noise and, like Tane says, you don’t seem to have your heart in it.

    The question is would National really employ someone to attack a blog? I mean I know it’s on the radar and it’s put some good hits on the Tories but let’s face it, it’s just a blog.

    I guess they’ve got a lot of money though, and it looks like they’re gonna have to find novel ways to spend it, hell it’d possibly fall under parliamentary staff spending depending on how it was described and it wouldn’t need to be a sole focus – you could easily be running your cut and paste comments in between fact checking press releases or making the boss coffee.

    That make you unlikely to be IP by the way. He is a punter.

    On the other hand you’re probably just a random loon. Who knows?

  51. uk_kiwi 51

    “legislation in 2003 providing for public/private partnership funding of roading?”

    And exactly how many times has this been used in the intervening 4 years? A nice round number (zero)?

    The devil is in the detail with PPPs, the problem is that the government usually ends up negotiating a deal with sharks who then proceed to rape the taxpayer and bail on the deal. Even better if the sharks are paying off the ministers involved .

    The business of business should be business, not trying to find ways to pillage the public purse for their own gain.

    Hence the strong opposition toward PPPs; in real life they fail due to fraud and corruption.

  52. Pascal's bookie 52

    Pascal’s Bookie, fair comment, although an underharbour tunnel may not represent the general “rule” here, eh?

    Perhaps not. But I couldn’t resist, I’d just read about it this A.M.

    “It was the same day David!”

  53. The Double Standard 53

    Robbo – “Who knows?” Who indeed. I can say the same about you, or in fact pretty much any of the posters and commenters here.

    UK_Kiwi – AFAIK it hasn’t been used yet. However Teh Party was trumpeting it at the time, and they did pass the legislation.

    I suspect it is better used on small scale activities rather than large ones. It’s got to be cheaper for the govt to borrow anyway and it’s a long time since the ministry of works existed to do large scale construction anyway. It’s all done by private companies now anyhow.

    I dunno that the ‘fraud and corruption’ angle is entirely fair. It is more likely that they fail through optimistic assumptions at early stages about costs and timeframes.

  54. Pascal's bookie 54

    It is more likely that they fail through optimistic assumptions at early stages about costs and timeframes.

    Fair enough. Who should wear the costs then, taking into account Public Choice Theory and the rest, the taxpayer or the Private Partner?

    We wouldn’t want to create a moral hazard.

  55. Robinsod 55

    Robbo – “Who knows?” Who indeed. I can say the same about you, or in fact pretty much any of the posters and commenters here.

    Y’see I gave you that out bro, but I’m still curious. ‘Cos you can’t say that about many of the commenters here, or me for that matter – we don’t have the figures at our fingertips like you do and most of us post comments based on opinion, or have a bit of biff or a bit of a laugh. You seem to either comment with research or just disrupt. I’ve had blues with commenters like Barnsley Bill but also the odd laugh at them. You on the other hand, don’t act like someone who is here to interact with people. You comment like you’ve got a project or a job to do. I can’t figure out if that’s because you are delusional and think you’re doing “god’s work” or if you’re actually a pro with some kind of investment in this. Care to elucidate?

    Oh, and you should have a question mark at the end of “Who indeed”.

  56. Robinsod 56

    laugh at them

    Freudian slip there – I meant to say laugh with them.

  57. all_your_base 57

    Quite right Sam. Will update the graph tomorrow – x-axis labels were the starting years. Cheers.

  58. Draco TB 58

    The business of business should be business, not trying to find ways to pillage the public purse for their own gain.

    That’s what it should be but that isn’t how it’s done.

    Business tends to think that its job is to accrue as much money as possible for the least effort possible and that the best way to do that is to pillage the government coffers. I don’t know why people are surprised when they discover this to be the truth as business has been doing it for centuries – Adam Smith wrote about it quite extensively in his “Wealth of Nations”.

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