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“We believed in ourselves”

Written By: - Date published: 7:35 am, December 13th, 2011 - 48 comments
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Read this and weep:

New rolling stock (carriages) for South Island scenic rail journeys are as good as, or better than anything I have experienced anywhere else. They rival equipment used on Switzerland’s premier scenic rail journeys, including the famed Zermatt to St Moritz Glacier Express. And, best of all, the new rail vehicles, classified AK, are New Zealand-designed and built.

The $39.9 million contract for 17 KiwiRail carriages was let to Hillside Engineering in 2009. When completed early next year they will replace all carriages previously used on the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine rail journeys. Between them, the trains carry about 250,000 passengers annually, a majority of them visitors to New Zealand.

Longer than the present carriages, they have 52 sqm of glass in generous panoramic side and roof windows, enabling passengers the best opportunity to enjoy passing views. Other obvious visual differences include ceiling- mounted high-definition screens displaying safety messages as well as a map plotting the journey’s progress.

An impressive feature is the quieter, smoother, ride provided by the newly- developed P13 bogie wheel units having a combination of primary synthetic elastomer axle springs supplemented by a secondary airbag suspension. The latter is in common use on heavy road vehicles. The P13 units were designed by Christchurch engineering firm Motovated Design & Analysis and constructed by Hillside Engineering.

Yet somehow the same talent isn’t good enough to built some flat-deck rolling stock. Or assemble new locomotives…

New Zealand scientists, researchers, designers, engineers and skilled tradesmen are world class. In one of my earlier lives I had the privilege of a job that entailed visiting hundreds of such businesses up and down the country; overwhelmingly I gained the impression of an immense potential that was largely untapped.

Far too many business owners caught up in the boat, bach and BMW syndrome, a lack of courage, vision and mentoring robbing these businesses of a thriving future. Far too many small provincially minded companies intent on cutting each other’s throat over pissant little local contracts; while an entire world awaited to be feasted upon with the capabilities that they themselves barely recognised.

A hostile dog-eat-dog commercial contracting environment in this country has a lot to answer for; not only routinely delivering very poor value for money to the end-clients, but failing to develop strong, confident industries willing and able to grow. New Zealanders HAVE to grow up and understand that the “lowest price” is almost always the worst value.

And a hostile attitude from a generation of political leaders… almost to a man chanting the refrain, “It’s not the government’s job to pick winners”.. really amounted to nothing more than a leadership of cowards. Of course picking winners involves the high probability that some will be failures, but something about our national psyche loves to feast on that kind of carcass tearing apart anyone unfortunate enough to be too close. This is another failing on maturity in this country…the simple fact is that no team runs on the field and wins from day one; loosing with dignity and intelligence is an essential component of eventual success.

I want to highlight again a paragraph from Nanaia Mahuta’s post last night:

We need to be relevant to aspirations in the provinces, this means that we need to support our provincial candidates more effectively so that they are not having to fight an election on a single issue and not without the resources and support of the party. As a provincial member myself, I understand the need to communicate our policy and our people through our community networks. Regional economic solutions to grow jobs, support local innovation or further clean-tech solutions are but some of the real opportunities to assist. Similarly the role of small and medium sized businesses are important and we must ensure that Labour policies reflect the important contribution they make to our regional economy.

The essential difference between dense urban and dispersed rural communities is their intimacy. In towns like Masterton, Blenheim, Marton, Westport… there is a very real sense of connectedness that is generally absent in the big cities. These are places where people live and work for generations with an awareness, they would be loath to speak of out loud, of their mutual interdependence. Working in a small engineering business, just the half dozen or so of you, there is a very real sense that the fortunes of the business owner, who more than likely works right alongside you, are directly linked to exactly where your pay packet comes from this week.

Technology and neo-liberalism has changed the modern workplace dramatically. The mass union worksites of years ago are gone. You only have to look at Pike River to see how even traditional heartlands like the coal miners are no longer strong.

These are traditional Labour working class people, but they don’t think like them. They think like small business owners. They’re very suspicious of unions because frankly they can’t see how industrial confrontation could possibly deliver any value in their close intimate working environment. In some cases they know that their boss pays them more than he pay himself; they’d be ashamed to have a faceless union negotiator demanding more money from him.

The days of an effective Labour Party based on the membership of unionists, teachers and special interest groups are over. If I’m reading Cunliffe and Mahuta right they understand this and have a plan to drive through a new vision, while carrying forward the seeds of what Labour has already achieved and values…. but planted into a new soil.

That’s risky. It might fail. We might only get there with a handful of runs to spare, but it comes down to belief.

48 comments on ““We believed in ourselves” ”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    Wow dude. Just. Wow.

    • Craig Glen Eden 1.1

      Bang the last four paras are what the Labour Party has failed to address thats why we need a massive change. David Shearer said on Saturday Labour cant win seats like Rangitikei, he is wrong but with that type of thinking we will never make the changes we need to. Labour has to change its approach and Cunliffe and Mahuta can bring about that change.

  2. Gosman 2

    This is why the State should stay out of commercial enterprises. NZ Rail makes commercial decisions yet you want them to make political decisions. Sooner or later those political decisions mean the enterprise no longer is a commercial enterprise but becomes part of the social welfare system. Then it doesn’t add to the government coffers it becomes a drain. You just need to look at the various State owned enterprises in Greece to see that in action.

    • hazel 2.1

      Every decision a government makes is inherently political. The idea that a government should not think of anything besides finances when making a decision about how to spend its revenue is a political ideology. Choosing to spend money overseas because it is cheaper is just as political a decision as choosing to spend money locally because the government thinks supporting local business is important.

      Bear in mind also that governments, when spending money locally, get part of what they spend back in the form of tax. That doesn’t happen when they spend money overseas.

      I also question why you think that social enterprises are less valid than commercial ones.

      • Gosman 2.1.1

        You are correct. Every decision a government makes is inherently political. However the same does not apply to commercial enterprises owned by the state unless the State directs those enterprises to make a decision for political reasons.

        What I find interesting is that the Labour party and people on the left love to bang on about all the profit that somehow will disappear from NZ due to the part privatisation of assets yet don’t mind destroying profit by foisting social constraints on those same commercial enterprises.

        I have already posted this here but this is the reason Governments using State owned commercial enterprises is a bad idea
        “Greece’s public sector has nearly 1 million workers, almost 20% of the total working population. They make three times the amount of those who work in the private sector, on average, and until recently have enjoyed far greater job security. The result is enormous indebtedness for public-sector companies. In 2011 the main government train company incurred more than 231 million euros in losses, an annual deficit of 1 billion euros and a total debt of 10.7 billion euros.”

        Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2099201,00.html#ixzz1gM2x2GKZ

        • RedLogix 2.1.1.1

          What I find interesting is that the Labour party and people on the left love to bang on about all the profit that somehow will disappear from NZ due to the part privatisation of assets yet don’t mind destroying profit by foisting social constraints on those same commercial enterprises.

          Two different cash flows. There is nothing inherently wrong with overseas investment… as long as it is balanced. The most fundamental and critical structural imbalance in the NZ economy is the $12-15b pa of “negative investment flow” exported every year. If that was balanced by our own investments overseas it wouldn’t matter so much…. but selling more assets to make this critical imbalance worse is plain madness.

          In the old days of NZ Rail, when it was run very much as a social enterprise, it may not have been profitable in the normal commercial standalone sense… but it was hugely valuable to the nation as a whole as an “employer of last resort” and as a substantial trade training organisation. Not to mention that in those days our roads weren’t dominated by fleets of enormous trucks. But the crucial difference is that the cash flows associated with NZR .. remained in the country.

          And in case you hadn’t noticed, NZ is not Greece. Nor Zimbabwe, nor any of the other countries you want to selectively compare us to.

          • Gosman 2.1.1.1.1

            “…but it was hugely valuable to the nation as a whole as an “employer of last resort” and as a substantial trade training organisation”

            Exactly why SOE’s are a bad idea. Trying to shoe horn a commercial enterprise into performing Educational and Social Welfare roles is a recipe for disaster. NZ is no different from any other country in this regard be it Greece, Zimbabwe, North Korea, UK, or the US.

            When NZ ran the NZ Rail that way we didn’t produce a huge amount of world class manufactured exports. There was no overall benefit to the economy as a whole from having a business that was a constant drain on the government budget beyond what could have been achieved if we had simply invested the same amount of cash in training directly.

            Jobs for the sake of jobs is simply an illusion. All you do is trap people in dead end jobs that stop them from moving on. The economy is not a social museum that you can freeze in time no matter how much you would like to do so.

            • RedLogix 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Gosman,

              Your ignorance of NZ history is profound. Really you have no idea of what you blather on about. Talk to anyone in a skilled trade who actually lived in this country during that period and chances are that they got their start in an outfit like MoW, NZR, Post Office, Armed Services and so-on.

              Besides commercial organisations undertake training of all sorts … all the time. Learning on the job is highly effective; the old apprenticeship schemes produced generations of highly capable technical and trades people.

              But all this is a distraction from the OP. I never imagined for an instant that anyone would read into what I wrote as advocating a wholesale leap back to the world as NZ was 40 years ago. Such a thing is simply neither practical nor especially useful.

            • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1.1.1.1.2

              What a lot of nonsense- why is it you call other peoples jobs ‘dead end’

              Every organisation relies on people who have been doing much the same thing for years and are doing it well. Whether it is the call centre agent or the cardiac surgeon.

    • framu 2.2

      thats a whole straw village youve erected there gos.

      theres plenty of private Co’s that get Govt funding (a political decision) in order to boost that sector.

      theres also SOEs that return a profit – ie: a state run enterprise that hasnt become part of the welfare state.

      so nothing like greece at all

      but im pretty sure you know all this dont you?

      • ghostwhowalksnz 2.2.1

        Why is Greek Rail the only alternative, have you heard of Swiss Federal Railways

        • framu 2.2.1.1

          well, i havent heard of swiss federal railways – so cant comment on it. 🙂

          but was that meant to be a reply to me? im confused

          • ghostwhowalksnz 2.2.1.1.1

            No. The reply doesnt seem to go where you want it sometimes

            The only model of a railway SOE mentioned was Greece, when there are others

      • mikesh 2.2.2

        There is no reason for an SOE to make a profit. The government doesn’t need either profits or dividends. Any profit that an SOE makes is at the expense of its customers and is essentially just another tax.

    • McFlock 2.3

      There’s a difference between making decisions that take into account the wider good for the country as well as the bottom line, and a company becoming a drain on the government’s coffers.
        

    • mik e 2.4

      Greasy Gooseman Greece isn’t New Zealand,the Singapore govt owns 60% of all big businesses and is doing way better than us.
      Just about all the Chinese manufactured rolling has had major problems that have been covered up by Joyce & Quin.
      loco,s built for Auckland in China can only run at 60% of full speed because of poorly designed running gear some of the Chinese flat decks have had to be completely re welded not one of our forty year old flat decks have required any such fixing.
      Kiwirail Goosehead Kiwirail would be far more profitable if the National party didn’t purchase inferior rolling stock!
      Kiwi rail wouldn’t exist if Michael Cullen hadn’t bought it back from private enterprise which couldn’t make it work even with subsidies it is now making a tidy profit that could have been better but for earthquakes and a mining disaster created by National Party deregulation which cost 29 people their lives .While you carry on spouting off about greeks who don’t pay tax.

  3. bbfloyd 3

    not to worry…. the government has a bold plan for those highly skilled workers from hillside….. why just yesterday, there was an advertisement on trademe for fifteen people with at least ten years in the trade to make railway carriages……..in australia…….. the ad specifically asks for people who have had at least five years past their apprenticeship with top end skills,eg, people with experience in the manufacture of turnkey, rail and passenger wagons specifically……. starting on $40.00 an hour…more if the skill set warrants it…..add that to the constant advertising for welders and fabricators and you have the perfect plan…….

    as long as the plan is to get rid of all the skilled people we have left that is…. i’m not quite sure what they plan to do about training new tradespeople if all the skill and knowledge to pass that on is removed… but i’m sure we will “muddle through” somehow…..

    to those like young gosling, who seem to have made a genuine skill out of walking and talking with their heads stuck firmly up their own arses, this is capitalist nirvana…..

    so… shall we count the cost of training those people, and compare that with the cost of losing the ability to pass on those necessary skills to the next generation? and the cost of not being able to undertake our own infrastructure, and heavy engineering projects without having to import skills?

    not while this government, and it’s attendant syncophantic, self absorbed fan base is in control……much better to continue demonising workers attempts to have dignity and a living wage… as paula benebasher so succinctly enunciated while excusing herself of any blame for losing waitakerei…..

  4. Ianupnorth 4

    The fact that the 35% lower cost for the Chinese made stuff isn’t enough to validate those purchases keeps getting left out of the Hillside argument; IIRC wasn’t it shown that the actual discount would need to be 75% to make up for the loss in tax revenue, etc?
     
    The other fact is that by adding value to your product base (e.g. producing a high quality product) you are more likely to have greater exports – aren’t Kiwi buses now being used all over the world? Why not invest in rail?

    • Gosman 4.1

      Why not let commercial enterprises make commercial decisions based on commercial reasons?

      I don’t see Government requiring Fisher and Peykel to produce Washing machines in NZ. I’m sure many of you would love this though right up until the company goes bankrupt. Then you can get the Government to take them over and require all NZer’s to buy their products.

      • hazel 4.1.1

        In your opinion, what separates a commercial decision from a social/political one? What factors might be relevant to a commercial decision that aren’t to a social or political one, and vice versa? Serious question.

      • felix 4.1.2

        “Why not let commercial enterprises make commercial decisions based on commercial reasons?”

        Because there’s a lot more to this than making money. The NZ Govt isn’t a “commercial enterprise” and nor should it be.

        Until you can get your head around that, I don’t see that you have much to contribute.

        • Gosman 4.1.2.1

          And that is why the State shouldn’t own commercial enterprises. Because it is in a completely different business from business.

          • RedLogix 4.1.2.1.1

            And then you argue that everything government does could be commercialised… and hey presto …no government!!!

            Just what you wanted.

          • felix 4.1.2.1.2

            Trouble is, Gos, you think everything is a commercial enterprise.

            e.g. the rail network. A natural monopoly, built by the state, paid for by the people of NZ, and serving several important social, educational and economic functions FOR the people of NZ.

            There was never a valid reason to try and run it as a business and it should never have been done.

            I agree with RedLogix, your lack of knowledge of NZ history is hindering your ability to grasp these issues.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.3

        Why not let commercial enterprises make commercial decisions based on commercial reasons?

        Because doing so is what’s caused a massive increase in poverty, brought about the collapse of the global financial system (not that I’m crying about that of course) and has also put us on course for a complete ecological collapse. So, doing so would not be the most rational of decisions, in fact, it would be completely insane.

      • mik e 4.1.4

        Spelling goose head Fisher and Paykel are getting huge subsidies in Mexico and Thailand for fifteen years while we are not aloud to subsidize any business because of the WTO!
        Gooseman you are just plain illinformed’

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      IIRC wasn’t it shown that the actual discount would need to be 75% to make up for the loss in tax revenue, etc?

      ~65% and it wasn’t just the tax revenue but the full impetus to the local economy that would result from having them made here.

  5. tc 5

    Dude have you ever owned an F&P……FFS why would anyone back that up against quality made brands with better and bigger economies of scale, try harder Gos.

    • bbfloyd 5.1

      i think gosling has confused real societal economics with what we are getting now… which is the beginning of our own “cargo cult”…. i don’t know how he breaths with his head up there like that….maybe a straw?

    • Gosman 5.2

      You are comfortable with allowing F&P to produce their products wherever it wants. Does this also mean you would allow NZ Rail to source it’s rolling stock from where it wants?

      • ghostwhowalksnz 5.2.1

        F&P strategy to move production offshore bought them to the edge of bankruptcy- and Key said he would rescue them. So your point is.

        Key has promised a new SOE called Crown Water Investments which has $400 mill to spend on marginal privately owned irrigation projects. Where is the outrage against this ‘1960s’ thinking

      • s y d 5.2.2

        fisher and paykel has always been a private company, operating in a market that could be considered as reasonably free to enter into…
        Railways in NZ have been built by the state and are essentially a monopoly form of transportation – no private company is going to build a rail network…similarly with power generation…you have to understand that there are ‘markets’ with some limited form of competition and then there are effective monopolies….

      • Lanthanide 5.2.3

        The difference is that F&P is not funded by the government.

        I’ll put it in simple maths and dollar terms for you.

        Government gives KiwiRail $65m to buy rolling stock from China. At the end of the contract, the government books are down by $65m and KiwiRail has some rolling stock.

        Alternatively, government gives KiwiRail $100m to buy rolling stock from New Zealand. At the end of the contract, the government books are down by only $50 and KiwiRail has some rolling stock. Where did that other $50m come from? Taxes. Taxes paid by the NZ employees on their salaries. GST paid by those employees when they used the rest of their money to buy goods and services in the NZ economy.

        What’s better: pay $65m total for some rolling stock, or pay $50m total?

        That’s before we even take into account the skills being built up, the business being stronger and all the ancillary businesses that pop up to help service the train builders. Who knows, if our train builders become successful enough they might even be able to compete internationally for certain niche deals and earn export revenue. None of that can happen if we just blindly pay more for overseas trains.

      • mikesh 5.2.4

        F&P probably needs to produce as cheaply as possible if it wants to sell stuff overseas. This does not apply in the case of railway rolling stock which is being produced for our own internal use.

  6. red blooded 6

    I can’t claim significant expertise in this area. I do live in Dunedin, though, and was talking to one of the few remaining Hillside workers last week. He said the Chinese trains that have started arriving in NZ are shoddily built, rust easily and have been breaking down already. Cheaper doesn’t necessarily equal better. The Hillside workers are continuing to push to have the remaining trains built here.

  7. jcuknz 7

    I am not suprised that politicians are reluctant to try and pick winners becuase of the hue and cry and blood-letting that occurs when something fails and heads must roll … of course.
    ‘People have what they deserve’ is the expression I think.
    I hope that the new leader will put a curb of the agro, foolish nit picking, which has characterised The Standard over the past year or so, so that from my favourite blog it is my least visited..

    • Galeandra 7.1

      Well, nit-picking got rid of ( temporarily) at least one nit I could mention.

      Care to explain what sort of np so bothers you? Oh, sarcasm about the cycle-way solution to the GFC, that’s right.

      Concern troll.

      The only winners the current crowd are picking are the Mum and Dads from the Roundtable who are going to get a free crack at half my electricity bill every month.

      • seeker 7.1.1

        “Well, nit-picking got rid of ( temporarily) at least one nit I could mention.”

        ROFL- Perfect reply to the pain that was jcuk.

        Thanks Galeandra-I needed a laugh today, and even more so after reading this thread, which has made me sad and angry for our skilled, under appreciated fellow Kiwis.

        • jcuknz 7.1.1.1

          Well you two have not changed have you. Perhaps I should have said ‘slagging’ rather than nit picking. As a confirmed socialist I cannot say I want to associate myself with the likes of you if you represent the Labour movement, but I hope you don’t.

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    Working in a small engineering business, just the half dozen or so of you, there is a very real sense that the fortunes of the business owner, who more than likely works right alongside you, are directly linked to exactly where your pay packet comes from this week.

    Now, if you dumped the business owner and made it a cooperative everyone would know exactly where their pay packet comes from, ie, not the business owner.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 8.1

      There is this myth that the ‘small business owner works alongside you’.

      I wish. A good percent are absentee and only turn up to bank whats in the till, and my own experience is they want something ‘that runs itself’ so they dont have to

      • Colonial Viper 8.1.1

        Small retail shops are like that. But for an enterprise like Tait Electronics, F&P, Marine Air Systems, Datacom it was different. The founders were absolutely instrumental in leading the organisations.

      • RedLogix 8.1.2

        Agreed it’s not always the case ghost… but it’s still true in many workplaces.

        I guess my point is that the old ‘workers vs the bosses’ meme simply doesn’t apply for an increasing and probable majority of NZ workers; and a Labour Party still historically wedded to that idea will find itself increasingly isolated.

        What might work better is something like “me AND the boss…vs the bloody bankers”. 🙂

  9. Rich 9

    They think like small business owners

    I can’t think why. Only 7% of working NZers have a business that employs anyone.

    What the left need to do is to convince people of these sad facts and change the pattern of capital control of people’s lives. If they go on trying to be a better National party for that 7%, when the great middle class cash stream dries up (banks closing down, 15% mortgage rates, $5 a litre petrol) people are going to want something different.

  10. randal 10

    the problem is that the nashnil gubmint and the media make it three on one for every election.time to redress tha balance by owning and operating our own media outlets. i.e. line of sight micropulse radio stations with proper music. watch em go.

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