Friday 8 September 2017

A Policy A Day: Infrastructure

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's satire post is by AJ Macfarlane

Infrastructure. The sexiest of all government spending. We all need it, we all want it in some form, and lately, the promises of strong, curvaceous roads and rail have been oozing out of the major parties.

Infrastructure is unlike other policy promises. You can’t kick the tyres on free tuition. You can’t drive across a tax break. Those policies are theoretical mumbo-jumbo invented by office-dwelling intellectuals. A train, a road, a land bridge, is real. You can dig your feet into it, smash a coffee cup on it, get run over by one if you don’t take it seriously. In short, infrastructure is to other policies, as gold is to bitcoin. Yes, theoretically you might have more dollars worth of ones and zeros on that hard drive, but my pimp daddy necklace looks much more impressive.

Promises of infrastructure are rarely as sturdy and tangible as a land bridge or a train, often marred by vague phrases such as “committing more funding” or “investigate options regarding” or “we’ll do our best ae”. But, both major parties have put forward big promises for new transport infrastructure, with hard dollar figures, and definite deadlines.

In the red corner, Jacinda Ardern and Labour have come out strongly on the side of rail, notably with a plan for rapid rail in The Golden Triangle (apparently not a three-player sex position), connecting Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga. Labour has committed $20 million to build the rail connections, and Ardern has argued that as the area is projected to grow in population by 800,000 in the next the next 25 year, this part of the country will be the most in need of connections.

Coming out swinging from the blue corner, National is standing firm on its “Roads out the Wazoo” policy, pledging to build 10 new roads of significance at the cost of $10.5 billion. Rather than focusing their efforts on the Auckland end of the country, National’s plan is spread across the length of New Zealand, intending to encourage transport connections to foster growth in smaller regions.
Focusing on the Auckland region, National is dipping its toe into the possibility of rail, with a $267 million-dollar plan to upgrade commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington, mostly building on and improving already existing infrastructure. However, they are sticking to their roots, promising $955 million for a new highway running next to the Southern Motorway, and $835 million for a new Northwestern busway. Bill English has justified National’s “it’s roads all the way down” policy by stating that “New Zealanders mostly drive” and “trains are loud and scary” [Editor: trains are hella cool].

Labour’s Auckland transport policy also focuses on roads and having less of them, specifically, the scaling back of the construction of the East-West link motorway which is currently underway. Their reason for this is that the money which would have been spent on the link can instead be directed towards establishing a light rail connection between the city and the airport. The cost of which “would be $2.1 billion after accounting for $1.2 billion in savings from scaling back the East-West link”, which is an elusive way of saying it will cost $3.3 billion. Labour intends to make up the deficit through the sale of Time-Travelling-Train-Tickets, or TTTTs, whereby you buy part of your ticket years in advance via a regional 10c per litre fuel tax, and pay for the remainder of the ticket when the train actually comes into existence.

The choice presented by each party’s transport infrastructure plan is this: Do you want to gamble on a hopeful future where rail becomes a larger part of the way kiwis get around their city and country, or do you want to stick with the situation as it is, where kiwis are comfortable using a car on tarmac as their default means of transportation?

Recent comments from Bill English on the topic have included “the typical New Zealander is a sedentary, car dwelling organism, and it is the main transport policy of the National Party to focus on building buttloads of roads. I mean, who doesn’t love a long sturdy road or land bridge?”
The land bridge English has referred to many times throughout the last few weeks is, of course, the long-delayed China-Wellington land bridge, which is finally gaining traction on both sides.
The controversial plan, involving the construction of a record-breaking 10,000km long land bridge stretching from Wellington to Shanghai, would set taxpayers back an estimated $90billion and require the annexation of Papua New Guinea to close the gap. As New Zealand’s largest potential infrastructure investment, both Labour and National have come out in favour of pushing forward with construction, but with differing plans for its use after construction is completed.

During a recent press conference when both party leaders were present, Bill English stated that “the National Party believes investment in the land bridge infrastructure would be a benefit to all New Zealanders, with a potential to bring more much-needed foreign workers, capital, and investment.” English went on to state the national party planned to introduce a fast lane for those individuals bringing over $500,000 of investments into the country; “as well as the standard immigration flow, we plan to utilise the western lane of the land bridge to fast-track people who stand to contribute the most to our economy.”

When asked why National’s plan for the bridge overlooked the possibility of a two-way system, English said he did not understand the question. English went on to state “Roads are the best, am I right?”

Jacinda Ardern, while in favour of the land bridge, suggests that a moderated approach be taken after its construction: “New Zealand is a country built on immigration. Migrants bring to New Zealand the skills we need to grow our economy and vibrant cultures that enrich our society.” adding that; “With that in mind, the flow of immigration needs to take a breather after the National government’s lack of preparation for new residents. Therefore it is the policy of the labour party to only open the land bridge every second Tuesday of the month, between the hours of 8.30am and 4.30pm”

Winston Peters, who happened to be in the room at the time and demanded “everybody listen up”, stated it would “give us a quick and easy way to send them back where they came from”. When prompted to elucidate, Peters chortled and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

New Zealand has a decision to make regarding what shape it wants transport in New Zealand to take over the next decade. Will we be like the modest sardine, crammed with our fellow brethren into a train across The Golden Triangle, or like the stubbornly determined salmon, endlessly swimming upstream against the flow of Auckland car congestion? Your vote will decide.

AJ Macfarlane is a known satirist/liar and is not to be trusted. He can be found scouring meme pages, harassing David Seymour's snapchat, or on his instagram (@purplebassmonkey).

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