Please find the link to the article in the Herald: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12317900
Fran O'Sullivan: Note to Parliament - Never
waste a crisis
19 Mar, 2020 5:00am
5 minutes to read
Goldsmith (right) struck an empathic tone this week for the Government's
efforts that leader Simon Bridges lacked. Photo / File
By: Fran O'Sullivan, Head of Business, NZME, email@example.com @FranOSullivan
Simon Bridges has
still not learnt the lesson that the role of an Opposition in a time of
national crisis is not simply to oppose — but also to propose policies that
will assist New Zealand as a whole.
Bridges' performance in Parliament on Tuesday came across as
graceless. There was no empathy. This diminished the impact of some valid
Opposition criticism of areas where the Government's performance has been
behind the international pace in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic such as
testing for the virus and the ropey border controls.
This is important but credit where credit is due.
It was left to his Finance and Infrastructure spokesman Paul
Goldsmith to present a more accommodating and empathetic approach by taking
issue with aspects of Grant Robertson's $12 billion Covid-19 economic package
but also outlining some areas where the party would be prepared to assist the
Government by supporting fast-track legislation to get some infrastructure
projects moving quickly to stimulate the economy.
Goldsmith later spelt out those transport projects could include
the Tauranga Northern link and Auckland's Mill Rd where legal hurdles could be
removed or fast-tracked through urgent legislation.
It's debatable that the Government does need National's help.
But this is not the time to look a gift horse in the mouth.
In these times Robertson should reach out across Parliament for
some constructive help from National.
Infrastructure Minister Phil Twyford has legislation moving
through Parliament that will give the Government great powers to access urban
land for housing and other legislation to create new infrastructure financing
models. This could also be sped up if National came fully on board.
Goldsmith's suggestions were later amplified by Infrastructure
NZ's CEO Paul Blair who observed that while the Government's $12.1b Covid-19
package will soften the impacts of the virus for individuals and businesses,
"these extraordinary times also create the conditions for our Government
to build investment momentum."
Infrastructure NZ's has come up with 10 suggestions to get some
momentum into the economy through mobilising infrastructure investment.
Essentially, it boils down to "don't waste a good
Infrastructure NZ is also on song with Goldsmith arguing, "let's
use these extraordinary times to ensure projects of national significance get
consented, or Public Works Act interventions are made, to cut through excessive
Blair concedes there is risk. But he makes the point that the
Government is going to have to move quickly and responsively to a situation
moving much faster than any infrastructure project. "Some decisions will
turn out to be wrong, others right. It will be no different for business
This is all good stuff.
But the Government should also not waste a good crisis and simply
defer decisions on two pending major infrastructure projects: The Auckland
light rail decision and the proposal to shift Auckland's port to Whangarei.
There is no unity with Cabinet on these project proposals.
Finance Minister Robertson. Photo / File
They are financially risky and in the current economic environment
it makes more sense to proceed with projects that are close to "shovel
ready" and can employ people.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones conceded at a recent Infracom
event that there was a lot of risk around moving the port. But also a lot of
inertia and shared his view that the bureaucracy was risk averse. That decision
is not due to be made by Cabinet until May.
NZ First clearly wishes to campaign on the port move to Northland
at the election (it was part of the 2017 coalition agreement). But Robertson —
who is cautious on this proposal — should simply use the crisis and defer the
call until after the Government has dealt with the pandemic.
It is an unnecessary distraction.
As is the pending decision on Auckland light rail.
The Ministry of Transport has had consultants working with it to
This is a major project pipeline call where the recently
established Infrastructure Commission should also have an opportunity to
It is understood that commission chairman Alan Bollard and CEO Jon
Grayson have been allowed into the "black room" — or secure data room
— to run their ruler over the two competing light rail options which were
supposed to go to Cabinet in the first week of March.
There are strict confidentiality conditions over the competing
proposals — NZ Infra, a joint venture between the NZ Super Fund and Canada's
CDPQ Infra group, and one from the NZ Transport Agency.
Even before the Covid-19 virus pandemic wrought havoc on the NZ
economy it was clear there was friction within Cabinet.
As Jones said at the Infracom event, a "$10b project would be
the subject of some serious teeth-gnashing and work by the Infrastructure Commission",
citing the cost explosion on Auckland's City Rail link.
New Zealand is not going to grind to a halt if these decisions are
There is plenty to get on with and the likelihood of better deals
down the road.