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Winston Peters: Facts matter when taxpayer money is on the line

There has been renewed focus on New Zealand First acting as a handbrake on the Government after our decision to not support Auckland light rail.

We are a handbrake for bad ideas, that is true, but our track record since 2017 has seen New Zealand First constructively also serve as an accelerator for good ideas.

There has been renewed focus on New Zealand First acting as a handbrake on the Government after our decision to not support Auckland light rail.

We are a handbrake for bad ideas, that is true, but our track record since 2017 has seen New Zealand First constructively also serve as an accelerator for good ideas.

Indeed, we have supported more than 180 Government bills that have received the Royal Assent so far this term.

Yet when the media interview their word processors, flagellating over New Zealand First intransigence whenever we do disagree with our partners, they never provide the public with this overarching context.

Take for instance the media's blank acceptance of a claim by Green Party Co-leader James Shaw that we breached the terms of our Coalition Agreement with Labour by not supporting Auckland light rail.

First, there is no mention of light rail in the Coalition Agreement. Second, the commitment made between Labour and the Greens in their Confidence and Supply Agreement states, "Work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland."

Well, work did begin. The Minister of Transport asked for proposals, he received them, and then put them to respective parties, whereupon agreement could not be reached.

New Zealand First neither negotiated nor wrote the Green Party Confidence and Supply Agreement. We therefore accept no responsibility for the loose drafting of their agreement, something James Shaw's comments to a compliant media were designed
to obscure.

Let's turn to the Auckland Light Rail decision because Aucklanders and taxpayers need to know why the airport light rail option is not the preferred choice of New Zealand First.

We always presented a smart alternative; by enhancing the already established railway network with a significant city rail link investment with a short 7km spur line from Puhinui to the airport. All for around 15 per cent of the cost of light rail to the airport.

New Zealand First sought to save taxpayers billions of dollars on twin proposals which would have cost untold multiple billions and seriously obstructed Aucklanders moving around their city for years. Look at the Albert St obstruction now, and multiply that by
20.

Additionally, New Zealand First's plans benefit Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty with passenger trains being able to travel directly to our largest airport and major employment zone in South West Auckland while also having the ability to move freight directly by rail to the airport industrial complex.

As the Automobile Association pointed out just the other day, Aucklanders are evenly divided between the heavy rail and light rail options. Except they've never been told just how much the light rail option will cost, and how much it was already blowing out.

If taxpayers and Aucklanders knew of the alternative to the light rail option, the expansion of the existing railway service, we believe it would have appealed to their common sense.

New Zealanders like passenger trains in general. They want more of them. They want more regional passenger rail services, not just for future tourists, but also for local communities with no current access to public transport such as Te Kuiti to Taumarunui,
Wellington to New Plymouth, Wellington to Napier and between Christchurch, Dunedin
and Invercargill.

In short, a common-sense nationwide rail passenger service. In considering the existing rail expansion proposals, taxpayers need to be reminded of what is happening in Wellington's Transmission Gully, where National's public private partnership's road construction has stopped and there has been a jaw-dropping blow out in costs.

You can also see it in the Puhoi-Walkworth four-lane highway which is no longer taking 12 years, but much longer, and again costing taxpayers much more.

Facts matter. Taxpayers' money matters. Proven services worldwide, not expensive but flawed alternatives, are what New Zealanders want.

We were also mindful about the impact of Covid -19, something Minister Phil Twyford acknowledged on May 13, when he said: "Decisions on Auckland's light rail project
are on hold while the Government's full focus is on fighting Covid-19."

Given this, we were surprised a Cabinet paper appeared a week later because that full focus has not changed and New Zealand First felt that an unspecified multibillion-dollar project that won't see a shovel in the ground until 2022 no longer fits the economic imperatives facing the country right now.

New Zealand First was elected to provide balance and common-sense to New Zealand politics, and that is exactly what we're doing.

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