Sunday, January 21, 2007

Labour in 07: Investment

The PM has given some clear indications about the government’s policy priorities for the year, and fairly typically the mainstream media has failed to provide much analysis or comment on this. The media focus is very much on the issue of caucus and cabinet renewal, but it is a mistake to think that renewal is just about different bums on parliamentary seats – it is not. A renewal of ideas, policies, and thinking is just as critical.

Think about the National administrations of 1990 – 1999. In terms of the personnel, there was actually significant turnover, particularly of those at cabinet level. Jim Bolger, Max Bradford, John Banks, Philip Burdon, Paul East, John Falloon, Peter Gresham, Doug Kidd, and Denis Marshall are just some of the Ministers who turned over between 1993 and 1999. National’s Leader, Deputy, and Finance spokespeople all turned over within the three terms. Yet by 1999, the National government (crippled admittedly by a series of dodgy coalition arrangements) was seen as tired and out of ideas.

So the vigour and vitality of a government is about far more than simply how new the MP’s and Ministers are. While it is clear that some new blood in the Labour lineup is needed over the next year or so, renewal is about far more than this. The PM’s recent comments have been positive in this regard. She has highlighted the following issues as key areas for work over 2007:

Education

Education has been highlighted as “the area (where) the initiatives need to go”. This is an excellent move. There is a clear need for increased investment, particularly in the compulsory sector where the case for increased operational funding is strongly made - and doing so will highlight the emptiness of John Key’s “aspirational” rhetoric. We will need to contrast increased investment in our schools with National’s default setting in this area – attacking teachers, whinging about NCEA without providing any solutions, and banging on about bulk funding as if it actually does anything to improve the delivery of education to children.

The same should happen in regards to the implementation of the 20 hours per week free early childhood education policy. Getting every single three and four year old into early childhood education is one of the best things we can do to ensure that literacy, numeracy, and social cohesion improve – particularly in our poorer communities. This is an expensive policy and the implementation is difficult (the intransigence and greed of many private providers being a significant obstacle), but it is happening, and Key needs to be made to front up on whether a future National government would continue the investment, or spend the hundreds of millions on tax-cuts for mates in the Parnell millionaires club.

If by the end of 2007 we have seen a significant increase to Operations funding for schools, fulfillment of the 20 hours free policy, and progress on the election pledge of reducing class sizes to fifteen for five year olds, then Labour will be able to head into election year with a clear record of using our national resources to invest in the core public services that matter to most people.

Climate Change

With several policy papers out for public consultation, the government has succeeded in starting a national conversation about the issue. While it is clear that there are no quick and easy fixes, and that a strategy needs to be rolled out over a number of years to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, it will be important that some policy work is concluded in 2007. Some tangibles need to be implemented by late this year or early next.

There is a real sense that this issue has reached a tipping point. Some kind of action in 2007 is necessary both to ensure that we are meeting our ethical and international issues to reduce our emissions, and to contrast Labour’s action on the issue with National’s lack of commitment to environmental issues. Having a blue-green sector and saying that they believe in the concept of climate change has been relatively easy for National, but I see no evidence that they have any willingness to take on the challenge of reducing emissions if it offends key sector groups in agriculture and industry.

Auckland

The Stadium – decision made, argument over. Build it.

In her comments the PM has focused in on the issue of regional governance and public transport. It is apposite that the two are bracketed as (in part at least) many of Auckland’s public transport woes are down to a failure of regional governance.

After the botched Mayoral proposal to create a super-city (and co-incidentally a new role of Lord Mayor for one of their own), the government and the region have responded well to the challenge of modernising Auckland’s governance structure. The government provided leadership by making the call that change was needed, and setting a timeline. The region responded by engaging in a rare public discussion on local body governance, and then feeding the results back to government. The clock is ticking on this one with local body elections in October. A well-crafted proposal that unifies the region will be critical in ensuring that Auckland is ready for another million people in the next fifty years.

The PM’s other comments on Auckland focused around the rail network, and particularly the issue of electrification.

We know that increased investment in rail services through better stations and rolling stock, more regular services, the Britomart project, and double tracking have delivered increased rail patronage, and with it significant economic, social, and environmental benefits. It is critical that the investment continues. Electrification is a big part of this, as in my view is an expansion of the network – starting with the Onehunga line. I will write more on this later. Needless to say, a government backed plan in 2007 to proceed with electrification would signal a major commitment to investing in Auckland’s future.

It’s about Investment

All of the areas highlighted for attention in 2007 by the PM are about investment. To paraphrase economist JK Galbraith, “there is no point living in a society of private affluence, surrounded by public squalor”. Serious investment in our education system, meaningful movement on climate change, leadership on Auckland’s governance, and investment in the region’s public transportation network in 2007 will show that Labour is the Party that invests in our shared future.

Investment on this scale will signal to the country that this is a government that is renewing its ideas and policies more that one or two new MP’s will.

9 comments:

Gerrit said...

"Electrification is a big part of this, as in my view is an expansion of the network – starting with the Onehunga line."

I think the onehunga line is dead, no industries down there to use it, nor that many people.

Better still is the construction of a elctrified train line (light rail or trams are best) from Howick, Botany, Manukua City , Puhinui and out to the Airport. Gives East - West public transport This would join the Airport with the rail network at Puhinui to go North or South. the easement for a rail track is already there along Ti Irrirange (sp?) drive.

Joing the old Onehunga Line to the airport requires a longer bridge across the Manukau Harbour than the Puhinui - Airport route.

Michael Wood said...

While I disagree about Onehunga being dead, I thoroughly endorse your other comments.

My view is that a great opportunity to bring rail to the east is being lost in the failure to make provision for a spur to Botany in the road Transit is building over the Waiouru Peninsula.

I'll write more on this issue later and look forward to a more detailed discussion then.

Wellingtonian said...

This is an interesting issue and would be good to get more of an understanding about it. As a Wellingtonian, I use the train here all the time and have been amazed that Auckland, a much bigger city, has a smaller rail network. I don't understand the geography, so some maps would be good :-)

Oliver said...

I found myself slightly bemused by some of your comments.

Education:

1) New Zealand has no national standards for reading or maths. Any attempts to establish such standards are rigourously oppossed by teachers unions and Labour thus doing our children a disservice.

2) The NCEA is the biggest excercise is driving inequality in the history of NZ. Under the old system if a kid from Otahuhu College got better marks than a kid from King's College than that was that. Nowdays employers either can't make heads or tails of an NCEA achievement form their shown or if they do understand it they don't trust it so they're more inclined to take the guy from King's or another school with a good reputation. The upshot of this is that aspirations are increasinly being restricted to people whose families can afford to send them to private schools or live in good school zones. Demand for places at schools that offer the Cambridge exam or international baccalaureate is booming. This just pushes kids from poor families further down. We need to return to a system with a clearly interpreted national standard that people can trust.

3) Labour promised 20 free hours of eaarly chilhood education in community centres despite been warned repeatedly that it would be impossible to deliver. There is insufficient capacity in areas with such facilities and large swathes of the country without such facilities. In future Labour shoul only promise things it can actuallyt deliver.

Environment:

1) Despite siginng on to Kyoto our emissions are growing faster than those of the US and Australia.

2) Renewable energy makes up the smallest percentage of our national generation than anytime since the 1970s.

3) Coal generation is rapidly growing in NZ because the RMA makes it easier to get consents for this high polluting option than for cleaner options such as hydro or geothermal.

4) Our forestry estates are shrinking for the first time since records began.

In seven years Labour's environmental record has been appalling and in terms of climate has only made things worse. Good luck getting it right now. Even a former Labour PM (Mike Moore) said that National's bluegreen discussion document was the most comprehensive such document in NZ for at least 10 years.

Gerrit said...

Perhaps the biggest clanger is not providing rail space along the new Western Link Motorway. Especially as the motorway is being build on land originally designated for the Onehunga to Henderson rail corridor.

I think the Waiouru Peninsula interchange is to far away from the Otahuhu railhead plus the fact that Ti Irirange Drive is set up for a rail line may see a spur from Botany into that new Industrial Area.

Big fan of the Melbourne tram system and see trams rather then trains as to answer in public transport for moving people from home to jobplace.

Span said...

Just to blog whore for a moment, I've written a little bit about overseas public transport systems, and Auckland's, here:
http://spanblather.blogspot.com/2007/01/public-transport-systems-i-have-known.html

Oliver said...

I see that Labour investment in 20 hours free daycare at community centres for 3 and 4 year olds is going well. They always knew it was unworkable and impossible so now the Ministry is saying that centre will just have to overcharge other parents to deliver on Labour's promises. Good work guys.

As for Auckland traffic snarl ups, 85% of the cars that go through spaghetti junction have no intention of using any of the off-ramps. When the junction was designed an extra bit going straight through north or south was supposed to be built as well. If that had been built then most of the spaghetti junction jams wouldn't happen.

libertyscott said...

"We know that increased investment in rail services through better stations and rolling stock, more regular services, the Britomart project, and double tracking have delivered increased rail patronage, and with it significant economic, social, and environmental benefits."

Yes most of that rail patronage is a transfer from bus and car passengers. Prove the significant benefits, find one document from Land Transport NZ which gives you a figure that is significant, or even shows it has benefits that are greater than the cost. You'll find the net benefits at best equal the costs, the social benefits when people otherwise went by bus are nil, and if you can identify where the ambient air quality has improved due to rail services then good luck to you.

The case for rail in Auckland is emotional, not economic or environmental

Anonymous said...

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