TLDR: This is how politics works in the real world: outrage erupts over the prospect of fuel taxes being used to build cycle paths, so that plan is dumped within 12 hours, and ‘Ford Ranger Man’ wins again.
New PM Chris Hipkins jumped in yesterday to overturn a Ministry of Transport strategy to prioritise transport spending around climate emissions reduction over the next three years, rather than road repairs and building new roads.
That came after the NZ Herald led yesterday with the detail of the inevitable prioritisation in the proposed strategy of spending fuel tax and road user charge revenues on public transport, cycling and walking, rather than repairing roads and building new ones.
The eruption of outrage online, on talkback radio and from Opposition politicians about the ‘war on cars’ and that ‘cycling isn’t how ordinary Kiwis get around’ was just as inevitable.
Transport Minister Michael Wood and Hipkins were in full backpedal mode by the end of the day. It felt like an action replay of Wood’s plan for a new cycling and walking bridge over the Auckland Harbour bridge. It was also practically gone by lunchtime once it was framed as ‘instead of’ a new bridge or tunnel for cars.
I include more detail, reaction and analysis below the paywall fold for paying subscribers and in the podcast above. I have made an early decision to open this one up to the public early.
Elsewhere in the news this morning
Chris Hipkins was much less concerned last night and this morning about political comments from ACC and Pharmac Chairman Steve Maharey in newspaper columns than the LinkedIn comments that got Rob Campbell sacked;
Hipkins said of Maharey’s more contrite approach: “I don’t ask for perfection but where there has been a breach of the code or where there has been a perception of a breach of a code, I think if somebody is open to receiving feedback on that and open to changing as a result of that, I think that’s all we can ask of them.”; NZ Herald
The land under Christchurch’s new $317 million sports stadium has sunk another metre, delaying construction by at least another five months; The Press
The AA+-ratied Wellington City Council has decided not to fund $8 million worth of requests for funds from Wellington Water to fix broken pipes, preferring not to either increase rates in a way that upset ratepayers or increased borrowing in a way that forced a credit rating downgrade; The DomPost
The AA-rated Auckland Council’s Eke Panuku development arm and its Tātaki Unlimited regional development arm have confirmed job cuts are already starting as part of the spending cuts planned to reduce a $295 million budget ‘deficit’ caused by covid and the floods, which officials decided could not be funded with borrowing because…no good reason…as S&P reaffirmed Auckland’s rating six months ago and described the council’s finances as improving; and, NZ Herald
Private equity firm TPG Capital staged an on-market raid last night to buy 10% of the shares in Australian-based funeral home owner InvoCare, which is also Aotearoa’s largest funeral home owner, with 50 homes that conducted 7,628 funerals1, the AFR-$$$ Street Talk column reported this morning.
Ford Ranger Man runs over Michael Wood. Again.
Here’s an article to send to all your relatives and friends who marched in the school climate strike protests on Friday. They may have felt heard, or at least that they might have nudged the political consensus a little. Not so fast.
‘Ford Ranger Man’ always wins because both Labour and National believe that the key swinging median voters are home-owning, ute-driving, boat-owning families in the outer suburbs of our biggest cities and provincial towns who have no time for taking the kids to netball practice in cargo e-bikes. See more from me on ‘Ford Ranger Man’ here from last month.
Here’s some examples of the new culture war rhetoric (bolding mine) that erupted yesterday after Michael Wood was reported on the front page of the NZ Herald to be considering using fuel taxes to build cycleways rather than repair roads, and may even increase the taxes overall.
Seymour opposing Wood’s modeshift comments
“In the meantime the people who are trying to get their kids from hockey to the doctor, while picking something up from the dairy on the way home find life becoming increasingly difficult as parking disappears and roads degrade.
“It is at odds with the Government’s own policy as well. Remember how the Government made tradies driving utes subsidise new Teslas? As unfair as that policy is, it is even more pointless when the low emissions vehicles Labour is trying to coax people into also can’t find a park. People will probably need a 4WD to handle New Zealand’s declining roads.” ACT Leader David Seymour on Transport Minister Michael Wood’s comments on modeshift via NZ Herald.
Simeon Brown declaring war on the war on cars
“Labour is going to steal the money New Zealanders pay via petrol taxes to fix potholes and maintain the roads and instead use that money for cycleways, despite only 1 per cent of people travelling to work on a bike, according to the 2018 census, compared with over 70 per cent travelling to work in a vehicle.
“This is unacceptable and proves that Labour is more focused on its ideological approach to transport, rather than building the infrastructure that New Zealanders need.
“A National Government will immediately halt this policy and rewrite the Government Policy Statement on Transport. We will restore the primary purpose of the National Land Transport Fund which is to build and maintain the roading network and we will prioritise reducing congestion and travel time to ensure Kiwis can get around more easily.” National Transport Spokesman Simeon Brown.
By the post-Cabinet news conference at 4pm, Hipkins was asserting his ‘bread and butter’ approach on climate change, saying the storms had changed the game so the Government had to focus first on repairing roads. Here’s excerpts from the transcript: (bolding mine)
Hipkins on whether Wood’s comments were the Government’s
Michael Wood was speaking, of course, to the draft that was previously released. That’s generally what Ministers do until there’s been a change in that. I think there will be a change.
Hipkins on whether fuel taxes would rise
You will see that my track record here has been to reduce taxes on fuel, particularly at a time when fuel prices are otherwise higher than they have been previously. I don’t intend to increase them at a time when we are actually trying to decrease them.
Hipkins on whether more resilient (stronger) roads were now a priority over reducing emissions:
I think you’ll see resilience and the resilience in the transport network being a much, much bigger priority now. It was in the previous priorities, but I think you’ll find it’ll be front and centre of the final policy statement when it’s released
Hipkins on whether climate change would still be the top priority:
Media: Prime Minister, so the emergency situation aside, will climate still be the top priority?
PM: Climate change is informing all of the Government’s decisions across a whole range of policy areas, and of course it will inform our decisions in transport as well.
Media: Will it be the top priority?
PM: Like I said, resilience is going to be probably the top priority, but Cabinet hasn’t made those decisions yet.
Here’s more of the full exchange on this prioritisation issue if there’s any doubt on Hipkins’ direction.
Media: Are you scared—is this Government afraid, you know, of the political repercussions of putting climate so high up on that priority list?
PM: Look, all Governments have to deal with the reality that’s right in front of them, and one of the realities that’s right in front of us is that we have a transport network that has shown to be wanting at a time when we’re faced with a major catastrophe, and we have to put that front and centre of our decisions around transport planning and transport funding.
Media: Is climate change going to be front and centre on your transport planning and building?
PM: It’ll still be in there but, as I’ve said, resilience is going to be right at the top of the priority list.
Resilience is the code word for repairing roads with fuel taxes and road user charges, rather than building many more cycleways, walkways and busways.
The short-term political pain wins again over the longer-term political, economic and environmental benefits of mode shift.
Scoops and enlightening deep dives
Lincoln Tan reported for the NZ Herald last night that 26,000 applicants for the covid recovery residency visa were still waiting for approval, in part because many Chinese applicants were subject to national security checks that one agent described as ‘racial profiling.’
Debbie Jamieson reported for Stuff this morning that tonight’s census looks set to miss people staying in Airbnbs.
The Pentagon is worried Chinese-made cranes in western ports could be used for sabotage or spying, the WSJ reported last night. Ports of Auckland imported three new giant cranes from Shanghai in 2018.
Quotes of the day
‘The central banks will have to blink,’ says Roubini
“Central banks are in a debt trap and cannot keep increasing interest rates. There’s so much debt in the system that if they raise rates enough to fight inflation there will be a real hard landing that leads to severe debt defaults.
“There would be economic and financial crashes. So central banks will have to wimp out.” New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini talking to the AFR-$$$’s John Kehoe.
The ECB boss is not planning on blinking
“Inflation is a monster that we need to knock on the head.” ECB President Christine Lagarde in an interview published on Monday in Spain’s El Corro via FT-$$$
Milestones and Movers
Chorus announced that former 2degrees CEO Mark Aue will become Chorus’ CFO from April 11.
Profundities, curiosities, spookies and feel-goods
Ka kite ano
Invocare NZ’s 7,628 funerals last year were up 11% due to excess deaths in 2022 because of covid. Revenues in NZ rose 21% to $68.6 million, while operating EBITDA rose 34% to $15.8 million, or an average of $2,071 per funeral.