Collins versus Ardern, round 1

Yesterday was the first time new National leader Judith Collins came up against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in question time in Parliament. Probably due to all the issues and embarrassments swirling around Collins chose to focus on a fairly safe topic, light rail.

While some media try to hype up question time as some sort of must win clash this one was fairly average, with a few digs and snipes from both sides but nothing really newsworthy.

David Seymour, Winston Peters and Julie Anne Genter also tried to get noticed but won’t have hit any headlines.

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is she satisfied with her Government’s record of delivery for new transport projects across the country?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Can I begin by taking the opportunity to congratulate the member opposite on her role as Leader of the Opposition. Coming back to her question, yes, I am pleased with what the Government has achieved this term to deliver new transport projects right across New Zealand, including the fact that we’ve either funded, started, or completed over 50 projects worth $10 million or more. We’ve already improved 2,500 kilometres of State highways with safety upgrades like rumble strips and safety barriers this term. In Auckland, we have of course plugged the $6 billion fiscal hole that was left by the last Government for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which has allowed the ongoing construction around the Eastern Busway, State Highway 20B, the Puhinui interchange, the Old Māngere Bridge replacement project, and of course the ongoing work on the City Rail Link, the K Road Cycleway, and Constellation Bus Station, to name a few. And we’re building a number of projects the member has signalled support for, including starting enabling works on the third main rail line and electrification to Pukekohe next month, and building has started on stage one of the Eastern Busway to Botany.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she believe that she has upheld her commitment in the Speech from the Throne for “more emphasis placed on public transport and light rail.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. I know the member is probably going to reference light rail to the airport. I would say to the member that as she will well know, sometimes it takes a little longer than you would like to get what you want, and light rail would be an example of that for me and the Labour Party. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Judith Collins: It’s sort of lost if I can’t hear it, but that’s OK. What are the current estimates of—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I will remind the member that she asks questions, not gives a commentary.

Hon Judith Collins: What are the current estimates of when construction of light rail in Auckland will begin?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member knows, Cabinet gave this project full consideration. Two versions of the project were considered—two commercial options. Neither of those were agreed by Cabinet. That project has now gone back to the Ministry of Transport to then be presented to those parties who have the privilege of forming Government.

Hon Judith Collins: What are the estimated costs of the light rail proposals discussed by Cabinet for the next 10 years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If we’re talking specifically around the light rail project to the airport, the member will be aware that $1.8 billion was put aside for seed funding. The full cost of that project, of course, to the Crown would very much depend on the commercial arrangements for it, and, obviously, that was not something that this Government was able to settle. If the member wishes to reflect on any other projects, of course, there have been a number of rapid transit projects and public transport projects that this Government has contributed to. In Christchurch, we have contributed, roughly, $168 million to public transport through the years 2018-21 and, obviously, there’s the contribution to Let’s Get Wellington Moving, but if light rail in Auckland is what the member refers to, then those costs would very much depend on the commercial arrangement.

Hon Judith Collins: Has her Government upheld its commitment that “work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Certainly, it was the view of the Labour Party, and I think I can speak for the Greens—there was a view around the benefits of light rail to the airport. That was not a project that we were able to form consensus around. However, I am still incredibly proud of the number of projects this Government has delivered, and I see that the member, of course, has now delivered her own strategy for transport. I would point out the difference for this Government and, of course, the National Party is that we have fully funded our projects. On the other side, the National Party Opposition are planning to raid the COVID recovery and response fund to the tune of $7 billion, they are planning to raid over $3 billion from the multi-capital allowance determined for hospitals and schools, they are planning to borrow an extra $10 billion through the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), and they want to cancel the regional fuel tax, leaving further cancellation of projects. On this side of the House, we fund what we plan.

David Seymour: Did the Government intend to have two completely different proposals for the same light rail project?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, the member is right to point out that when we first proposed this project, it was more of a streetcar-style project that was proposed. Over time, there was an unsolicited proposal brought through a public-public partnership proposal, and also NZTA significantly changed their proposal as well. So it is fair to say that what was campaigned on was not the eventual project considered by Cabinet.

David Seymour: Who’s actually in charge of this project?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Currently, it sits with the Ministry of Transport.

Hon Judith Collins: Has she seen the reported comments of the Rt Hon Winston Peters regarding light rail, “If Aucklanders knew the cost and disruption of light rail, they’d be shocked with collective alarm.”, and, if so, what is her response to those claims?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: These comments are no surprise to me. You’ll hear me reference in the first answer to the question that this was not a project that we could find consensus around the Cabinet table. What we have formed consensus around are the more than 50 projects that we have either started, funded, or completed since we’ve been in Government, the large lengths of the country that we have put safety improvements around, and the fact that we have funded the considerable hole left by the last Government in Auckland. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m going to ask two—now—more senior members and one very senior member just to keep their mouths zipped while that’s going on.

Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. So if she can’t get consensus in her Government, then why did she speak from the throne these words: “more emphasis placed on public transport and light rail.”?

Hon Chris Hipkins: Point of order, Mr Speaker—

SPEAKER: Yeah, no—well, I don’t think we need to. The member can have another go at the question. She knows it’s out of order.

Hon Judith Collins: If, as the Prime Minister has said, she could not find a consensus in her Government for the light rail project, then why has she committed publicly to the light rail project as the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, as I’ve already pointed out, the project that the member is talking about that came before Cabinet was vastly different to the one that I campaigned on as Labour Party leader. Secondly, of course, as you’ve pointed out, in the statements made in the Speech from the Throne, reference was made to, of course, increasing multimodal transport options for New Zealanders. We did not believe in putting 40 percent of the transport budget into seven roads of national significance, which is what the last Government did. I would also note that in their first term they started two of them. We have produced 200 kilometres of stand-alone shared paths and cycleways since we entered office; started or funded or completed over 50 transport projects. We have made significant inroads on transport. The member happens to be referring to just one where we couldn’t agree.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister agree with the East West Link at $327 million a metre proposed by the National Party?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That, again, is an example of projects where, when we’ve come in, we have made a full reassessment. We have also chosen, of those projects that we have funded—we’ve made sure that they are fully funded, that they are delivered faster, and that they deliver better transport options—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Fake figures.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —for New Zealanders.

SPEAKER: Order! The deputy leader of the National Party will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: And I think the Deputy Prime Minister might like to have a look at his Hansard as to the authentication. I think the member might have said “metre” when he meant “kilometre”.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I’m sorry; it’s horrifying whichever way you look at it, but it was $327,000 a metre, or $327 million a kilometre.

Chris Bishop: It’s neither of those things—it’s neither!

Hon Judith Collins: To the Prime Minister—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! No, well, the member has corrected it; it’s all right.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What did I apologise for then?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member apologised for breaching Speakers’ rulings over many, many occasions. You know that there is a big difference between getting something wrong and making something up. There’s the questions of mens rea. The member should think about it.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she then agree with the statement made about the light rail project by Jacinda Ardern in August 2017 that “I am committed to starting straight away.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve never denied that is a project that was a real priority for the Labour Party. We formed a Government later on in that year that was made up of three parties, not just one. That is the explanation for what happened with that project. I don’t know what that member’s explanation is for the fact that her Government announced projects that they didn’t even start, and they didn’t have a three-way coalition as an excuse.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by her statement made in July last year, when asked whether light rail was definitely going ahead, “Oh, yes, yes, yes. Absolutely.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, we remained committed to that project and, in good faith, continued to assess the benefits of that project to Aucklanders. The fact that we could not find agreement on that does not remove the commitment we have to rapid transit in Auckland. I would point out that the member’s own proposals that she put out over the weekend include versions that try to create rapid transit to the airport as well. The major difference between us and the National Party is that we have funded our projects. We are not raiding schools and education for it, we are not increasing the debt on the New Zealand Transport Agency, and we are not ripping $7 billion out of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund for projects that won’t be delivered in 30 years’ time.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Is the Prime Minister aware of any major transport infrastructure projects that have taken over seven years from the date of announcement to when they actually started construction?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. That would include a large number of the roads of national significance. In fact, in the first term in office, the National Party only started two of their seven projects, and some of them took seven years to complete.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it true that only one person has been killed on the roads of national significance since they have been completed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As a Government that has invested significant funding in 2,500 kilometres’ worth of safety improvements, we are a Government that is invested in safety improvements. As for the member’s claim, I cannot verify either way. But we are a Government committed to safety, not just investing in roads of national significance.

Hon Julie Anne Genter: Can she confirm that this Government has significantly increased funding in this three-year National Land Transport Programme to road safety, to road maintenance on State highways and local roads, to new local roads, to public transport services—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member’s allowed to ask a question with two legs. I think the member got to about a centipede, or she was heading that way. No, the Prime Minister can answer some of them.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The simple answer is yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister, on the basis of the Pūhoi to Warkworth progress to date, which is 14 years now before it will be completed, is it not a fact that the Whangārei connection will therefore be another 74 years, and is anybody around who will be alive at the time? [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Hang on. Those of us who are mid-career.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I wouldn’t want to make any judgments either way on that front. I would point out, though, that there are a number of projects in the past that have been announced by the National Party that have taken a number of years to either fund or even start. Again, from the announcement that we saw over the weekend, two of the major policies around the Brynderwyn and Kaimai tunnels weren’t even costed.

Hon Julie Anne Genter: Can she confirm that road safety improvements have already been carried out on nearly 3,000 kilometres of our State highways, an area 10 times greater than the entire roads of national significance that were improved, that aren’t even finished being completed yet?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is correct. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the singular focus of the roads of national significance was solely safety improvements for the vast majority of motorists, because, of course, they did take a large chunk of our transport spending and did not cater for our regional and rural roads.

Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. John J Harrison

     /  22nd July 2020

    Collins should have hit Ardern very hard on the appalling child poverty numbers which Ardern promised to make her number one issue to address.
    Indeed, she appointed herself minister responsible for this portfolio.
    Instead of her many promises to eliminate child poverty it has in fact tripled under her inept governance.

    Reply
    • I think that if she had done that, it could have backfired. Transport is something that is concrete; it either happens or it doesn’t. It’s not an emotional issue.

      The PM could well have blamed covid for the increase, rather than the lockdown causing so much hardship that people are going hungry because they lost their jobs because of it.

      It is best to start with transport and be precise.

      Reply
  2. David

     /  22nd July 2020

    Best not to go too hard and risk it going wrong and getting terrible headlines, Mallard is always an unkown factor as he continues his goal of being the worst speaker ever.
    You know having the two women leaders makes the male leaders of the other parties look terrible. Winston is a damn child, Shaw is a weak soy boy, Seymour while a tad goofy is pretty good though.

    Reply
    • ‘Mens rea’ seems a bit extreme here. GB was hardly committing a crime.

      The PM was waffling and seemed to be caught on the back foot.

      David S is great; I have a lot of time for him. I like the way that he can laugh at himself.

      Reply

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