‘Let’s do this’ Ardern promise for light rail now ‘let’s do this later, if NZ First let us’

Minister of Transport Phil Twyford has admitted that a Labour promise for a light rail line in Auckland to be completed by 2021 will not be kept, but he says that the Jacinda Ardern promise was made before she was Prime Minister.

Newshub: Jacinda Ardern breaks the first promise she made as Labour leader

The first promise Jacinda Ardern made as Labour leader looks to have gone up in smoke.

During her first big public outing as leader during the election, she promised rail for all – including a line from the Auckland waterfront to Dominion Rd to Mount Roskill, all to be completed by 2021.

The promise was part of a $15 billion package and came with a plea from Ms Ardern – she needed cash to fund it.

“You can call a regional fuel tax ‘crowd-sourcing’ if you like,” she told the public.

That part of the promise did come true: Aucklanders are paying the 10 cents a litre more at the pump.

But Labour hasn’t done the rail part.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Phil Twyford admitted the Government would fail to build light rail down Dominion Rd by 2021. Instead, he only expects work to start on it next year.

Mr Twyford’s defence is that promises made by Jacinda Ardern as Labour leader are completely different from promises made by Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister.

NZ Herald (6 August 2017): Jacinda Ardern outlines Labour’s light rail plan for Auckland

Labour is promising to build a 20km light rail line from the city to the airport as a priority – partly funded by higher petrol prices – leader Jacinda Ardern announced today.

She says Labour will build light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill within four years, followed by light rail from Mt Roskill to the airport and light rail to West Auckland within 10 years.

I wonder if this is another scrapping of an interim target but retaining the 10 year target (as the Government has done with KiwiBuild targets).

“I believe Labour’s plan is a game-changer. It will reduce the $2b a year that congestion costs Auckland. It will realise Auckland’s potential to be a truly world class city,” said Ardern.

She said Labour will give Auckland Council the power to introduce a regional petrol tax – understood to be 10 cents a litre – to help pay for light rail. Infrastructure bonds and targeted rates will also be used to fund transport in Auckland.

A world class city needs a rail connection from the CBD to its international airport – that’s why Labour will build light rail to Auckland Airport as a priority, said Ardern.

The fuel tax to fund it was a priority – it is already being paid in Auckland.

But the actual building seems to be less of a priority – or it was a promise made without a proper assessment of how long it might take to do.

Twyford was still talking up light rail in Auckland as a game changer yesterday in parliament, but the game was going into extra time.

Question No. 8—Transport

8. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Is he committed to building light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland and if so, when will work begin?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes. Light rail will be a game-changer for Auckland. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal, and each line will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour, the equivalent of four lanes of motorway. The light rail project will extend Auckland’s rapid transit network, a core part of our plan to build a modern transport system for the city. There is a procurement process under way now, so work has already started.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the Government on track to have built light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mount Roskill within four years of becoming Government, as promised by Jacinda Ardern in August 2017?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: At that point, Jacinda Ardern was not the Prime Minister.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That’s not answering—

SPEAKER: Well, it answered as much as the Minister has any responsibility for it.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, the core part of the question was—

SPEAKER: Well, the member can ask it again. Ask another question if he wants to.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the Government on track to have built light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mount Roskill within four years of becoming Government?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’ve expressed the view that we hope to have shovels in the ground in 2020. There’s a procurement process under way; that’s what we’re working towards.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is that another target he no longer intends to keep?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I reject the premise of the question.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does the Minister agree with infrastructure Minister Shane Jones’ message to Phil Goff about the light rail project: “I would say before Phil Goff gets too enthusiastic about the Dominion Road idea he needs to sort out how he’s going to fund the CRL project. It hasn’t been completed yet and now he’s got to find $500 million to $1 billion for that.”?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I would point out that the light rail project is being pursued through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and is expected to be funded and financed as part of that 30-year transport plan, and funded partly through the National Land Transport Programme. The member will know that the City Rail Link project that was entered into under the former National Government is funded through Crown contributions—completely separate from the National Land Transport Programme.

Twyford fobbed off the promise as “At that point, Jacinda Ardern was not the Prime Minister.” Does that mean that any promises made by Ardern during the election campaign are not worth the PR they were written by?

An implication raised here is that NZ First are not playing ball in Labour’s ambitious game changer.

Can any election ‘promise’ be taken seriously when governing agreements negate them?

Single party claims like “Labour will build light rail to Auckland Airport as a priority” are meaningless if Labour is not going to run a majority Government alone.

More from Minister of Health on GP fees promise

Minister of Health David Clark was pushed again today on the apparent decision to not fulfil an election promise to reduce GP fees by 1 July this year.

5. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Is it his intention to reduce GP fees for all New Zealanders by $10 per visit by 1 July 2018?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Last year, more than half a million New Zealanders couldn’t afford to visit the GP to get the care they needed. I’m not about to announce Budget details today, but what I can say is that the Government is committed to increasing the number of people that can afford to visit the doctor in the upcoming Budget.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Largely thanks to the curtailment of the question, it was very specific—it specified a reduction and a date—and I don’t think the question was addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: And the question was addressed.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he stand by his comments that Labour having to prioritise coalition commitments with the New Zealand First and Green parties is the reason the policy cannot be implemented from 1 July?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Coalition priorities will be delivered, and I’m not going to comment further on what will be announced on Budget day.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why, then, did he answer an oral question seeking assurance on Labour’s GP fees policy on 16 November, nearly a month after coalition agreements were signed, “That member refers to specific aspects of our policy as announced, and we intend to deliver on it.”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We do intend to deliver more affordable care at the level of GP visits. Under the last Government, GP visits went up 44 percent and there was underfunding in the health sector. We are determined to make access to primary care more affordable.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: When he told Morning Report, yesterday, that the Government “needed to prioritise the things that had been promised.”, was he telling New Zealanders the Government saw free tertiary fees for rich families and winter heating payments for retired millionaires as a higher priority than reducing the financial burden of GP visits on low-income households?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, then, in that case, isn’t the Minister really telling New Zealanders that despite the strong and improving economy the Government inherited, he overpromised, can’t count, and therefore can’t deliver on the pledges he made in Opposition.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.

The transcript referred to from 16 November 2017 is:

Dr Shane Reti: When he said at question time on Tuesday that more people would be able to access affordable primary healthcare, what specific health outcomes will that access deliver?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We know that when people can access primary care we have more prevention in the system, and that lowers their personal experience of sickness but also lowers cost in the health system.

Dr Shane Reti: What assurances can he give that by 1 July next year he will deliver GP visits that will cost the patient no more than $2 and $8 within the $250 million he promised in Labour’s election policy?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That member refers to specific aspects of our policy as announced, and we intend to deliver on it.

Jacinda Ardern promised on this policy before the election, and Labour now claim they have had to take into account demands of other parties in Government with them. But Clark repeated the commitment as Minister of Health after the coalition and confidence and supply agreements had been made.

How solid are campaign policies and pledges?

A lot of attention is given to policies and pledges and promises and hints during election campaigns. Parties argue for their own ‘if we are in Government’ pitches and examine and criticise opposing parties’ promises.

But how much weight should we put on campaign statements? The way MMP works, especially when there is a balance of power play like now, parties have to compromise, they have to give up some of their own policies and accept others.

Already we have seen that Peters appears to back off Maori seat referendum pledge.

If he stood by that pledge it would rule out governing with Labour (or so Labour have said before negotiations begin) so what would reduce his bargaining power substantially.

The way our MMP works all policies are negotiable after the election.

The cynical amongst us might think that some of the ‘promises’ are made to be broken by a junior party accommodation.

Greens knew that would have to have Labour to get into Government, so would have to give up some of their own policies and accept some of Labour’s.

Even though Labour and Greens had a Memorandum of Understanding to present a combined bid for government a core part of that agreement was to be able to have different policies. Even if Labour+Greens had been able to form a government on their own neither would be able to fulfil all their promises.

Peters has already made an adjustment, and with only 7-7.5% of the total vote will have to accept that many of the NZ First policies won’t (or shouldn’t) hold sway no matter which way they go.

There should always be big caveats considered on all campaign policies and pledges.

Metiria Turei’s unkeepable promise

Green co-leader Metiria Turei has attacked Nationals budget.

Today John Key could have chosen kids.

He could have backed all the young New Zealanders out there doing it tough.

But instead the Prime Minister chose to give the bare minimum of help to our poorest kids and abandon the hopes of our younger generations.

Sneering at the most significant benefit increase for decades.

This stingy Budget is not for our kids and it’s not for those under 40 – the abandoned generations.

If the economy is not working for everyone, it isn’t working at all.

And how would the Greens get the economy “working for everyone’?

New Zealanders needed something different, something more, from the Budget today and didn’t get it.

There is an alternative. The Green Party has a plan to retool the economy for a better, cleaner future which provides opportunity and prosperity for everyone.

What plan, apart from tax more and hand out more? “Prosperity for everyone” is not a plan, it’s an impossible dream.

The Green Party is the only party prepared to stand up for younger New Zealanders – and that’s a promise we’ll be keeping.

If standing up for younger New Zealanders means speaking up like this then it’s a promise Turei can keep. But it promises false hope.

But if it means achieving anything significant then I think it’s an unkeepable Green promise.