A couple of of months ago I wondered whether transport can be made into an election issue. Traditionally national elections are fought over issues like the economy, unemployment, health, education, taxes, crime and so forth. In fact, pretty much everything except transport – aside from transport nerds such as myself I doubt too many people choose their vote based on transport policy. This is something of a problem as most transport funding comes from central government, yet most of the time people voting on transport matters do so in local government elections.
Of course this is not to say that transport can’t get wrapped into other issues that people do vote on. Like ‘sensible’ economic policies, like environmental concerns and so forth. The current transport ‘stoush’ between Auckland Council and Central Government over priorities – with the council making the City Rail Link its top priority, whereas the government is more interested in motorway building – potentially represents an opportunity to make transport an election issue, in terms of creating a “the government doesn’t care about Auckland” line of discussion.
Already, it seems that opposition parties are polling a lot better in Auckland than they are elsewhere in the country, suggesting that there may be some discontent out there about these issues (especially as Auckland is typically quite politically neutral overall). Here are the results of a recent poll for the whole country:
Labour’s support dropped among decided voters by almost two points to 31.5 per cent – its second lowest since 1999.
This follows a three-point drop the month before. Its lowest was in July 2008 when it polled at 30.8 per cent.
National remained steady on 52 per cent in the poll of 750 eligible voters – enough to secure it 65 seats in Parliament and govern without requiring support from other parties.
But compare this to Auckland:
Labour does get some good news amidst the pre-election gloom of the poll – it made up ground among Auckland respondents where it had 38.6 per cent support, a four-point lift.
The gain was at the expense of National, which dropped from 52 to 47 per cent in Auckland.
While the creation of the Auckland Council was, in my opinion, an undoubtedly good thing, it has annoyed a lot of people who were quite attached to their old councils. So perhaps it is something of a “last straw” for some that the government now seems dead against working with the council. To some extent that obviously overplays things, as National is still ahead of Labour in Auckland, though the gap between the two is far far less than in the rest of the country.
It seems that Labour might be waking up to this fact that, at the very least, they may be able to get a good result in Auckland. There are three key electorate seats they have a chance of winning back: Auckland Central, Maungakiekie and (perhaps least likely) Waitakere. So it was interesting to see a line of questioning from Labour in parliament today on this “Auckland versus Government” issue:
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Does he endorse the transport elements of the draft Auckland Plan; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : It is not appropriate for me to endorse or otherwise any aspect of the draft Auckland plan at this time. The Auckland spatial plan is the Auckland Council’s plan, and the council will be consulting the community on it. The Government strongly endorses the process, but its role is to provide input, not to formally endorse it. With regard to transport elements, the Government will continue to consider individual projects on their merits if the Government or its agencies are called on to provide funding assistance. In this context it is important to remember that central government is currently contributing over $1 billion a year towards Auckland’s transport needs.
Phil Twyford: Can he confirm the New ZealandHerald’s report that he and Ministers Hide, Smith, and Heatley, at their 26 August meeting with the Auckland mayor and Auckland Council, could not stop browbeating the councillors over the draft plan’s commitment to urban intensification in a way that was “intimidating and small town”?
Hon Tony Ryall: What’s wrong with small towns?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I do not know that we should be picking on small towns. I point out that that was a view of a prominent left-wing politician from Auckland, who might have a slight conflict of interest, and it was reported by a prominent left-wing columnist from Auckland, who might also have a certain interest in this matter: a certain Mr B Rudman.
Phil Twyford: Does he accept that the alternative to a compact city supported by a modern public transport system is an Auckland that sprawls endlessly and a traffic jam from the harbour bridge to Whangarei?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not know that I would want to make too many comments on the Auckland plan at this point, but I would say that we on this side of the House believe strongly in people having the right to determine where they live and the way in which they want to live. We think it is an important principle, provided, of course, that they meet the cost of those decisions. I think that is an important point to make. I understand that Mr Twyford might have a strong view that everybody should live on top of each other, but others might disagree.
Jacinda Ardern: Is the city rail link his No. 1 transport priority for Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it is not, actually. The current priorities for Auckland are many and varied. They include the Waterview project, which the Government is building currently, the Victoria Park Tunnel project, the electrification of the rail in Auckland, the Newmarket Viaduct, and a number of other very important investments in Auckland. Currently, the central business district rail link has a benefit-cost ratio of about 0.3, and I think that we can all say that it probably needs to have an improvement in that before any responsible Government would seek to invest in it.
Phil Twyford: Why did his Government go to the trouble of creating a unified Auckland when it is very clear that the Government is determined to undermine and block Auckland Council’s plan for a world-class transport system and a compact city?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is simply incorrect. It is an important project for a unified Auckland. I think it is a very important project, and Auckland Council is currently consulting on its new spatial plan, which is a very important part of the unified Auckland process. I think it is great that it is doing so and that people are getting the opportunity to comment.
It does seem rather ironic to bring all of Auckland’s councils together so they could stop bickering with each other and get on with things, only to have nothing happen because now it’s central government bickering with the new council.