Trams to make a comeback? – Auckland’s 21st century Light Rail future

Everyone loves a comeback - trams set to make a 21st century return to Queen Street

Everyone loves a comeback – trams set to make a 21st century return to Queen Street

Auckland Transport’s announcement in January that it was seriously investigating a Light Rail solution for Auckland as a part of the draft Regional Land Transport Plan, came as a surprise to a lot of people but it’s the best news on the transport front for Auckland since the go ahead for rail electrification.

Auckland Transport (AT) has taken this remarkable step – leap more like it – because its modelling and number crunching in the City Centre Future Access Study kept pointing to the inescapable conclusion that by 2021, the recommended maximum of 130 buses per hour on key city corridors like Symonds Street will be seriously exceeded – even with the City Rail Link. This means chronic grid-lock.

AT is therefore scoping a modern Light Rail Transit (LRT) system comprising four lines, Dominion, Sandringham, Mt Eden and Manukau Roads, converging on Queen Street and Symonds Stree, with the first stage a 7 km Wynyard Quarter, Queens Street, Dominion Road line. Much more modest than Auckland’s historic 72km electric tramway but, in our time, without doubt a bold and visionary concept.

Auckland’s position is not unique. The world-wide revolution in urban mass transit which occurred 60 years ago, that saw light rail, (electric trams) replaced, mainly by diesel buses is now turning full circle – but this time buses in inner cities are giving way to modern high-tech light rail vehicles or trams. This is happening in small to large cities across Europe, North America and Asia. There are now 400 cities with LRT now operating. In Australia, in addition to Melbourne, the smart exception that held fast to its trams, Sydney has a major LRT construction underway, Gold Coast has completed the first 13km stage of its light rail system, Adelaide its expanding its light rail system and Canberra is a tender stage. Across the world 60 LRT networks are under construction and another 200 are planned. Apart from its basic transport efficiencies Light Rail has been a proven catalyst for urban development. Modern trams on the Gold Coast for instance have dramtically transformed the place, rescuing the Gold Coast from what once seemed an inevitable fate of tackiness, instead giving the place a European-style gravitas.

Light Rail Transit is more efficient and more economical, emission-free and much quieter than buses. As LRT carries more people, 300 – 450 passengers on a modern tram versus 60 people on a bus, it is passenger and therefore revenue rich. This heavy patronage (low-margin, high-turnover model) was of course a feature of the historic tram systems. Because of this facor all the NZ tram systems in the 20th century were unsubsidised and indeed ran at a modest profit. In regard to the Auckland tramway, when it was terminated in 1956, it was carrying over 80 million passengers a year when Auckland’s population was only around 300,000 people. After the trams were withdrawn public transport patronage levels in Auckland collapsed. Despite the population now being around 1.5 million, and the expenditure of billions of dollars in subsidies over recent years, public transport in Auckland has yet to fully recover from that disastrous decision. It is now just 79 million trips per annum for all modes. Yet in its first year of service in 1904, the Auckland Electric Tramways Co Ltd carried over 13 million trips per year (Auckland’s current train patronage level). This at a time when Auckland’s population was only 70,000 people. The company made a net profit of £20,823.00 in its first year and this increased modestly with patronage growth over the years.

The strength of LRT is its flexibility in the way it can operate. Running through inner cities, sharing the road with cars, buses and pedestrians, and then running through the suburbs, often on dedicated tracks, more like a train.

The private sector lobbying (from the oil motor industry interests) which was a feature in the removal of the trams in the mid-1950s, right across the world, is again a factor in the world-wide light rail revival. This time from international operating and infrastructure companies, interested in public-private partnerships These see Light Rail as mutually profitable for both cities (in terms of city building and transport solutions) and their shareholders.

This innate ‘bankability’ also makes start-ups financially feasible. A note of caution. If Auckland were to adopt Light Rail we would need to ensure that the financial efficiencies to be gained from the expected high patronage and lower cost operations are not cancelled out by the twin menace of local government gold-plating on the one hand, and rorting by the construction sector on the other – a particular danger in New Zealand’s monopolistic construction environment.

Auckland Transport first signalled its intentions for Light Rail in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan and despite this being a major surprise, the idea was well received by Aucklanders.. A total of 1390 public submissions were received on Light Rail and of those, the vast majority 1250 (89%) were in support, 73 were opposed and 74 not indicating an opinion either way.

Declaration: Mike Lee is a director of Auckland Transport and a qualified (heritage) tram driver.

This article appears in the Ponsonby News June 2015 edition

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With hundreds of millions of ratepayers and taxpayers money going into public transport, the question is, are we getting value for money?

Memorandum

To: Mayor and Councillors

From: Michael Lee, Auckland Councillor.

Date: 7 May 2015

Subject: Rail Operating Costs

I am providing this memo at the request of the Budget workshp of 6 May. I have periodically raised with Councillors and management serious concerns I have about the sharply increasing levels of operational costs of commuter rail and whether this is justified and ultimately affordable. I have raised these concerns with the Auckland Transport Board in my role as a director. Given the far-reaching rating decisions that are required to be made by the Council for the Long Term Plan, this matter is of material interest to the Governing Body.

Attachment 1 to this memo outlines a comparison between rail operations in Auckland and Wellington. Overall, while the two systems carry a broadly similar number of passengers (Auckland has pulled ahead in the past year), the Auckland rail network had a gross cost to operate of around $139m per year (2013/14), whereas Wellington’s gross cost is just over $85m for the same year. Furthermore, fare revenue received in Wellington is over $43m while in Auckland it’s just over $30m. Overall this leads to some major differences in the net cost per passenger of rail in Auckland and Wellington, as summarised below (2013/14 data):

  Auckland Wellington
Total subsidy per passenger $9.37 $3.68
Total subsidy per passenger km $0.65 $0.16

As explained further in attachment 1, I do not believe there are any fundamental reasons why the net cost of rail in Auckland should be more than twice that of Wellington on a per passenger basis. The introduction of electric trains and integrated ticketing should be driving down the cost of providing rail service in Auckland ( as predicted in the business cases for both these projects) yet this is not reflected in the total operational cost we are providing each year to Auckland Transport which continues to increase significantly.

I therefore propose an additional recommendation as part of our LTP decision-making process to encourage Auckland Transport to deliver better value-for-money from rail operational costs. If there are significant savings to be found in this area then that enables a lower level of rates increase in future years of the LTP, and frees up more funding for further investment in transport. My proposed recommendation is outlined below:

That the Budget Committee notes the significantly higher rail operating costs for Auckland compared to Wellington and requests the Chief Executive to work with Auckland Transport and report back on options for potential savings in these costs as part of developing the 2016/17 Annual Plan.

 

Attachment 1 – Comparison of Auckland and Wellington rail operating costs

Please find the results of bench-marking between Auckland and Wellington commuter rail operations. The key figures are publicly available in detail in the Wellington Metropolitan Rail 2013/14 Annual Report released in December 2014. Auckland’s figures are extracted from the Summary of Financial Results 29th July 2014 (AT Board open agenda).

Auckland Wellington
Pax boardings per year June 2014 (m) 11.435m 11.6m
Fare revenue received $30.63m $43.26m
Fare received-per-recorded boarding (average) $2.68 $3.72
Total Operating Costs (Including security) $139.285m $85.09m
Farebox Recovery 22% 50%
Ratepayer Subsidy ($m) $43.3m $18.84m
NZTA Subsidy ($m) $63.92m $23.9m
Total Subsidy rates & NZTA ($m) $107.2m $42.74m
Total Subsidy per passenger $9.37 $3.68
Total passenger km (m) 165.5m/km 274m/km
Opex per passenger km ($) $0.84 $0.32
Fare per passenger km ($) $0.19 $0.16
Subsidy per passenger km ($) $0.65 $0.16

 

Please note that despite almost identical numbers of passenger boardings recorded in year ended June 2014, the cost/revenue disparity between the two operations: Wellington Regional Council/KiwiRail and Auckland Council/Auckland Transport Transdev/Kiwirail, has increased markedly since my previous benchmark exercise in March 2014.

Note Wellington’s station train security costs ($1.711m) are declared in the WRC Metropolitan Rail Annual Report, whereas Auckland’s are commercially confidential and so I have not detailed them. However they are significantly higher than Wellington’s both in real terms and proportionately given the similar numbers of passengers carried. Auckland train/station security costs are increasing significantly.

Please note the total operating cost differential between the two operations (gross figures) over two financial years 2012/13 and 2013/14:

2012/13. Auckland $116.06m.Wellington $81.20m.Auckland $34.86m more costly (ie 43%) more costly than Wellington.

2013/14.Auckland $139.285m Wellington $85.09m.Auckland $54.20 million more costly (ie 61%) more costly than Wellington (for a very similar amount of recorded passenger boardings).

In regard to revenue received, the difference is:

2012/13. Auckland. $27.13m. Wellington $40.40m

2013/14.Auckland $30.63m. Wellington $43.26m

Therefore in 2013/14, Auckland’s train fare revenue received was $12.63 million (29.2%) less than Wellington’s for a similar number of recorded passenger boardings.

Net figures. Deducting revenue from total operating costs reveals a greater disparity.

2012/13. Auckland net costs: $88.93. Wellington net costs $40.80m.

Auckland net costs $48.13 million more than Wellington.

2013/14. Auckland net costs $108.66m. Wellington net costs $41.82m.

Therefore Auckland’s net costs are $66.84 million more than Wellington’s. That is 2.6 times that of Wellington’s – or to express it differently – the net coperational costs of Wellington rail would need to increase by 160% per year to be at the same level as Auckland.

Netting out these figures not only compounds the significant cost difference but also reveals a major revenue disparity. In other words Auckland not only has a cost problem it also has an apparent major revenue loss problem.

In a report to the AT Board last year management stated that ‘many key differences will be mitigated when Auckland introduces a new electric fleet of trains.’ Management also pointed to the ‘mature’ nature of Wellington’s public transport usage and also pointed to ‘topographical differences’ between the two cities. The weight placed on the last two points is however debatable when it comes to proportionate cost and revenue numbers. However it is fair to say Wellington’s electric service is fully operational while Auckland’s is not yet completely rolled out. But it is important to remember Wellington also runs diesel SA/SD type trains (SW) on the Wairarapa line and to Palmerston North and diesel operations in Wellington will continue for the forseeable future. The actual fuel & traction cost differences for 2012/13 (last figures available) were Auckland $11.29m and Wellington $4.2m – Therefore Auckland’s fuel/traction costs were just over $7m more than Wellington’s. But even the if there was elimination of fuel/traction costs differences with the full roll out of Auckland electric trains, this will make only a marginal difference to the overall cost disparity.

More significant are ‘labour’ cost differences revealed in 2012/13 (I do not have more recent figures): Auckland $44.2m. Wellington $25m. ‘Labour’ costs for Auckland’s operation in 2012/13 were $19.2 million more than Wellington’s.

This labour cost differential persists and is difficult to explain given Wellington has a manual ‘clippy’ staff system and Auckland has a full automated smart card system but (and I think this is absolutely critical to the whole problem), only three stations, Britomart, Newmarket and Manukau are gated. Most telling are the fare box recovery figures: Auckland 22% Wellington 50%. This is slightly down from 2012/13 (Auckland 23.3%, Wellington 50%). Government expectations are that fare box ratios should be 50% but Auckland has been moving in the opposite direction. Fare increases, especially those of two and three years ago, were corelative with a lower fare box ratio, presumably because of higher evasion and a period of patronage decline.

In 2010/11 Auckland’s rail operating costs were $56.1m. Opex costs for the current 2014/15 are budgeted to be $158.668m. Patronage for 2010/11 was 10.3m pax, the current year’s patronage is likely to be 13.5m.

Summary

The issue of significant cost/revenue differences between the Auckland and Wellington commuter rail operations appear to be systemic and is suggestive of much more detailed analyses to explain them. However two simple facts are clear. The Auckland commuter rail operation has a major cost problem as well as a significant revenue loss problem. A similar benchmark exercise for year 2014/2015 is likely to reveal an even greater disparity between the cost of Auckland and Wellington operations and raise questions about the ultimate sustainability of these costs which ultimately fall on Auckland ratepayers and taxpayers. It would not be unreasonable to ask in light of the circumstances, are ratepayers and taxpayers getting value for money from this service?

Please find link to the Greater Wellington Metro Rail annual report:

http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/council-reports/Report_PDFs/2014.648a1.pdf

 

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Waitemata Harbour, Port and waterfront – Auckland Council leadership in over its head

Despite the mayor and council chief executive’s belated warnings, the Ports of Auckland appears to be pushing ahead with the $22m first stage of extending the Bledisloe container terminal nearly 100 metres out into the harbour. Thumbing its nose at its legal shareholder and the people of Auckland.

The public interest group Urban Auckland is taking the port company to court (all power to them) but the case won’t be heard for weeks. Meanwhile an unprecedented collision appears inevitable.

What has become clear over the last year is that the Auckland Council leadership, both elected and appointed, is out of its depth when it comes to dealing with Auckland’s port, harbour and waterfront. In the case of the Ports of Auckland reclamation, the council has lurched erratically from ‘nod-nod, wink–wink’ to talking about a ‘thermo-nuclear’ response. In fact Auckland Council has been guilty of sending mixed messages to the port company – conniving in issuing resource consents and keeping those consents secret for weeks, despite the obvious public interest – until their existence was leaked to the media by a ‘waterfront source’. The port company is obviously assuming the council’s tough talk is just for public consumption. In some ways there is a sense of inevitability about this latest crisis. The council leadership has been almost desperate to be ‘business-friendly’ and this attitude is reflected down the chain of command. This is especially noticeable when it comes to the issuing of resource consents, of which only around 1% are publicly-notified in Auckland. As we have seen, it is this more than anything else that is really generating public anger at the council. While this has been going on all over the Auckland region, it largely passes unnoticed (the exception being the council’s non-notified consent to cut down a mature kauri in an area ostensibly protected by the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act). But anything related to the harbour or waterfront is a deeply sensitive matter to Aucklanders.

The latest example of this is the Barfoot & Thompson $1.5m ‘state house’ sculpture, to be subsidised by ratepayers up to half a million, and intended to be plonked on a prime spot at the end of Queens Wharf. While this creation is deemed to be ‘public art’, the council and its ‘public arts’ officers are responding to public concerns exactly like the Ports of Auckland – by ignoring them. They too are pushing ahead in the face of public opposition.

Instead of listening, again like the Ports of Auckland, the council is engaging in a spin campaign, changing the name of the proposed artwork from a ‘state house’ (a somewhat counter-intuitive reference to its sponsor, the real estate corporate Barfoot & Thompson) to a ‘lighthouse’. Presumably this is an attempt to give the artwork some sort of maritime context. Ok that’s not a crime in itself, but what I find objectionable is to have council officers assert in a public meeting that the artwork never was a ‘state house’.   There was some irony here, as just before that particular meeting, one councillor colleague, a supporter of the ‘state house’, circulated a gushy piece from Metro that praised the yet-to-be artwork in fulsome terms. Sample: “First, let’s get the definition right. This isn’t a state house. It’s a sculpture, based on the form of a state house. Parekowhai’s work won’t provide anyone with shelter, but it will have profound metaphorical force, as a reminder of a time when we managed to marry massive national wealth to progressive social values.” And so on.

But the sketches of the proposed sculpture never looked like a ‘state house’ and even less so a ‘light house’. Moreover lighthouses are not located inside ports, or on wharves but on exposed capes and islands as a warning and signpost to ships at sea. But my concern here is not to bag the artwork or the artist, or indeed his admirers. It’s not about that.

As the elected representative of Waitemata and Gulf and the former ARC chairman who led the acquisition of Queens Wharf to open it up for the public, my concern is to see that the public’s concerns and aspirations for the waterfront and the harbour are respected. Given the council has chosen so far to ignore the public opposition to the ‘state house/lighthouse’, it should at least ensure that the resource consent for the erection of this edifice on Queens Wharf is publicly notified – as indeed it should be under the Regional Plan (Coastal). This would provide the opportunity for the public to have its say on whether it should go there, or somewhere else. But instead Auckland Council and Waterfront Auckland (the CCO allotted the task of delivering the artwork) are once again seeking to cut the public out of the legal process. No wonder there is rising anger at the arrogance of Auckland Council and its unlovely ‘family’ of CCOs. This is not how a democratic society is meant to work. Auckland deserves better than this.

 

This article was published in the May issue of Ponsonby News.

 

A few days after the magazine went to print, the Council agreed to public notify the resource consent for the statehouse/lighthouse art work. One week later led by the mayor, deputy-mayor and chief executive the council backed down from its tough talk with the Ports of Auckland by accepting a so-called ‘compromise’ of a one wharf extension. This was achieved by use of the mayor’s casting vote.

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The battle for the Waitemata Harbour. ‘Hitherto shalt thou come – but no further’

The way the council has gone about backing down on its agreed September 2013 Unitary Plan policy of making reclamations of the Waitemata Harbour ‘non complying’ is deeply worrying.   The original policy was soundly-based, had strong political support and was in response to widespread public concern that it was time that 150 years of harbour reclamation was brought to an end. That the public have any idea at all about what has happened in regard to council decisions about the fate of this policy over the last month is largely due to unauthorised leaking of information.   First of all leaking of details of the secret committee meeting by a person or persons present at the meeting and secondly leaking to the media about a legal opinion, the existence of which was kept from councillors.

The details that appeared in the NZ Herald articles are substantially correct. As reports revealed, at the first behind-closed-doors meeting in February a senior council planner told the councillors that in the planner’s professional view the original policy could and would not be defended by that officer or any other council officers, and therefore if the councillors wished to retain the policy, outside experts would have to be hired to defend the policy before the Unitary Plan commissioners. But that in itself, the planner was careful to point out, would clearly signal to the commissioners that the council officers were not in support of their Council’s policy.   It was made clear that if the councillors wished to avoid that embarrassment, the policy would have to be weakened to make smaller harbour reclamation consents non-notified and the larger reclamation consents discretionary, and only notified subject to the usual officer ‘tests’ of notification (and we all know how that works).

But the day after that meeting I was stunned to learn in the NZ Herald of the existence of a legal report said to be in the possession of council officers that argued quite the contrary. In fact when the legal opinion was finally provided to a subsequent meeting of the council, we were to discover it was commissioned in 2013 in response to assertions by the Ports of Auckland legal counsel Mai Chen that the council’s ‘non-complying’ policy was ‘illegal’. This was absolute nonsense of course.

In fact the opinion by the very reputable RMA lawyer and coastal specialist, Ian Cowper pointed out that as well as there being no basis to the claim that the policy was illegal he went on to advise that all forms of reclamation should be ‘non complying’. It worries me deeply and it should worry everyone, that council officers would make a case to the councillors to back down on an agreed public policy position without telling us of the existence of this legal opinion, the advice of which was in fundamental conflict with their own.

Then, directly related to the proposed future harbour reclamation, we learned (again via the newspaper), that non-notified consents had been given for two new wharves extending nearly 100 metres long out into the harbour, off Bledisloe container terminal on either side of the planned reclamation.

Information is power and the full sharing of information is axiomatic to sound decision-making in a democratic society. The suppression of vital information in this affair, about a matter of the highest public interest – the future of the Waitemata Harbour – is a cause for grave concern.

 As public anger grows, not just at the u-turn in policy but at the very questionable way this was achieved, a protest organisation has been formed, ‘Stop Stealing our Harbour’. Its campaign was launched in the Herald with a full-page ad featuring the names of 110 prominent New Zealanders, followed by a big protest meeting on Queens Wharf. This is just the beginning.

 The Waitemata Harbour has been repeatedly reclaimed, hundreds and hundreds of hectares of it, since the 1860s. Now is the time to draw a line. The Waitemata Harbour must be saved for present and future generations. This is an enormously important issue for Aucklanders. The mayor and those councillors and council planners who continue to ignore their own legal advice to defy the public will must change their attitude. The message to Ports of Auckland and the Auckland Council comes from the Bible, the Book of Job. ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.’

 

This article is dedicated to the late Darcy O’Brien, former Commissioner of Crown Lands, who first raised the alarm about Waitemata Harbour reclamation in the 1970s, and who campaigned against reclamation right up to his death at 96 in July 2014.

This article was published in the April 2015 issue of Ponsonby News

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Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council – ‘rogerpolitics alive and well

The last month has seen a series of unhappy incidents that remind us that the neo-liberal reforms of the 80s and 90s still have a baleful influence on our public life – even in our ‘most liveable’ super city.

 We rightly associate ‘rogernomics’, with the privatisation of publicly-owned assets. But there is much more to it than that. Neo-liberalism isn’t just about privatisation, it is about the wholesale colonisation of the public sector by the private.   At a basic level in the council this means work that was originally carried out by council works and parks staff is now invariably contracted out to private businesses.

 When the bright sparks in Wellington first brought in this policy they argued it would mean council costs would come down. That didn’t happen – after the laying-off of the council works staff, trucks and bulldozers and years of local knowledge and know-how, costs to ratepayers sky-rocketed and continue to do so. But there is also a mental colonisation where all too often ‘busy-friendly’ councils place the interests of big business and developers ahead of the public interest.

 There is yet another aspect to rogernomics – what Professor Richard Mulgan famously called ‘rogerpolitics’. By this Mulgan meant public bodies that were once governed by democratically elected people, harbour boards, power boards, water and wastewater utilities and the like being replaced by corporatized entities. The argument from the reformers in Wellington of the time was that as these entities were revenue earning they would be better off run by private business people, (and suites of high powered managers – and eventually privatised).  Auckland Transport was the brainchild of the architects of the Super City, Steven Joyce and Rodney Hide. They argued in 2009 that even though public transport is not revenue earning (in fact it costs ratepayers and taxpayers a lot of money), it needed to be corporatized – become a ‘council controlled organisation’, or CCO. However in response to widespread criticisms voiced in the select committee process, pointing out that over 50% of council rates go into public transport, the government gave ground. As a concession it made provision in the legislation for two elected councillors to be appointed to the board of Auckland Transport. Cr Chris Fletcher and myself were nominated by the mayor on the basis of our experience in public transport. This arrangement, a board comprising a mixture of commercial people and councillors has been in place since 2010. However early in February I learned via the media that the deputy mayor, Penny Hulse was recommending that councillors should be removed from the board of Auckland Transport. This on the alleged grounds that councillors (representing the ratepayers), have an innate ‘conflict of interest’. This is complete nonsense of course and the idea raised a media storm – it was postponed and remains to be resolved politically. Following hard on that ideological flatulence, came the shock disclosure that the council-owned CCO, Ports of Auckland acting like a rogue private company, had wangled non-notified consents from council bureaucrats to build two massive wharfs extending 100 metres into the harbour from the present Bledisloe reclamation. Then, as revealed in the Herald, (though it was meant to be a secret meeting) councillors were persuaded to back down on provisions in the Unitary Plan that would have made it tougher for Ports of Auckland to extend reclamations into the harbour. This, the Herald reported was on the advice of a senior council planning officer that the policy was legally un-defendable. However, I was shocked to learn from the same Herald article that legal advice commissioned by the council but never shown to the councillors states the opposite. That in fact the original policy, strongly supported by the public, was indeed legally sound. It appears that critical information was knowingly withheld from the councillors by council officers who appear to be putting the demands of the port company and its lawyers ahead of those of the wishes of the public. If this wasn’t bad enough a few days later, the port company revealed it had began to demolish the historic Marsden Wharf, obviously to up the ante on its demands for more cargo (car parking) space.

 However I can end my article on a happy note. I am proud to say the board of Auckland Transport rejected the advice of its management and the recommendation of the planning commissioner and voted to save the Great North Road pohutukawa trees. Congratulations to those concerned Aucklanders and the Waitemata Local Board who campaigned tirelessly to save these trees – and to my Auckland Transport director colleagues for their wise decision. Destroying six pohutukawa trees for another lane of roadway was an ill-conceived, foolish idea – but it pales compared to the plans now underway by Ports of Auckland to reclaim vast areas of the Waitemata Harbour to park more cars.

 

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Solidarity with ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and the people of France

I planned to write something entirely non-political this month – about the latest conservation news on the Gulf islands – but now feel compelled to offer a few words on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. While the tragedy is in many ways rather unique to the particular political and social circumstances in France, it certainly raises questions for everyone living in a modern, multi-cultural society – including ours. On that note, comments by Derek Fox of the Maori Party supporting the self-proclaimed ‘Jihadist’ killers were frankly rather sickening, but not entirely surprising.

What I found even more disappointing were the reactions of some liberals, thankfully a minority, whose response was along the lines of “I’m not trying to justify mass-murder…[well that’s nice to know], but…” and who then went on to criticise the dead journalists – in effect rationalising their murder.

While this ‘but’ argument was somewhat more delicately put than Derek Fox’s Fascist-like outburst, if such thinking is indicative of more than a few here in New Zealand then surely we have challenges ahead maintaining our hard-won secular, democratic political culture. A culture based on post-enlightenment rationalism – a cultural legacy, as a matter of fact, we very much owe France.

I personally don’t go in for purposely offending anyone but I salute the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists as brave men and women taking on a brutal ‘Jihadist’ tyranny with their pens, despite the dangerous consequences. As the French say they had ‘cran’. In other words ‘guts’.

It is pertinent to point out that this outrage did not come out of nowhere; and must be viewed in the context of the current political state of the Middle-East and North Africa. The whole region is now a running sore as the result of hard-line Israeli expansionist policies on the one hand, and on the other, years of meddling by the US and NATO, particularly in the violent overthrow of secular regimes in Iraq, Libya and Syria. This has created absolute chaos and given free rein to the extremists. From time to time I recall the lead up to the fateful US-British invasion of Iraq in early 2003, and marching up Queen Street, with my wife and hundreds of other Aucklanders chanting, ‘No blood for oil’. Little good did that do but at least the Clark government kept us out of it. That no doubt took some courage, especially standing up the United States and its foolish ‘coalition of the willing’.

Speaking of courage, I have to say how much I admired the position taken by commentator Paul Thomas in his thought-provoking article in the NZ Herald on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Thomas poured scorn on the ‘instant experts on satire’ and what Salman Rushdie called the ‘But Brigade’, those rather self-righteous liberal souls who in this case couldn’t wait to criticise the dead journalists, even before they had been laid to rest; their fashionable political correctness, I noted, laced with a dash of old-fashioned Francophobia.

 I agree with Thomas, there should be no ‘buts’ over murderous attacks on the freedom of expression. Like millions of other around the world I express my deep sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims and the people of France.

 (This article was published in the February edition of Ponsonby News.)

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Update on Motu Kaikoura

Motu Kaikoura rat management programme –

progress report.

 

Michael Lee Trustee. December 2014.

 

Motu Kaikoura (535ha) is a crown-owned scenic reserve purchased in 2004 after a public campaign, by a combination of government (Nature Heritage Fund), ARC, city councils and ASB Community Trust funding. It is administered by the Motu Kaikoura Trust, which was established by the Minister of Conservation in 2005. The regenerating island was infested with exotic mammals, fallow deer (Dama dama), ship rat (Rattus rattus) and kiore (Rattus exulans). Fallow deer were eradicated from the island in 2008 but an attempt to eradicate rats in the same year by two aerial applications of brodifacoum failed

The Motu Kaikoura Biodiversity Management Plan (March 2012) states:

Animal pest control recommendations. Method of control.

Target all rodent species (ship rats, kiore) and aim to contain ≤5% relative abundance (as measured by rodent monitoring…) by establishing a 100 x 100m grid of bait stations.

A plan to achieve this objective was drawn up and presented to the trustees in January 2014. The operational work was to be largely carried out by Trust contractor Clint (and Jacinda) Stannard and by the island caretakers Robbie Smith and Moana Kake. The plan was approved by the Trust at its February 2014 meeting.

 

 

Additional to the 200 or so Philproof bait stations and rat ‘motels’ already on the island, 120 additional rat motels were built by trust volunteers in mid-2013 and installed along the new 15 km perimeter track. Operations began in late February, with brodifacoum bait (Pestoff 20 ppm), 4 blocks placed per station, along the perimeter track, divided between East and West Track components; as well as the Road Track, between Bradshaws Cove and the island settlement, (the former Lodge site); Pahangahou Track, from the airfield to Overlook; and Parihakoakoa Track which extends from the Road Track by the Airfield northwest towards Nelson Point.

 

The network was subsequently extended and expanded with 6 tracks, listed below in June, then another two tracks, the Badlands Track, 18 stations, blazed in mid-November, and the House Track, 12 stations, opened in late November (7 km in all). A Coastal Line of bait stations around the island’s 16.5 km coastline was progressively extended and completed in October. All bait stations have been checked and re-baited on a fortnightly basis. Brodifacoum bait, Pestoff (20 ppm) was replaced in July with Brigand (50 ppm). Then in November Pestoff was phased back in.

 

The island network presently comprises 502 stations (not counting the off-island control line). This is still somewhat less than the 535 needed to make up an optimal 100 x 100 grid, but bait stations have also been augmented by approximately 50 bait bags stapled to the bases of tree stems (eg in the Bradshaw Valley, Overlook and around the old farm house and old sheds). In December 2014, bait blocks were hand-cast down steep faces, impossible to access by other means.

 

The present list of bait station tracks and lines is as follows:

East Track 96 stations

Coastal Line 140 stations

Slip Track 26 stations

Barn Track 5 stations

Vodafone Track 8 stations

End of Airstrip Track 5 stations

West Link Track 4 stations

Fence Line Track 8 stations

Badlands Track 18 stations

House Track 12 stations

Stellin (control) Track on nearby mainland 10 stations

Total (managed by Clint & Jacinda Stannard) 332 stations

 

West Track 62 stations

Road Track 44 stations

Airfield Track 7 stations

Parihakoakoa 42 stations

Pahangahou 25 stations

Total (managed by Robbie Smith & Moana Kake) 180 stations

 

Total number of stations in the field (motels and Philproofs): 512 (including Stellin)

Total length of formed tracks and roads: 24.5km

Total length of coast line: 16.5 km

 

Results of baiting programme – February to December 2014.

 

Station by station data has been recorded by our on-island workers and reported on a fortnightly basis. Data inputted to excel sheets expressed in histograms illustrate the progress achieved.

The following histograms indicate actual bait taken, rather than percentages.

Here is a sample of the main tracks.

 

East Track (96 stations, 384 bait blocks)

 

West Track (62 stations, 248 bait blocks)

 

 

 

Parihakoakoa Track (42 stations, 168 bait blocks)

 

 

Road Track and Airfield Track (51 stations, 204 bait blocks)

 

Pahangahou Track (25 stations, 100 bait blocks)

 

 

Slip Track (26 stations, 104 bait blocks)

 

Coastal Line (140 stations, 560 bait blocks).

 

 

 

Index Monitoring results 2010 – 2014

 

It is assumed that the aerial bait operation in the winter of 2008 removed less than 100% of the target rats. After the aerial drop and the eradication of the last fallow deer, after a hiatus of 3 to 6 months, rats, identified as kiore and ship rats, assumed to be survivors, in a significantly improved habitat, boosted by rats swimming from the mainland (confirmed by DNA testing), and in the absence of natural predators, underwent what appears to have been a population irruption.

 

We can hindcast that from a very low population base after the aerial drop, rat levels increased to between 5 -10 % relative density by December 2009.

 

In December 2010 rat levels were monitored across the island by Auckland Council Biosecurity (former ARC) officers, who established the existing 5 x 10 tunnel monitoring lines and found the relative density to be 16%.

 

In February 2012 (just over one year later) rat levels again were monitored by the Council and were recorded at 28%.

 

In December 2012 rat monitoring by the Trust and Unitec (Mel Galbraith’s Natural Sciences student team) recorded a relative density of 43%.

 

In July 2013 monitoring by the Trust indicated a relative density of 77.6%. Two stations (West Track and Overlook) indicating 100%.

 

In December 2013 the monitored density levels were just over 59%. While this was a reduction of 16.6% on the figures of July 2013 – this was significantly higher (16%) than the figure for the previous December. The only positive to be taken from this was the information on just how high rat numbers could reach, without competitors and natural predators. Given the fall-off in numbers (with only cursory trapping and poisoning) from July to December, the December 2013 relative density level of 59% is likely to be at around the island’s natural rat carrying capacity

 

This year, a combination of circumstances and bad weather over a prolonged winter, limited opportunities for light plane visits and prevented planned winter monitoring. Nevertheless the baiting work proceeded methodically.

 

To calibrate significantly declining bait-take evident from August onward and to confirm this was not due to bait avoidance, an index monitoring exercise was thought useful, rather than waiting for December. The first practical opportunity for this was on 3 November when trustees flew to the island and activated four of the five monitoring lines (Bradshaws (10 stations), Lodge (4 stations), Overlook (East Track) 10 stations and Mangrove Valley (East Track), 6 stations. This produced a remarkably good result of only one set of rat prints detected out of 30 cards, therefore 3.3%. On the 12 November the writer revisited the island, during which time the West ridge monitoring line was activated and produced. This one set of footprints in one of the 10 tunnels. Combined the results, this works out at 5%. However it must be pointed out that this is not an ‘official’ result – the exercise was carried out with the principal purpose of confirming bait station trends.

 

We have not publicised these results until now because the Trust’s official monitoring exercise (and annual bird count) was scheduled to take place in mid-December. Unfortunately this expedition (by the Unitec Natural Sciences team) was cancelled due to severe weather and will now take place in mid-January. Also the November monitoring took place on two separate occasions, (albeit separated only by eight days) – which is not ideal. These results in the meantime provide a useful indicator and confirm that the recorded bait-take decline reflects a real decline in the rat population, and that bait avoidance is not a significant problem. These results are enormously encouraging – especially compared to the situation one year ago.

 

 

Index monitoring results past over the past 18 months

 

                                    July 2013                    Dec 2013                     Nov 2014

 

Lodge (RM1)                         3/7          (43%)         2/7   (29%)                     0/4           (0%)

Bradshaws (RM2)               7/10       (70%)           7/9   (78%)                     1/10        (10%)

Mangrove Valley (RM3)    9/12       (75%)             3/9   (33%)                    0/6          (0%)

West Ridge (RM4)              9/9        (100%)       10/10  (100%)                 1/10         (10%)

Overlook (RM5)                   10/10    (100%)         4/9    (45%)                   0/10          (0%)

79%                           59%                                        5%

 

 

 

Motu Kaikoura. Rat relative densities December 2008 – November 2014

 

Current Situation

 

A steady trend of declining bait take, confirmed by the tracking tunnel monitoring on 3-4 November and 11-12 November would indicate hundreds of hectares of the island – especially the interior – are now clear of rats.   This data is supported by natural cues, such as noticeably higher numbers of native birds visible across the island – especially native pigeons – and numerous weta prints in tracking tunnels. Also notable is the sight of untouched puriri (Vitex lucens) fruit and untouched windfall rewarewa (Knightia excelsa) flowers, lying on the East Track.

 

Workers have now been asked to activate the snap traps placed in the rat motels to pick up any possible bait-avoiding or poison-resistant rats. To broaden bait station attraction, Brigand bait has been augmented in each station with the more recently purchased and differently flavoured Pestoff.

 

While much of the interior of the island appears to have been cleared, an area of infestation still remains along the southwestern coast, especially from coastal station 120 to 138 (please see fig.1 and fig.8). This coincides with that section of the West Track where rats have been trapped.  That is to be expected as the Coastal Line stations are relatively new – the line was only completed in October. However the trend of bait-take on the Coastal Line, indicates the same decline as the other lines. Attention now focuses on trapping. Low numbers of rats (bait avoiders?) have been trapped. Trapping results will be collated and be made available along with the official index monitoring results in January.

 

Of the 502 bait stations in the field, only 24 now show signs of rat activity – (of those, 22 of these are in the Coastal Line) while 488 bait stations are now indicating no activity. Approximately 2560 bait blocks are available in stations, mostly a combination of Pestoff and Brigand baits, and approximately 50 blocks in bait bags, across the island. 180 kg of bait has been used since the programme began in February, with bait take declining to very low figures in recent weeks (see graphs).

 

It is important to note the programme is ongoing and that we have yet to deploy our full resources. There is 190 kg of brodifacoum bait in hand, (14 x 8 kg containers of Brigand and 8 x 10 containers of Pestoff), 40 x Philproof stations and 22 Albia snap-traps. These resources will be progressively deployed when new lines are opened, and elsewhere as necessary.

 

Next Steps

 

Hopefully remaining rat presence along the southwestern coastline will have been mopped-up by the end of January 2015. Checking of bait stations by field workers has now been reduced to once per month, with the exception of the Coastal Line, though traps will be serviced once per fortnight. Several new lines will be cut.

 

It is now feasible for the Trust to go on to try to achieve a zero rat relative density level across the island. The 17 December meeting of the Motu Kaikoura Trust, after reviewing progress of the programme over the last year, formally resolved as a policy to replace the previous 5% rat relative density objective, with the objective to use best endeavours to achieve and maintain the island at 0% rat relative density.

 

The results of the January monitoring will be reported to DOC. stakeholders and the public, as soon as it has been completed.

 

Conclusion

In summary I am pleased to report the Motu Kaikoura rat management programme has made successful headway – thanks in large part to the dedicated efforts of our contractors Clint and Jacinda Stannard and the island caretakers Robbie Smith and Moana Kake, and with the support of DOC and Auckland Council.

 

Motu Kaikoura at 535ha (Taylor 1989) or 564 ha (certificate of title) is the largest New Zealand island in which a serious attempt to reduce rats to zero-density levels using bait stations has been made. The second biggest island to successfully employ bait station techniques was Ulva Island (270 ha) off Stewart Island, declared rat-free by DOC in 1997. Ulva is approximately half the size of Motu Kaikoura. The largest island in the Hauraki Gulf to successfully eradicate rats using bait stations was Rakino Island (147ha) by the ARC in 2000. In each of these cases the rat species targeted was Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). On Motu Kaikoura the target rodents have been ship rat and kiore.

 

The Motu Kaikoura Trust can be reasonably confident that by the end of first 12 months of operation (end of January 2015) our programme will have achieved its original objectives. Next year, hopefully after achieving a confirmed zero rodent relative density we will then modify our operation to a more defensive strategy to safeguard the island’s new status. We will also be extending operations – baiting and 6 monthly follow-up checks to the islands of the Grey Group and where possible working cooperatively with the private owner of Motuhaku and Nelson Islands and Glenfern Sanctuary to clear and keep rats off these islands. It is of course important to remember that as an inshore island, Kaikoura’s close proximity to the Great Barrier mainland will always be problematic for biosecurity. Reinvasion by ‘swimmers’ can be expected, especially in the Autumn, but there is now a comprehensive system in place to ensure any future rat incursion on the island is temporary and ecologically not significant.

 

The Motu Kaikoura Trust once having confirmed <5% rat relative density and ideally 0% relative density, and therefore ‘sanctuary’ status, can then turn some of its focus from the biosecurity of Motu Kaikoura to the island’s biodiversity and its amenity.

 

Acknowledgements:

We wish to thank DOC Auckland Partnerships Manager Pieter Tuinder and Funds Adviser Anna-Mareia Hammond for their very helpful assistance and support in securing a funding grant of $18,250 (including GST) in two tranches. This on the basis of $9125.25 contribution from the Motu Kaikoura Trust.

 

The programme has also received welcome assistance from Auckland Council Biosecurity Manager Brett Butland who arranged a donation of 20 x 8kg containers of Brigand bait.

 

Assistance has been also given by Todd Bolton at Sealink whose barge delivered the bait stations and there has ben assistance from the DOC vessel Hauturu for delivering bait. Finally warm thanks also to Scott Sambell of Glenfern Sanctuary for inputting our GPS data into his ArcGIS computer programme enabling the production of a detailed map of the island, its tracks, bait stations and monitoring lines.

 

 

 

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Let’s get the trams across to Britomart

Trams are back in the news of late.  Auckland Transport planners theorise that Light Rail is the best option for future rail to the airport.  I disagree with that (which you might find surprising coming from such an avowed tram advocate), but putting it simply, Light Rail, or trams, cannot provide a rapid, single-seat journey from Auckland International Airport to the city centre.  On the other hand, electric trains – Onehunga Station is only 9km from the airport – certainly could.

Trams in reality – not in theory – are now back in the Wynyard Quarter, after a break of 19 months while major road works took place.   These are Waterfront Auckland’s heritage ‘Dockline’ trams – and they will be running on weekends from 10am til 4pm and Friday’s 4pm – 7pm until Christmas.  Then, on Boxing Day until the end of January, it will be seven-days-a-week. After that there will be another break as the last section of road works gets underway for a few more months.  There are also new, cheaper fares: family $5, adult $2 and child $1.  Up until their enforced layoff in May 2013, despite the unfortunate over-pricing of the tickets at the start, the heritage trams, painted in traditional Auckland carnation-red livery, (with serial numbers 256 and 257, continuing on from the last Auckland trams), proved to be popular with the public. Despite the carping critics, more than 93,800 Wynyard Quarter visitors took the opportunity to take a ride on them.

Wynard trams - ready to roll. (photo Albert Chan)

Wynard trams – ready to roll. (photo Albert Chan)

It was the first time trams had run in downtown Auckland streets since 1956.  This was the fateful year that the city fathers, despite public opposition, ended tram services, dismantled the overhead wires, and destroyed most of the trams, selling the rest off as batches or sheds. Not content with that, and at huge cost for that time, they ripped out the 72km of tracks that reached most of the Auckland isthmus –obviously with the intention of making damned sure they could never be brought back.

This was an Auckland tragedy.  Up until that time, trams alone carried over 80 million of 100 million public transport passenger trips per year. Given that Auckland’s population was then only around 300,000 people and that now, 58 years later, with a population around 1.5 million, we carry only 74 million passenger trips a year – gives us some idea just how popular trams were.   Indeed, allegedly car-obsessed Aucklanders up until 1956 were proportionately some of the most diligent public transport users in the world.

The waterfront trams were an ARC legacy project that I pushed very hard for in 2009/10.  Though they have an important role as a ‘point of difference’, and ‘place-making’, bustling around the developing Wynyard Quarter, they were never meant to be confined there.  The whole objective, modest enough I thought at the time, was to get the line to the Britomart Transport Centre, where with state-of-the-art new trams, with super capacitors that don’t need overhead wires, they could be transformed from a visitor novelty to a serious public transport mode, running up Queen Street, where there are major pollution and noise issues from buses – and even along Tamaki Drive.  Though perhaps we should have been looking at Ponsonby.

But, extending the trams to Britomart was one of the most popular aspects of the 2011 Waterfront Plan. When the public was asked about this, 43% of submitters responded with ‘Do Now’, 30 % said ‘Do Soon’ and 13% said ‘Do Later’ and only 13% said ‘Don’t Support’.  Three years on, despite this 73% or even 86% mandate, due to budget cut-backs and squabbling between Waterfront Auckland, Auckland Transport and Auckland Council, nothing has been done to get the tramway across to Quay Street and past the cruise ship wharves to Britomart.  While some half a billion dollars is being spent by the Council on a questionable IT system which is meant to be ‘transformational’, no-one seems to be willing to spend the $30m to get the tramway across to Te Wero and on to Britomart. Now that would be transformational.  Happy Christmas everyone.

This article published in the Ponsonby News December-Jan issue.

http://issuu.com/ponsonbynews/docs/ponsonbynewsdec2014/c/sl2djyf

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‘Super City’ four years on – not so super

The 1st November will be the 4th anniversary of the beginning of Auckland’s new ‘super city’ council.

Much was promised when the seven former territorial local authorities and the Auckland Regional Council were disbanded/amalgamated by the National government – so how is it all working out?  Well, I am disappointed to say, not so good.

The idea of one, unified council for Auckland was not an unreasonable one – in theory.  Economies-of-scale, critical mass to enable cost savings, regional unity etc., etc., made the idea plausible and attractive on the face of it.   But as it often happens, practical reality and human frailty – in other words politics – can confound the best theories. It certainly happened in this case.  Practical reality has shown that economies-of-scale doesn’t necessarily mean the-greater-the-size, the-greater-the-efficiency.  Practical reality has shown that the Auckland Council bureaucracy, and that of its huge and semi-independent CCO offspring, Auckland Transport, are bigger than optimal size and growing every year.  Then there is the politics.

As the leader of the former Auckland Regional Council – the one Auckland council that operated region-wide before 2010, I can say it was understood and accepted by the ARC that, for the greater good of Auckland the ARC would have to be disbanded to make way for the new ‘super city’.  What we didn’t understand, (because it only became clear when it was much too late), was that abolishing the ARC was not just a means to an end but actually a prime objective of the super city amalgamation.  

 Business lobbyists in Auckland, people in the local authorities, senior bureaucrats in Wellington and, it appears, the National Party caucus, had long resented the checks and balances the ARC represented in terms of planning and the environment, and they wanted it gone.

So the government charged Rodney Hide (though in reality the man pulling the strings was Steven Joyce) with the task of pushing through this enormous amalgamation as quickly as possible and without any vote or consent from the ratepayers.   In the rush to get the job done, insufficient consideration was given to the real costs of amalgamation – and these were swept under the carpet.

Even before its formal establishment the Super City blew any serious chance it had to achieve cost efficiencies.   It seems that so bent were the powers-that-be on airbrushing out the regional legacy, going back to Dove-Myer Robinson’s ARA, that in the week before the new Auckland Council was sworn-in, management took the decision to pay to get out the lease of the purpose-built ARC regional house.  This decision, plus a blow out in staff numbers was to create a staff accommodation shortage.   This management ‘solved’ by the acquisition of the flash ASB bank head on Albert Street at an eventual cost of $157.4m.   Then there is the huge and growing cost of IT – on which and incredible $431m has been spent – nearly three times as that on the flash building. These decisions plus the increase of staff of the council and its CCOs, from 9,300 in 2010 to 11,134 this year, has helped bring on a budget crisis that will means cut backs to services to the public and cuts and deferrals of agreed local board commitments to their communities.  There is more of course.  Most worrying is a culture of secrecy and a tendency to ram decisions through the governing body, with minimal time for reflection and debate – and with minimal information – indeed in some cases eg ‘cultural impact assessments’ and the Hunua dam shut-down, the deliberate withholding of information from the councillors.

So four years on, despite the best intentions and good of will of many of us to see the new Auckland Council succeed, any opportunity it might have had to be a powerful and efficient force for good in Auckland – and an inspirational example for the rest of the country, has been squandered.

 

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Labour’s trouncing by John Key raises searching questions

Now that the dust is settling on the rather tumultuous events of the 2014 General Election – Labour’s worst performance in 92 years – and with the resignation – well sort of – of David Cunliffe, the Labour Party is now going through an official review.

But how fundamental this will be is very much open to question. What is really needed is a fundamental reappraisal of just what ‘Labour’ means and what the party stands for. Also needing serious thought is the relationship between Labour and its proposed coalition partner – the Greens. If it wasn’t clear earlier, the two parties are now actually rivals. At least two key electorate seats were lost to Labour eg Nikki Kaye’s Auckland Central and Peter Dunne’s Ohariu because of vote-splitting with the Greens (albeit Labour’s triumph in Napier was due to vote splitting between Conservatives and National – a rare tactical error by the right). The Greens despite their usual upbeat pronouncements can take no comfort from this election either. They need a fundamental reappraisal themselves. Ironically MMP is not working for the centre-left.   The National propaganda theme of the hapless red and green characters floundering around in a rowboat – all at sea – was not too far off the truth.

But of even more fundamental concern should be the remarkable, indeed shocking, phenomenon of voters in traditional Labour seats giving their party vote to National.

In my opinion there were two main reasons for this – and both reasons reflect profoundly on what is the present-day Labour Party. While Labour long ago dropped any reference to the politically radical goal of socialism and indeed since 1984 has become a party of neo-liberal capitalism, (albeit of a somewhat softened version in recent years), interestingly it is openly radical on questions of social liberalism – radical but always within the bounds of and never challenging capitalism. It would be a mistake to identify this social liberal zealotry as being ‘left’. Issues raised by Gay marriage, ‘man bans’, third genders on passports, and gay adoption, etc., while apparently of passionate interest to the party insiders, do not sit well with the working people that Labour professes to represent, nor with the ethnic immigrant communities Labour fondly imagined (until the election anyway) were permanently loyal to it. Some defection to NZ First would be expected in these circumstances – but to National?

Another reason why core Labour voters voted National, in my opinion is so obvious that I fear it probably doesn’t even register with Labour’s policy makers. Labour’s policy of retrenching national superannuation entitlements from age 65 to 67, was a direct attack on the social entitlement of working people – what used to be called social security.   Labour’s leaders in promoting this policy obviously hoped to score ‘brownie-points’ with Treasury and the business-financial establishment. A signal that Labour was still ‘sound’ and could be still relied on to take the ‘tough’ economic decisions (at the expense of its own people, just like its Rogernome predecessors).  How the trade union leadership allowed this policy to get through is bewildering.   But then again, it asks searching questions about  present-day trade union officialdom as well.   There are notable exceptions of course but it seems that much of the politicised trade union leadership is dominated by the same sort of people as the party officials – sedentary ‘middle class’ tertiary graduates.  There is an impression from ordinary workers that many of their trade union officials are more interested in a career in parliament than working for the members.   That for many ambitious and politically correct university graduates with connections, an office job in the union is just a step along the way to a parliamentary office and then the party list. Plainly, most Labour MPs and officials, have very little meaningful contact with manual workers. The people who work on the roads in all weathers, on building sites, cleaning offices and factories at night and driving heavy trucks. These people tend to be physically worn out by the time they reach the age of 65.  Work for them is bloody hard. Labour’s policy makers obviously don’t understand that fact. For them in contrast ‘work’ (the constant round of meetings, the office, travel, conferences) is stimulating if not addictive.

Though many workers may not have university degrees they are not mugs. John Key to his credit held out against all sort of pressure from the usual interests (and no doubt his own caucus) to roll back superannuation.  Key’s determination was not only vindicated – but proved to be a political masterstroke.   It is the thousands of party votes netted  from Labour voters that will enable National to govern in its own right. This is unprecedented under MMP and a personal triumph for Key.

Meanwhile life is not getting easier for the average person in the street – national and world conditions (economic, social and environmental) over the past thirty years appear to be deteriorating.  There is growing wealth disparity.   As the historian Frank McLynn observed:

‘It is a perennial peculiarity…to object to inequalities of race, sex, title, distinction, and even intellect but remaining blithely untroubled about the most important form of inequality; the economic.’

There is not a great deal of optimism that things can change – and underneath a great deal of fear and frustration.   Given this situation there are plenty of things the Labour Party can do to renew itself and make itself relevant to the  New Zealand people.  But, unless the current party review is more thoroughgoing than one would imagine – I don’t hold out great hope.

The difference between 1922 and 2014 is back then Labour was a party of outsiders on the way up, motivated by a transcendent vision of a bold new world, authentic and with deep roots within the community and the labour movement.  Labour may not have had the best result in 1922 but it was poised to overtake the previous reforming party, the Liberals.  Unless there is a fundamental change, sadly I fear, the Labour Party in the 21st century will continue its slow decline, much as the Liberals did in the 1920s.

 

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