Wellington Scoop

The Minister thinks big

by Kent Duston
Back in the halcyon days of the Muldoon administration – circa 1979 – the then-National government embarked on a series of large-scale interventionist construction schemes called “Think Big” that were designed to transform the economy. The projects ranged from hydro dams to petrochemical plants and were amongst the largest-scale civil engineering works ever undertaken in New Zealand.

This orgy of infrastructure was immensely lucrative for the politically-connected construction firms of the day, but the profligate scheme was funded almost entirely through debt, which in turn contributed to the virtual collapse of New Zealand’s economy by the mid 1980s, thus ushering in the Rogernomics era.

Thirty years later, Transport Minister Steven Joyce is hell-bent on repeating the same failed experiment. Rather than petrochemicals and electricity generation, he’s intent on throwing $11 billion into New Zealand’s roading infrastructure – again largely to the benefit of a few politically-connected construction firms.

Here in Wellington we’re on the receiving end of Joyce’s Road of National Significance, a four-lane monster highway running from Levin to the Airport. The project will cost billions more than budgeted once the inevitable cost over-runs have occurred, will slice through heritage areas, destroy homes and disrupt communities. And the Minister now admits that key sections – Transmission Gully, the Terrace Tunnel, the second Mt Victoria tunnel – don’t make any economic sense, even with the best creative accounting from the NZ Transport Agency.

The same tired political clichés are even being wheeled out again to try and sell this expensive boondoggle: we are told it will create jobs and improve economic growth, that it’s a necessary investment in New Zealand’s future … and just like the Muldoon era, these vacuous statements are unsupported by independent analysis or concrete substantiation.

As Green MP Sue Kedgley pointed out in Parliament – and which Steven Joyce was later forced to acknowledge – the centrepiece of this spend-up, Transmission Gully, would produce an economic loss to the country of more than $400 million.

Yet just like Robert Muldoon, the current Transport Minister seems impervious to logic or rational argument. It seems that Steven Joyce’s desire to be seen doing something – anything! – is driving the country towards an $11 billion fiscal disaster.

There is simply no prospect that New Zealand will benefit from this roading orgy, and the proof can be found close to home – in Auckland. As independent commentators have noted, Auckland has spent more on roads per capita than any other major city in the western world; so if roads produced economic benefit as the Minister claims, then Auckland would be the richest (and least congested) city in the world.

As Wikipedia notes about Muldoon’s equivalent economic folly, “… even much of the National Party subsequently came to perceive that Think Big sank New Zealand into huge debt without any significant return, accompanied by a generational repudiation of Muldoon’s entire legacy.” In short, Think Big was an economic disaster for New Zealand.

It’s a truism that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. So the Minister would do well to open the history books, consult the greybeards in his own party, and learn from the mistakes of Muldoon – after all, as a result of his incompetent economic management the National Party were thrown from power, and Muldoon’s legacy consigned to history’s dumpster.

But perhaps we can all learn from history and rally round to prevent the Minister inflicting another infrastructure-driven financial disaster on our country.

Kent Duston is a Mt Victoria resident and is old enough to vividly remember the electoral defeat of Muldoon’s National government (and the end to Think Big) in 1984.

He is also co-founder of the Save the Basin campaign.


  1. PM Watcher, 28. January 2010, 10:49

    Steven Joyce the man being groomed for PM when Key has to step down if National is elected in 2011 because they will gut the Super Fund and Key will have to leave hand on heart, because he promised Kiwis he wouldn’t let it happen, and other hand out for a knighthood while the NatAct nasties then do what they always wanted to do in their second term. Key has always planned to do this. All he wanted was: the millionaire status, the PM status, the knighthood status (he forgot to tell us about that one) on his CV and then he enters a world where money and title are more important than the people he was supposed to pretend at least to be loyal to.

    It’s all in the plan folks.

    Joyce hates the public transport system. He loves his big business mates. This current farcical infrastructure debacle was always going to happen under them. Never mind the people who rely on the public transport for all sorts of reasons. They are not important to either Key or Joyce.

  2. NTB, 28. January 2010, 12:20

    If you believe in constant economic growth or sustainable oil (or alternative ) energies, the road makes perfect sense. If you don’t share this belief, it’s a very obvious white elephant. Because of this it is unlikely to fly (i.e ever get completed).

    say hello to Carlton for me, he will know who …

  3. Petrina Madsen-Fisk, 29. January 2010, 8:07

    The government/regime of Germany in 1933 fast tracked an already proposed roading plan, the ideology being that this would create jobs, reduce unemployment and promote national unity. This was done under the ‘Law of the Establishment of a Reichsautobahn.’ Ours is called the ‘Roads of National Significance’.

    The entire country is at the mercy of Mr Joyce and his totalitarian cronies. Residents in Herne Bay, with no due process or direct consultation, have had the No1 Watermain relocated to a residential street that should not be housing a pipe that is 810 in diameter. This so-called urgent situation was brought about by the Victoria Park Alliance group which is another name for cartel of cronies. The plan for this relocation is expensive and there were nine other options; however, they forgot the democratic process.

  4. mouse, 29. January 2010, 14:02

    This RONS programme is complete madness! Steven Joyce and Nathan Guy are culpable.

  5. mouse, 29. January 2010, 21:00

    Oh Look…> The US is investing in its infrastructure of the future…>


    Meanwhile back in NZ Messrs Joyce and Guy are re-inventing the Edsel.

  6. Bernie, 2. March 2010, 20:26

    It’s always very easy to be critical… especially with only one eye open – is Transmission Gully bigger that Helen Clark’s rail purchase? Which is the real Think Big clone?

    There are some roading critics that say we should all be using Helen’s billion dollar train set because the trains overseas are great (e.g London or Sydney) but the roading critics are not smart enough to realise that NZ is a very small place and does not have the population densities to fund international quality public transport. Then there is the Kiwi Train boss who cant even keep our few trains running! Have a look at the Google satellite view of London (for example) and see how much land has been set aside for train tracks – how many houses would be bowled in NZ to get city rail coverage that good?

    The observant will have noticed that the current rash of transport spending was announced as a way to employ New Zealanders during THE global recession while getting a few difficult projects completed. As road building is very labor intensive it seems like a more valid option than the dole.