Think Small: John Key’s version of Think Big

Part of what defines our Kiwi character is the cherished laid-back lifestyle – the beach, the barbecue, the summer getaway. But let’s not kid ourselves about the impacts of rapid change on our small South Pacific nation. One day in the not so distant future, if we want a cup of tea and a lie down, we might not be able to rely on clean water flowing from the tap or uninterrupted electricity to boil the water.

Recently, people have been pouring into New Zealand. We have been seeing net gains from Australia for the first time since 1991 and a population growth rate of 2.1 per cent. More than 60 per cent of this population growth is likely to be in the Auckland region. Other regions may even lose population.

How is our national infrastructure coping with population change and growth? Not too well, if you take our national housing and urban traffic issues.

Of all the problems to have, being too successful is preferable to having people climb over each other to leave the country, as they did under Labour.  But there is a cost to us all. 

The Government’s national infrastructure unit recently reported that over the next 30 years our country will face some real challenges with ageing networks. Over the next 10 years, its report estimates around $110 billion will need to be spent on infrastructure.

Local Government New Zealand has looked at our water, wastewater and stormwater networks and estimates their replacement value across New Zealand at around $35.7 billion. Around one quarter of these assets is more than 50 years old.

To meet the cost of renewing and maintaining infrastructure to keep pace with future change and growth we will all need to think smarter – ratepayers, councils, central government, and those involved in construction and maintenance.

How will it be funded as our population ages and communities push back on rising rates?

Just as Robert Muldoon’s Think Big made sense because in the end it would pay for itself, John Key is doing the opposite.  By deferring the spending on infrastructure and essentially pushing the responsibility onto councils, he is doing to New Zealand what decades of mayor around Auckland did there:  allow infrastructure to fall seriously behind population growth.

One day, when we have rolling power outages, drinking water problems, clogged roads, insufficient housing, schools bursting at the seams, crime rising and the health system needing the see the doctor, money will need to be spent in quantities that nobody has been putting aside for it.

They will look back on this political generation as the ones that kept on putting on the pressure through immigration but it never actually increased our capacity to cope.   Deferred spending is the next government’s problem after all.


– Robert Jones (no, not Sir Bob), NZ Herald


  • JC

    If there’s one thing the opposition and National partners are united on its to thwart Govt on infrastructure, the RMA and forcing local authorities to do their jobs. Instead the catchcry has been intensification, GE free, trains, bicycles, sister cities and junketing.

    Right now we simply don’t know what to do with our local authorities, whether (as the NZ Initiative suggests) we give them more resources like GST to get development going or whether to scrap the lot and let central govt to do the job.


  • rustyjohn58

    Every time a subdivision is completed the developer (or his engineer) must supply council a spreadsheet listing every manhole, every meter of pipe, every valve or hydrant, every square meter of road, every rubbish bin etc. Included is the construction date. As a result council has a comprehensive computerized list of every infrastructure item in their district or city and a schedule of when it needs to be replaced. Based on this councils asset managers can schedule replacements and have it costed into each years budget. There should be no reason for any infrastructure items to require additional funding other than through rates or in teh case of telecom or power, through line costs.

    Of course this doesn’t allow for idiot councils and poor staff but the systems are in place.

    • Builder

      They have already spend the money charged to developers for infrastructure depreciation and replacement. It all goes into the slush fund for non-core pet projects.

      • rustyjohn58

        You are probably right but there is nothing to stop Government to make it mandatory under the local government act for funds for this maintenance or replacement to be deposited each year into a special trust. In fact an infrastructure fund would be the ideal place as the returns on the not inconsiderable amount that would build up would fund quite a bit of new infrastructure. It would have to be run by a NGO or something to stop the politicians getting the paws into it.

  • cows4me

    This country will eventually go tits up if we keep supporting the unproductive while taking orders from the unproductive. In others words our love of socialism and the belief in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will do us in.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    It simply that far too many local bodies who seemingly factor in infrastructure funding it never gets to the “needs’ list by continuously being pushed aside for “wants”. How often do we here people complaining that local bodies have strayed too far from their core responsibility? Even the laziest homeowner is compelled to “Get A Round Tuit” to fix a leaking tap if only to curb a bigger water bill.
    Sure we all have a grumble when the newly sealed or refurbished roads are getting dug up but not everybody is familiar with the network below the ground or that in fact it ever needs repairs/replacement. Nor sadly do many local body officials who are more intent on leaving some sort of useless legacy.
    Years of pushing it to the too hard pile has now almost reached a panicle with the anticipated accumulated costs having so many zeros it will make most dizzy. It still remains a core responsibility of the local bodies. The pending election will again offer a slim opportunity to find enough savvy candidates who might do more than walk the walk. Alas that is unlikely.

  • XCIA

    I seem to recall that the advent of our “super city” was going to help address some of these issues with one IT data system instead of 8 separate council data systems, one regional transport authority instead of 8 local transport entities, one water and wastewater provider instead of 8 water providers, one Long Term Council Community Plan and one district plan instead of 7 different district plans. I guess the billion dollars plus we are spending on IT could have helped with the congestion?

  • sandalwood789

    Ok, so everyone wants to live in Auckland. Why not slap a $500k (or even $1 million) “penalty tax” on the cost of every house sold in Auckland? Wouldn’t that cool down the housing demand there?

    • MarcWills

      Unfortunately, as seen in Sydney, San Francisco and other major cities overseas, all your suggestion does is lock out home ownership for locals. The super rich investors from overseas consider these sort of taxes as a ‘pin money’ inconvenience, but carry on paying whatever is required because they can.

  • Andrew Gibson

    I have a feeling we need more immigrants not to do difficult jobs or provide a more diverse economy, but rather to pay for our looming deficits in areas like healthcare and superannuation for the elderly.
    But this is simply a giant ponzie scheme, which relies on more and more new entrants. And when the new immigrants slow, or reach capacity, what then?

  • Treaclebeak

    Well, Kiwis already can’t rely on clean water flowing from the tap, can they?