Matthew Hooton looks behind the decision on the Northland bridges.
It is not in Mr Bridges’ political DNA to stick his fingers into the taxpayers’ pockets to snatch $69 million to bribe voters during a by-election. Nor does his experience outplaying Mr Peters in Tauranga suggest it would be a good idea.
Make no mistake: this was another Steven Joyce special, after polls indicated a likely defeat on March 28, prompting the economic development czar to take leave of his ministerial responsibilities and personal control of National’s Northland campaign.
Of Mr Joyce’s 10 new bridges, seven were not even mentioned by the Northland Regional Council in its recent Regional Land Transport Plan 2015-2021. No cost-benefit analysis in favour of the projects has been released because none has been carried out. The announcement of the expenditure of $69 million of public funds was not even made by a minister but by National’s by-election candidate, Mark Osborne, most recently a mid-level bureaucrat at the Far North District Council.
Northland is turning into a debacle. Steve Joyce’s brains trust fingerprints are all over this…in Mt Albert they tried to blame someone else, but the same people are leading the charge again.
The bridges-for-Northland scheme is classic Mr Joyce because it takes no account of anything beyond the next news cycle. Even if, as the prime minister claimed untruthfully this week, this was just a routine announcement brought forward a few weeks in the interests of transparency, it sends a destructive message to the polis that this is how things now roll under John Key.
Politicians choosing for electoral purposes where new schools, hospitals, roads, dams, bridges, convention centres or other infrastructure will be built – and by whom – is at the heart of what led New Zealand to near economic collapse in 1984. It leads to the steady misallocation of resources and the inevitable corruption of both the public and private spheres. If the state is to take money for public purposes, it must at least be allocated on some transparent formula rather than on political whim.
There is real anger building inside National, on the back bench, and also int he membership. Northland is the catalyst…the frustrations of the cult of personality are coming home to roost.
Voters do not like being treated as fools and that is what Mr Joyce has done. Moreover, National’s campaign maestro has shown Mr Peters the whites of Mr Key’s eyes, injecting a shot of adrenaline into the old rogue’s campaign.
Most significantly, Northland voters have been given a classic example of the power of Mr Peters taking an interest in the region of his birth and Ngati Wai tribe. Just putting his name on the ballot paper has already opened the taxpayers’ wallet to the tune of $69 million, and the government has now confirmed the 10 bridges will go ahead even if voters don’t back Mr Osborne. What could Mr Peters do were he actually the MP?
Mr Joyce’s botulinum-grade arrogance is so infecting the rest of the government that it is difficult to see how Mr Key can win a fourth term with Act, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party alone. Where it not for Kim Dotcom’s “Moment of Truth,” Mr Key would not have achieved that even last September.
If National loses or just scrapes in then people are going to be looking very closely at Steve Joyce and his band of campaigners. The members in Northland are already asking those questions.