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


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