Another over-hasty, ill-thought out, policy burp from National

Today’s Brownlee policy burp shows up yet again the off-the-cuff, amateur-hour nature of National’s policy-making. It’s scary. These people could be in government in just a few months.

Yesterday SOE Minister Trevor Mallard announced that the Government is doing an exploratory study to see whether we can assemble trains in NZ. As Steve Pierson at The Standard points out, National has come out against the idea even before the report is complete.

And this seems to be the pattern. Policy without research or evidence to back it up. In recent weeks there’s been a procession of such policy.

Where’s the evidence that stripping mostly low-paid workers in small-medium businesses of their protections against arbtrary dismissal will actually raise employment, let alone productivity, which is the real challenge?

That providing schools with bats and balls is the most effective and cost-efficient way to combat child obesity? Especially when expert opinion says otherwise.

That government spending $1.5 billion to speed up fibre-to-the-home is the best way to do it? And will pay dividends to the taxpayers?

That making TVNZ charter funding available to other free-to-air broadcasters on a competitive basis will enhance or secure public service broadcasting in the long-term?

And so on. At best we get one page of bullet points and platitudes, with precious little data to back them up and no costings. Do we really want these people running the country if they can’t put together well-thought out policy?

[Update: Transcript of Mallard’s Agenda interview here.]


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11 Responses to “Another over-hasty, ill-thought out, policy burp from National”

  1. MacDoctor Says:

    I should point out that you don’t need a lot of expensive research to see that building trains is not an area that we currently have capability. It is AWAYS more expensive to build an industry than to tap into an already going concern. The only time it would be worthwhile is if we were planning to develop a globally competitive industry for locomotive building in NZ. Given the high cost of labour (compared to major competitors like China) and the distances involved, I can’t see how we could ever be really competitive in heavy machinery manufacture of any sort.
    The only amateur here is Mallard, who appears to need his hand held by “experts” because he can’t make what should be a fairly straight-forward business decision.

  2. jafapete Says:

    But we do have train maintenance capacity, and the investigation is to see whether that can be used to assemble trains. So, we may have something in the way of an already going concern.

    If it’s not economically viable, then the investigation ought to tell us that. Train assembly is not the same as car or plane assembly, I’m thinking; neither with the economies of scale of the former nor the capital intensity of the latter, probably.

    No-one’s suggesting that we could ever be competitive as a global supplier of locomotives — or is it rolling stock that’s of interest here? But could we use our existing capacity to meet our own needs efficiently? That’s what we are finding out. Lastly, business people, or their bankers, don’t make business decisions without a good case. Nor is Mallard.

  3. adamsmith1922 Says:


    I do not necessarily disagree with your argument, on that basis I should like to see the business case and economic study supporting the rail buy back and the apparent preference to Toll, over other road freight businesses.

    On public service broadcasting, how would you define that?
    What sort of programming should it encompass?

    Your comment on stripping workers in small business, I am not sure that I fully understand what you are getting at there, I am not trying to be clever, but am seeking to more clearly follow your line of thought.

  4. adamsmith1922 Says:

    Sorry my first line above should read ‘disagree’ not ‘agree’ – my apologies

  5. AndrewE Says:

    And do you honestly think things would be any different if Labour was in opposition?

    And Adam Smith raises an interesting point especially if you consider that we don’t actually know how much the whole trainset costs yet.

    And what’s with this National policy of stripping workers? I could see how that could be in good thing for certain workers but I am against wholesale stripping. 🙂

  6. jafapete Says:

    Thanks Adam. I was a little surprised that you should support what I’ll call half-baked policy — from either side — but then read your second comment and made the change accordingly. Also changed the post to make it clear what National wants to strip from mostly lower-paid workers in SMEs. (Relax Andrew.)

    Presumably the rail system was purchased only after the relevant departments reported on various aspects of the buy-back. I guess the Cabinet documents will be leaked or released sooner or later.

    On broadcasting, I was going to post on the removal of any rationale for the long-term public ownership of TVNZ, but see that Paul Norris makes the argument very cogently in this morning’s Herald. He discusses the type of programming that should have been aired under the Charter, and wasn’t.

  7. MacDoctor Says:

    JP: But we do have train maintenance capacity, and the investigation is to see whether that can be used to assemble trains

    We have a car maintenance industry, but we don’t build cars because it is not economical to do so, for EXACTLY the same reasons that it is not economical to build either locomotives, or rolling stock. For that you need substantial investment in large machinery – machinery that will certainly be underutilized and, therefore, expensive to run.

    And I would also add the obvious question – if Mallard really does need a study to determine the viability of rolling stock manufacture why on earth was this not done a part of the business case to purchase kiwirail?

    MacDoc, Good question that last one.

  8. adamsmith1922 Says:

    I read Norris’s article, he was also on National Radio on the same topic at least once, maybe twice last week.

    Part of my problem with Norris is that he seems to hark back to some ‘golden age’ of New Zealand broadcasting, which I suspect never really existed.

    In the charter years I recall little that was exceptional.

    Decent current affairs has vanished to all intents and purposes from the free to air channels.

    Unlike Ralston vide your later post, I listen to National Radio most days and often when suffering from insomnia to the repeats in the wee small hours. Overall I think it does a reasonable job, unlike the TV cousin so to speak.
    However, we can debate broadcasting another time.

    On rail, I am increasingly of the view that now we have the damned thing, and as Key has pointed out we are effectively stuck with it because no one will buy it off us at the price we paid for it, then we need to work out how to make it work effectively.

    It is not sufficient to talk about social benefits, unless they can be quantified. Nor should rail be seen as a make work programme.

    A major problem is that our rail network is not much more than some suburban lines and a main trunk.

    Thus unless we are prepared to lay a lot more track, achieving profitability is likely to be difficult. Further the narrow gauge of the track, coupled I believe with its continuously welded nature, currently rules out trains reaching speeds that would reduce journey times to be competitive with cars and lorries.travelling at sufficient speed.

    Therefore, some innovative thinking and a long-term strategy that is arrived at on a bi-partisan basis will be needed.

  9. jafapete Says:

    Adam: “Part of my problem with Norris is that he seems to hark back to some ‘golden age’ of New Zealand broadcasting, which I suspect never really existed.”

    Funny you should mention that. Norris was Director of News and Current Affairs at TVNZ from 1987 to 1994. Many would say that was when the rot set in and the golden era of public broadcasting — perhaps you’re too young to remember it — finished. I always enjoy this irony when I hear him talking.

  10. adamsmith1922 Says:

    Not too young, but only arrived in NZ in very late 1989.

    Again I would note that you and I may occupy a similar wavelength, but from opposite ends of the spectrum.

    Like you I appreciate rational debate, but many do not.

  11. Arts funding freeze? « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] Some of this sounds promising, but the detail is lacking in the policy statement. No costings and no clues about the rationale for important policy details. Again. […]

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