Hard News by Russell Brown

118

National Exuberance

Whether disingenuously or not, the Herald's editorial writer gets it wrong today in dismissing any idea that Maurice Williamson said that $50 in weekly road tolls would be "imposed" on motorists under a National government. "They would have a choice," the editorial grumps. "National's policy, like Labour's, would permit toll roads only where a free alternative route was available."

Not quite. In clarifying the comments he made on Saturday's Agenda, Williamson clearly allowed that exceptions would be made:

Asked about a statement he made on Television One's Agenda programme that tolls would be placed only on new roads, he acknowledged exceptions might be needed for such projects.

Tolling a tunnel under Waitemata Harbour while keeping the existing bridge free would otherwise lead to "dreadful distortion" in traffic, against which he believed even Labour would make an exception.

Frankly, National would be well advised to sort out what its own policy on the issue is before it goes writing Labour's.

A $5 each-way toll for a major new road or tunnel isn't necessarily a crazy idea. As Williamson said, it would save those willing and able to pay it time, money and petrol. It would see a greater share of roading costs fall on those who use the new roads.

But it doesn't fit well with National's have-your-cake-and-eat-it message for voters in 2008. And so we had the curious spectacle of Williamson being yanked off a Nine to Noon interview minutes before he was due to speak, and Bill English stepping into the breach with a particularly intense flurry of euphemisms (I think "exuberant" might really have legs as the election campaign heats up), misdirections and bridges.

And yet again, the public is left with the impression that National's actual policies are a mystery to its own spokespeople.

There are, as Clive Matthew-Wilson pointed out yesterday in a lively and provocative statement, legitimate reasons for doubt about the viability of toll-road projects, especially in the context of public-private partnerships. Clive raises questions that should be put to Williamson, or, if he's still grounded, Bill English or John Key.

Among them:

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby the government has to pay out any part of the road building costs in the event that the project goes bankrupt?

And:

National’s transport spokesman Maurice Williamson has stated publicly that National will repeal the ‘Greens amendment’ that requires that whenever a toll road is built, the public must always have an alternative route available for free.

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby existing roads are closed down or restricted in order to force motorists to use a nearby toll road

And:

Faced with high fuel bills, many motorists are now looking to take public transport to work.

Can National categorically promise that it will not sign a deal whereby public transport is effectively excluded or restricted from competing with a toll road?

Some of these questions, of course, would be just as tricky for Labour to answer -- which makes them all the more important to ask.

Meanwhile, as you might expect, The Standard is having it large, and covering an amusing act of public satire on the issue.

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There are people far better qualified than me to comment on the employment law dimensions of Shawn Tan's future with the EPMU as an Act party candidate. Absent any other factors, I would tend to agree with No Right Turn that he has a democratic right to do so.

And if it's not just a rather queer stunt and Tan really did have a political satori that transformed him from a Green Party trade unionist to a member of the Act faithful … well, he's plainly weird enough to be an Act Party MP, isn't he?

Also, NRT's Idiot/Savant says new blogger Chris Trotter has implied he's mentally ill. I think that's putting a rather ambitious construction on a cheap comment, but I confess I didn't really understand Trotter's original contention that the Greens' consultative process on the Emissions Trading Scheme was some sort of outrage.

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