Finance Minister Grant Robertson doubts National can deliver on 'ghost roads' infrastructure package

Finance Minister Grant Robertson doubts the National Party can deliver on its promise of $31 billion in infrastructure spending, describing the proposals as "a load of ghost roads". 

National is promising to begin work on a second Auckland harbour crossing and four-lane expressways connecting Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga as part of a multibillion-dollar plan to "smash" congestion.

By enabling the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to better leverage its balance sheet to borrow more, and using up the Government's COVID-19 recovery fund, National would spend $31 billion over 10 years on transport.

But Robertson said the National Party needs to "come clean" on what projects they would cut to fund their proposals, because they plan to reallocate $6.2 billion of existing projects from NZTA's funding from fuel taxes and road use charges. 

"This is exactly what the last National Government left us with when it came to infrastructure - a load of ghost roads, unfunded promises and hopeful press releases," Robertson said after the policy was unveiled in Auckland on Friday. 

"They are cutting Auckland's transport funding but not identifying which projects will go. The axe is hanging over projects like Skypath that Aucklanders want and that will create jobs in the next year, in order to fund projects that are over a decade away."

National would go ahead with everything the current Government has announced, with the exception of light rail between Auckland Airport and the CBD, and the "probable exception" of $360 million Skypath. 

National described Auckland light rail - one of Labour's flagship promises - as a "failed concept".

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Getty

Last month Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced that Cabinet had agreed to end the twin-track Auckland light rail project for now as Government parties "were unable to reach agreement".

Instead, National wants to restore funding to state highways and begin work on delivering a rail connection between the CBD and the airport by expanding rail from the airport to Puhinui and from Onehunga to the airport.

But Robertson doesn't believe National can fulfil its promises, because National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith is promising to cut Crown debt while at the same time wanting NZTA to take on more debt. 

Treasury has forecasted net core debt to reach 53.6 percent of GDP in 2024 because of COVID-19 spending. In a speech to the business community on Wednesday, Goldsmith said National aims to keep debt at below 30 percent of GDP. 

But Goldsmith does not agree that National is contradicting itself by wanting to reduce debt at the same time as allowing NZTA to take on more debt.  

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith. Photo credit: Newshub

"We're very focused on not increasing the debt mountain over the next four years... We're not going to be spending this $30 billion over the next four years," he told reporters on Friday.

"We're very confident that we're disciplined with careful spending and we have an absolute focus on growth to get on top of the overall day-to-day spending of the Government to keep debt under control," he added. 

"If you do that well, then you can continue to be ambitious in long-term infrastructure spending that will actually help the country grow faster."

He said NZTA's debt would be included in the Government's "overall assessment" of debt. 

Robertson said the Government's New Zealand Upgrade Programme announced in January - a $12 billion infrastructure package with $6.8 billion worth of transport projects - is underway. 

Some of the $5.3 billion spent on roading in that package were versions of roads National had itself promised to build under its Roads of National Significance banner. But the Government argued they were only promised and not funded. 

Robertson also highlighted the $3 billion worth of infrastructure projects recently announced as part of Budget 2020 - hundreds of millions of dollars in funding going to 14 regions.

Civil Contractors New Zealand has welcomed National's infrastructure proposals but CEO Peter Silcock says New Zealand's transport infrastructure needs clear vision and cross-party agreement.