Lloyd Burr opinion: Christopher Luxon's ferry snub shows he's all talk on infrastructure

OPINION: During the election campaign, National made a big deal about New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit.  

Christopher Luxon talked about it in speeches up and down the country.   

The party had a specific infrastructure policy, committing to high-quality, world-class infrastructure.   

The policy talked about long-term certainty. It talked about underfunding. It criticised short-term decision-making which reduces certainty and increases costs.   

National criticised previous governments for cancelling projects as soon as they came into power.   

They talked about innovative funding models for vital infrastructure projects to ease the burden on taxpayers.   

They talked about fast-tracking projects and removing red tape.   

Luxon himself talked about being a government for infrastructure, telling a Building Nations conference: "Infrastructure will truly be at the heart of building a secure and prosperous future. It is essential for making New Zealanders’ lives better, and it is critical to getting New Zealand back on track."

When they formed a coalition with ACT and NZ First, they created an Infrastructure Agency complete with its own minister.  

But by cancelling the Interisland Resilient Connection Project – known as iRex - they have shown all that talk was just talk.   

The project would have delivered a world-class, long-term, resilient piece of vital infrastructure.  

In forcing KiwiRail to cancel the project, National has shown they are short-term tinkerers like many governments before them.   

It has shown they are kicking the can down the road, rather than adapting and delivering.   

I understand concern about burgeoning costs – but what happened to those innovative funding solutions?   

I understand concerns about consenting delays – but what happened to cutting red tape to fast track projects?   

Aging inter-island ferries is not a new phenomenon. Subsequent governments have grappled with what to do. But the problem remains: aging vessels, aging onshore infrastructure, and lack of ability to grow.   

We are now back at square one. We are back talking about buying second-hand ships that aren’t rail-capable. We are back trying to find stop-gap measures. We are back to the drawing board to find a solution that will inevitably be cancelled. We will be back to headlines every week of ferry cancellations due to breakdowns.   

The budget blowout is infuriating. I get that. But infrastructure projects have a history of blowing out. There's been Transmission Gully, the new Christchurch Stadium, and Auckland’s City Rail Link. In the UK, there's been HS2 and CrossRail. There’s the Channel Tunnel, Berlin’s Airport, Montreal Olympics, France' Flammanville power plant, Boston’s ‘Big Dig’, and even the Sydney Opera House.   

But we are a nation of two main islands that need to be connected. That connection for people, vehicles, rail, and freight is vital. It needs to be reliable and fit for the unique geographical layout we have.   

Trains need to roll on in Welly from and roll off in Picton. Unloading rail wagons onto truck and trailers and driving them onto the ferries, then doing the reverse at the other end is doable, but it’s unproductive. It's a stop-gap.  

Build the ferries. Build the terminals. Build the marshalling yards.  

Lloyd Burr is a Newshub political reporter.