PKF Francis Aickin Limited, Far North, New Zealand
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26 Mar 2015
With the dust settling over the Northland by-election, we're left to consider the causes of the electorate's reaction. Media reports tell us that Northlanders feel that the fruits of economic growth have not been shared with the provinces. I'm not at all convinced that what we want is a hand out of the spoils of growth. Indeed, if that were the case we'd have cheered at the promise of 10 new bridges. I didn't hear any cheering; all I heard was sighs of exasperation that Government seems to think that 10 new bridges would go a long way to solving Northland's problems.
The Northlanders that I deal with are predominantly business people, and what I hear them saying is that they are sick of the obsession with the problems of Auckland, and the lack of focus by Government on the needs of the provinces. And when these people talk about needs, they don't think of hand outs. What they think of is spending on basic infrastructure which will simply enable provincial NZ to go on creating the wealth of the country, profitably and with a minimum of obstacles.
This is not all about roads and bridges, but they certainly are a big part of it. Although personally, I don't really care that some of our roads flood a bit: that's just one of the things that living in the country is about. But for me, that strip of road called SH1 is a critical link between our forests and farms, and the export ports of the country. It's our export corridor, and it has got to be the worst section of SH 1 in New Zealand by a country mile. Spare a thought, for example, for the log truck owners and drivers. They haul thousands of tonnes of logs every day to Marsden Point. They travel vast distances, in expensive equipment over roads that are tough on trucks. To have a chance of making any profit at all, those trucks have to survive well over a million kilometres hauling the nation's export produce. And they have to do it over rough, winding, flood prone state highways like the Rangiahoua section.
The complaint of Northland truck operators is that the vast sums of road user charges they pay, don't come back to Northland. It has been a debate for a long time. Winston Peters identified the shortfall as $44 million a year, a claim which hasn't to my knowledge been refuted.
To top that off we also get to see money being spent on, for example, the good side of the Brynderwyns. Have you also looked at that lately and wondered what on earth that is allabout, when the Far North struggles, for example, with bridges like the Kawakawa triple which are barely wide enough for two trucks to pass safely?
But it's not just about the roads or the bridges. It's also about the business communication networks (broadband and cell phone coverage). It's also about Govt initiative, or lack thereof, in facilitating decentralisation, whereby Govt administration is moved out of large cities, to the provinces. That seems to me to be a no brainer way of relieving pressure on housing in Auckland and Wellington, in favour of low cost locations in the provinces.
It's also about creative thinking and brainstorming new initiatives with smart business people.
The current Government hasn't been alone in all of this. Successive Governments have struggled for years with the Northland problem, perhaps not realizing that Northland and similarly productive provinces should not be seen as a problem at all, as they are in fact the solution to the income needs of the nation.
Whether you think the Government's candidate was good, bad, or indifferent is a bit beside the point. Whoever stood for the sitting Government was going to have a tough time, and hopefully that will continue until the government of the day, whichever party that is, starts to realize that the whole of NZ benefits from smart solutions to the challenges that provincial producers grapple with.
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