Transport minister Phil Twyford (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Traffic jams flow through as NZTA hits brakes

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Concern about slow progress for major transport projects, smoking researcher under pressure over funding, and hikoi marches from Ihumātao to Ardern’s office.

NZTA is struggling to get spending out the door, so the money isn’t flowing through the economy, reports Thomas Coughlan for Stuff. It’s because of the decision to redirect billions of dollars away from the old Roads of National Significance programme, and into road safety and public transport. And while public money probably shouldn’t be spent on projects solely to act as a stimulus (some will debate that) having big projects underway does give an economic boost.

Concerns over project delays have been raised for quite a few months now, for example there was this story in June on Interest in which mayor Phil Goff said the city needed to see more action and certainty from central government. In that case, the concern was over a funding gap between what was in the Auckland Transport Action Plan, and how much money NZTA could actually commit to projects. The flow-on effects from the delays can be quite profound – earlier this month Interest reported that new housing development around Drury and Pukekohe was reliant on funding for transport infrastructure. It makes sense – there’s no point in building new housing if there’s no good way to get to and from it.

Project delays create political problems for the government too. On the NZ Herald (paywalled) the Horowhenua District Council reacted with fury to the news that there was no funding available for Levin to Ōtaki road upgrades – a section of a RONS. In a release, the HDC said the decision was a warning from central government that the people of Horowhenua could expect a decade more of “having the highest serious crash rate in the lower North Island, losing loved ones, and a poorly maintained state highway that boasts earthquake-prone bridges, has no alternate route, and is prone to flooding.”

Transport minister Phil Twyford says more overall spending is in the pipeline, focused on a different mix of projects to the previous government. But on one of those projects – light rail in Auckland – construction will not begin until at least 2021, reports Newstalk ZB. The delays are partly the result of indecision over who will build it, with a joint venture bid involving the Super Fund still being considered. Minister Twyford was under pretty serious pressure during his interview with ZB, and stressed how massive and difficult these sorts of projects are to coordinate. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that apart from a few spots of forward movement, a lot of the transformational transport plans the government came into office with aren’t going anywhere fast enough.

Smoking researcher and NZer of the Year finalist Marewa Glover is under pressure over her work being indirectly funded by tobacco company Philip Morris. It has been brought to light because of a big, meaty feature from Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner, which has opened the floodgates somewhat for other media to start picking over the topic. The funding was not new information as such, but it had not been widely discussed. Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Glover strongly defended her work, saying tobacco companies had no control over it, and that her critics were trying to discredit her.

Kaitiaki walked through heavy rain from Ihumātao to PM Jacinda Ardern’s Mt Albert electorate office yesterday. The Spinoff’s Ātea editor Leonie Hayden was there, and reported that it was a clear sign that SOUL intend to continue applying pressure directly on the government over the matter. A delegation of Labour staffers accepted a petition from those on the hikoi on behalf of the PM.

There are some real risks facing the primary sector’s profitability right now, particularly regarding instability in export markets. Interest has a great explainer on some of them, such as wool being down as a result of the trade war between the US and China. As well as that, Brexit is fast closing in with no resolution in sight, and while the impacts of that will be unpredictable, it’s quite likely many of them will be negative for exporters.

So yesterday I suggested that the government’s proposed new National Policy Statement on Urban Development could end up being a big deal. In the interests of balance, here’s a view from someone who thinks that really isn’t likely – Bernard Hickey at Newsroom. A line from the top of his piece that gives a flavour of why – “Everyone will nod sternly about the need for change, but will promptly blame each other for not paying for it, and sit happily on their hands as the Budget surplus goes up and land prices escalate.”

A rather concerning court report, relating to the man who assaulted Green Party co-leader James Shaw. Stuff reports Shaw was told by the man that “others were coming for him”. The man has pleaded guilty, but disputes some of the facts of the case, in particular how many punches and kicks were thrown in the course of the assault.

Council candidates are already pondering what to do with their hoardings after the election finishes, reports Rachel Sadler for Te Waha Nui. The idea is that by giving them a second life, it makes the practice of putting up massive numbers of hoardings more sustainable. Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa candidate Mark Thomas says he’ll be donating his to the homeless to use as shelter, while Howick candidate Damian Light plans to give his to his friend, to use as insulation for a shed.

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Witch Doctor: problematic song, problematic imagery, flawless choreography

Right now on The Spinoff: Year 13 student Sophia Honey writes about why she’s campaigning for NZQA to cut down on their abundant use of plastic. Tara Ward eats and reviews some chips in Ōkato, which are supposedly the best in the country. Madeleine Chapman ranks the biggest bangers from the heady days of Jump Jam. And Sam Brooks writes about Jane the Virgin, the telenovela-inspired comedy that is one of the most deceptively deep TV shows to have come out this decade.

For a feature today, an interesting column from a conservative perspective on climate change. Stuff columnist Liam Hehir (who has sometimes written for The Spinoff) has taken a look at the current state of climate politics on the right, and come back with concerns that his ideological compatriots aren’t being sensible about listening to the science. However, he argues that isn’t exactly a unique position in politics. Here’s an excerpt:

Whenever I express my view that we should rely on the scientific consensus that the world’s temperature is increasing and that our activities are contributing to it, I invariably get argument from some others on the Right. Invariably, I am pointed in the direction of some dissident scientist or researcher who rejects the mainstream view.

Inevitably, some of these dissenters are highly intelligent, learned and credentialled. Australian professor and geologist Ian Plimer, for example, has forgotten more about earth sciences than I could ever learn. He is also a critic of the existing climate-change model. If the overwhelming majority of those with expertise in the field do not agree with him, however, then how am I personally qualified to judge him right?

One of the things that I reckon ruins sport is having to go upstairs for a TV replay. So I’m excited to share this piece from The Outline, which takes that same philosophical point and applies it to the use of VAR in football. It’s a very entertaining read on a phenomenon increasingly being seen in the game, of the oxygen being sucked out of games by lengthy delays while technology is consulted.

From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.

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