(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The BulletinJune 24, 2024

Aratere grounding raises bigger questions

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It capped a ‘week of failures’ when it comes to issues of infrastructure, writes Stewart Sowman-Lund in this extract from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Grounded ferry dominates news cycle 

It’s been a busy news weekend, dominated by the dramatic grounding of the Cook Strait ferry Aratere near Picton late on Friday evening. Rolling coverage of the efforts to refloat the vessel was carried across most major news outlets over the weekend. The Aratere, which ironically means “quick path”, was towed into Picton last night. This Stuff report by Nadine Roberts looks at how a steering failure caused the collision, and how it took a multi-agency collaborative effort to dislodge the boat 24 hours after it first became wedged. Amid all of this, Kiwirail’s board chair announced his resignation, though this was said to be unrelated to the ferry incident.

While no one was injured onboard the Aratere, they easily could have been. This wasn’t the first time the Aratere had experienced a potentially dangerous fault, with the Herald’s Georgina Campbell reporting that a 2023 a power blackout had been caused by disintegrating tape used to hold wires together. The breaking news over the weekend took pride of place on homepages, but the discussion now turns to the bigger picture issue. Late last year, the government decided to scrap a project to replace the Interislander fleet after costs ballooned by $1.5bn. And it’s not the only infrastructure issue that’s been making headlines in recent months.

A series of infrastructure mishaps

The ferries are just one small piece in the broader puzzle. Nicholas Boyack at the Sunday Star-Times listed off some of the biggest issues facing the coalition in a cover story last December. “Problems with funding three waters nationally, the massive failure of infrastructure following Cyclone Gabrielle, dealing with the impact of climate change and upgrading Auckland’s roading, public transport and water networks, are all major headaches,” he wrote. The government has moved to address some of these already in its first six months. Dumping three waters and starting to implement its own Local Water Done Well scheme is one such example. The controversial fast track consenting bill is another way the government hopes to speed up the process of tackling the growing pipeline of projects and proposals.

When deciding to ditch the planned ferry upgrade, finance minister Nicola Willis said Kiwirail was paying for a “Ferrari” when it should be looking for a “reliable Toyota Corolla” instead to save costs. Labour’s transport spokesperson Tangi Utikere just told RNZ’s First Up it doesn’t look as though there’s even a “Suzuki Swift-type replacement” in the pipeline. Ministers are set to consider recommendations for the future of the Cook Strait crossing shortly. 1News has details of what could be on the table, reporting the government will consider buying new ferries in similar size to the current fleet. As The Post’s Tom Hunt reports this morning, we could now be at the back of the queue for new ships. The original proposal for new ferries would have seen them on the water in 2026, but global demand could bump any new proposal out further. Some, Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter included, say government has dithered over the critical transport link for too long.

A shifting narrative over replacement planes

It’s been a “week of failures” when it comes to issues of infrastructure, Newshub’s lead story began on Saturday night. The prime minister’s trip to Japan risked being overshadowed once again by travel woes after the Defence Force 757 was left stranded in Papua New Guinea. Defence minister Judith Collins addressed this among a suite of other issues during a lengthy interview on TVNZ’s Q+A yesterday, telling host Jack Tame we’ll “have to wait and see” whether the purchase of new aircrafts could be brought forward. The narrative around the beleaguered 757s has shifted slightly in the past few days, potentially setting the scene for an announcement of funding. The government has been reiterating the importance of the aircrafts in situations like the recent New Caledonia crisis, rather than focusing on them as transport for VIP guests. It’s a subtle shift in messaging that could make the many millions needing to be spent easier to swallow for the public. “I think everyone realises we need to have planes that work,” Collins told Tame.

Northlanders bear brunt of fallen pylon and lengthy road closures

Meanwhile, Northlanders are still grappling with the aftermath of a major power outage last week triggered by the collapse of a transmission pylon. The Northern Advocate’s Denise Piper reports that businesses are outraged after being left to mop up the mess, with NorthChamber president Tim Robinson calling for a comprehensive plan for the region’s future. “Northland’s population has doubled in the last 30 years and we’ve had zero improvement in the infrastructure to cater for that,” he said. A temporary replacement for the fallen tower has been installed in the meantime. Simeon Brown, holding hats as both transport and energy minister, has been splitting his time between Northland and Picton over the past few days. He called the power outage “unacceptable”, with local media reporting that a government review into the incident is being considered. The region has also been left without a direct route for much of the year after the Brynderwyn Hill road closed for significant repairs. The road is due to reopen later this week, just in time for Matariki holidaymakers. The Sunday Star-Times’ Aimee Shaw looked at the impacts of the four-month closure yesterday, reporting that it had left some businesses “hanging by a thread”.

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