Don’t sniff too closely at our bridge upgrade plans – think instead of the scents of going for broke

Roll out the barrel..

That was Alf’s advice when party chiefs consulted him at the weekend on how to counter the Peters threat.

No, he was not talking about rolling out the beer barrel to liquor up the locals. That would be bribery and bribery is seriously frowned upon in our electoral laws.

Alf was recommending we roll out the pork barrel.

Pork barreling, of course, is a term used to describe the appropriation of government spending for localised projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.

Alf has recommended this tactic before, and the party bosses have listened.

The trick is to be well armed with PR bullshit and be ready to deny doing what you obviously are doing, and Alf is bound to say The Boss is very good at this. In fact Alf would say The Boss would win the gold, if dissembling was to become an Olympic event.

Without exposing the hint of a cynical smirk, Key announced a regional transport package before last year’s election and we Nats were braced to rebuff the inevitable responses from the Opposition:

Prime Minister John Key announced $212 million from the partial asset sales programme would be used to fast-track several regional transport projects.

The Opposition inevitably wailed about this being an election bribe but:

Prime Minister John Key told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme the funding is part of measures to improve infrastructure and not an electoral bribe.

“The building of infrastructure’s been a big plank of this Government – it’s been everything from basically rolling out fibre to the home for ultra-fast broadband through to reinvesting in the electricity grid.

“We believe that having strong infrastructure builds economic growth, improves the quality of living of New Zealanders.”

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said voters could decide on the merits of the policy and the use of asset sales to fund it. He said it was the first time the Government had had a bit of extra money for such projects.

So which party was re-elected?

Ha! We were.

Well before the 2011 election, acting largely on Alf’s well researched advice, Steven Joyce announced the initial locations for the government’s rollout of ultra-fast broadband:

The citiis of Hamilton, Tauranga, Whangarei, New Plymouth and Wanganui will be among the first to benefit from the government’s rollout of ultra-fast broadband (UFB), says the Minister for Communications and Information Technology Steven Joyce.In addition, UFB will be rolled out in Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Hawera and Tokoroa.

So, what did this look like from an electorate perspective? The sour-guts scribbler at No Right Turn studied the situation and duly reported on what was happening.

His analysis – to give him his due – was spot on with Alf’s:

* Whangarei, held by National’s Phil Heatley, with a majority of 14,663;

* Hamilton East, held by National’s David Bennett with a majority of 8,820;

* Hamilton West, held by National’s Tim Macindoe, with a majority of 1,618;

* Taupo, held by National’s Louise Upston, with a majority of 6,445;

* Taranaki-King Country, held by National’s Shane Ardern, with a majority of 15,618;

* Tauranga, held by National’s Simon Bridges, with a majority of 11,742;

* New Plymouth, held by National’s Jonathan Young, with a majority of 105;

* Whanganui, held by National’s Chester Borrows, with a majority of 6,333.\

So, the first thing to note is that only National-held electorates get broadband; those with Labour MPs need not apply (sorry, you voted for the wrong person and so must be punished).

The second thing to note is the targeting of marginal seats New Plymouth and Hamilton West. It’d be interesting if someone who knew about IT policy used the OIA to delve into National’s rollout decision, but from here it looks like pure pork-barrel politics. And I don’t like it one bit.

Alf is bound to say he did not think he was being taken seriously, when he mentioned the pork-barrel ploy in Northland the other day. No matter how hard you try to disguise it, after all, pork barreling can have an unsavoury pong about it.

But Alf was wrong.

They were listening and so today we learn: 

The National Party has promised to upgrade 10 one-way bridges in Northland as part of its byelection campaign which polls indicate will be a close-run race between National’s Mark Osborne and NZ First leader Winston Peters.

Mr Osborne and Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced the six-year programme to upgrade the bridges at Kaeo’s one-way bridge this morning.It is expected to cost between $32 million and $69 million.

The 10 bridges are all on state highways 10, 11 and 12 and include two bridges near Matakohe, one in Taipa, two on the Waimamaku River and the Kaeo bridge.

The hacks at the Herald have written that the timing of the announcement is likely to raise eyebrows because Peters last week used the bridges as an example of the neglect the region faced under National.

And – let’s face it – we Nats have taken the Far North somewhat for granted.

Former Northland MP Mike Sabin had called for upgrades to the one way bridges in Kaeo and Matakohe but to little avail.

The projects were not included in National’s transport election policy to fast-track some regional roading projects using a $212 million package from the proceeds of asset sales.

But Simon Bridges can be relied on to sort out any misperceptions:

Mr Bridges said the funding for the 10 bridges would mostly come from the National Land Transport Fund.

Mr Bridges said replacing the bridges was logical given the development of the $1.75 billion Puhoi to Wellsford highway, which he expected to boost economic development and tourism.

“It is crucial we are ready in Northland for the influx of visitors and business the Puhoi to Wellsford highway will bring.”

He said National has spent more than $750 million on state highway and local roading projects across Northland in the last seven years.

Of course, you can’t please everybody.

Jordan Williams, a decent bloke in Alf’s experience, has been curiously unsupportive. 

Responding to the $32 – $69 million policy pledge announced by National Party by-election candidate, Mark Osborne, Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, says:

“Taxpayers’ money for roading infrastructure should be used in areas where there is the highest net benefit, not where there just so happens to be a hotly contested by-election.”

“It may well be that these ten Northland bridge projects are the best bang for taxpayers’ buck, but we are yet to see the evidence. We are calling on the Government to justify this announcement and make clear to taxpayers that these projects are the greatest use of the Government’s roading budget.”

“We have asked the Government to release NZTA’s analysis which shows these projects are the most pressing in New Zealand. Until it does, a stench of pork barrel politics will linger.”

“Stench” is a bit strong.

“Whiff” would be better.

But Alf is more interested in the sweet smell of victory.

If a whiff of something unsavoury is the price to be paid for the sweet smell of victory – and Winston Peters’ defeat – then so be it.

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