Transport funding CONsultation

A few months ago I wrote a draft submission on the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport funding and encouraged members of the public to send it in.

Normally, I generally don’t encourage people to make form submissions on a topic but because the issue of land transport funding is pretty technical I wanted to make it as easy for people to participate in this process as possible.

The current GPS controls the allocation of $38 billion worth of funds and is incredibly unbalanced towards motorways, so I thought it was important to make New Zealanders aware of that.

I was pretty horrified at how few people made submissions on the 2009-2012 GPS, despite the fact that it affected the distribution of literally billions of dollars of New Zealand taxpayers money.

This time around over 420 people used my form to make submissions. Another 50 also made their own, independent submissions.

However, I was less impressed by reading the summary of submissions because it sounded as if the Minister virtually discarded all these form submissions. I can understand his point that a form submission is probably not as valuable as a unique one. But, I think they should still count for something.

And judging by the changes between the draft and final GPS (very few) he also seems to have disregarded almost every one of the 50 unique submissions that came from the public, or as he likes to call them, “non-stakeholders”.

So who were the stakeholders? They were the 44 businesses and organizations the Minister deemed important enough to consult.

The list of those consulted is revealing. It includes 17 councils, 11 organizations and companies that represent road users or have as a primary focus road construction, just 1 company to represent rail interests (Kiwirail), 1 organization to represent the bus companies (the Bus and Coach Association), and 3 organizations to represent walking and cycling interests.

Not one group that represented the interests of public transport users was included in the stakeholder list, even though the Campaign for Better Transport (which represents bus and train users in Auckland and Waikato) made an unsolicited submission.

This process shows clearly the the Minister’s disregard for public opinion and lack of interest in genuine consultation.

In fact, after a few years in Parliament I’ve begun to wonder why it is that the distribution of the fuel tax is left so much to the control of one Minister with virtually no scrutiny by Parliament or the public.

What do you think? Do you think that there should be more democratic control and oversight of the National Land Transport Fund? And, if so, what do you think is the best way of achieving that?

5 thoughts on “Transport funding CONsultation

  1. Gareth, For the first three-quarters of a century of the transport fund’s existence there was minimal democratic oversight of the fund, with funding decisions being left to an automous board and technocrats. They spent most of the money tarsealing gravel roads, maintaining what had already been built and improving safety and reducing travel times on regional highways. Unfortunately over the past 10 years Labour removed that independence and politicised the decision making, mainly to buy urban votes with more motorways and now we have the RoNS which is pretty much a direct copy of Seddon’s abuse of the railways investments 100 years ago, and precisely what the original independence was intended to avoid.

    Where the old system did operate democraticly was in the use of regional and district boards to assess local priorities and make recommendations to the national boards which, more often than not, were adopted if the money was available.

    What’s not made explicitly clear in the GPS is that the RLTP processes are to be weakened even further with the NLTP dictating what can be included in an RLTP. That’s something you really need to fight against, and most rural councils and communities will be fully behind or alongside you in that fight.

    One original reason for the independence of the fund is that it was (and still is) a user pays system, just like the earthquake insurance scheme, and the electricity and telephone departments used to be. But without an equivalent of an electricity meter the only unavoidable and inexpensive way to collect the user fee was through an excise duty. It’s important not to confuse government spending with taxpayer funding otherwise you get the current situation where the EQC’s payouts in Christchurch are included in the amount that Government is spending “rebuilding Christchurch” and which careless journalists then translate into “taxpayer spending” as the DomPost did in a recent editorial.

  2. The Nats just showing their true colours again !
    Supporting : Fat-Cats, Businesses & Farmers (Their concerns, AS NAT VOTERS, always come first) the rest come a VERY poor second ot third ?
    So much for democracy as a tool of the masses, to be heard by the power-brokers.
    The truth is that 80% of kiwis don’t often use public transport, so it isn’t really a priority. OH DEAR !!
    Kia-ora

  3. I can understand his point that a form submission is probably not as valuable as a unique one.

    Yes it is and to say otherwise is disrespectful of those who submitted. You only need to read it once but it’s the proportion of submissions that’s important.

    So who were the stakeholders? They were the 44 businesses and organizations the Minister deemed important enough to consult.

    Yep, that’d be National. The only people they think of as deserving are the rich and so they only listen to the rich. Everyone else can’t possibly be a “stakeholder” even though it is their community. Seen this with Labour as well.

    This process shows clearly the the Minister’s disregard for public opinion and lack of interest in genuine consultation.

    Basically, what happened here is that the majority of people were ignored because a minister didn’t like what they had to say as it went against his own beliefs. So much for “listening to the public” that we were promised by NAct.

    Do you think that there should be more democratic control and oversight of the National Land Transport Fund? And, if so, what do you think is the best way of achieving that?

    Yes. I want to see the facts and figures online in an easily read form and want online submissions (including form submissions) and voting.

    People making informed collective decisions – something that modern technology can facilitate. Or we could continue the “minister knows best” ideology of National and Act.

  4. The other side of the form submissions issue is that consultation is not a vote. So hundreds of people sending in the same postcard or email doesn’t necessarily better inform a decision because it’s the ideas not the numbers that count (unless those numbers are so huge so as difficult to ignore and 450 on a national issue isn’t that). A single well argued submission bringing a new perspective may be way better in this context than a form letter. Form letters can do themselves a disservice by making it easy to dismiss them.

  5. Would form submissions carry more weight if you could choose what parts of a policy you were pro/against? With the ability to add comment under each preference/dislike to justify why. Obviously a unique and original letter is better, but not everyone has the time to write one, and often the issues presented in the form letter is pretty informative.
    Also I don’t think it should just be up to the Greens to do this – why aren’t the other parties making it easier for time-poor people to still have their say?!

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