Peter Williams: Latest regional funding just pork barrel politics

Opinion 05/02/2019
Shane Jones. Photo: Getty.

By Peter Williams, Magic Mornings host

OPINION: The Shane Jones show has been in full voice over the weekend, digging deep into the pork barrel and distributing the largesse just because he can. This is the man who has a billion dollars to give away every year for three years, and blow me down, most of it is going to Northland. It's an where Shane Jones happens to live, and where his party leader Winston Peters is originally from.

The announcements over the weekend mean another $100 million to Northland rural and agricultural enterprises because apparently they can’t get access to capital the usual way.

I imagine the reason for that is that the projects that want the money cannot present a business case good enough for money to be invested from financial institutions.

I also read that the Maori landowners - and note the plural in that - have an inalienable right to that land. Therefore any investment in that land cannot have any security for the investors  so I’m quite intrigued as to how this $100 million can really be called an investment.

Governments have been trying to settle a treaty claim with Ngāpuhi for at least 25 years.

An investment in my book is putting something in and getting a tangible return. I’ve yet to see any mention of a return for this $100 million.

So, for the Government to call this an investment in the traditional sense of the word is crazy. It might be a contestable fund, but it’s basically just more government welfare with no need to provide any reports of a return on the money and whether it will provide value in terms of jobs and a better life for the people of Northland.

Another $27 million of this PGF money will be available for transport projects, which apparently have been neglected for too long.

That means sealing a lot of country roads in the Kaipara area, which is a fair enough. Every area deserves sealed roads in the 21st century. But my question is this: How come the provincial growth fund has now taken over the role of the government agencies, central and local, charged with keeping our roads in appropriate condition for the local population?

Is it that Santa Claus Jones can’t find enough real business projects in the far north to fund, or invest in, so he’s resorting to paying for something that other government bodies should be?

At the same time the PGF is keen to take over the Transport Agency's job,  four lane highways in the populated areas up to Whangarei from Auckland are being put on hold or postponed or not being built at all - because this Government doesn’t really like building roads.

But here’s the thing about the far north, and indeed the whole of Northland - it is Ngāpuhi country and governments have been trying to settle a treaty claim with Ngāpuhi for at least 25 years.

While Tainui and Ngāi Tahu have taken their millions, mostly invested well and turned it into billions, the biggest iwi in the country has been fighting amongst itself for all that time. The governments of the day, dating back at least to the turn of the century have been wanting to do a deal. John Key and Chris Findlayson in the last National government suggested they would settle with Ngāpuhi for somewhere between $500 and 600 million. Then Andrew Little takes over the job and runs straight into the same frustration that every Treaty Negotiations Minister going back to Doug Graham in the 90s has encountered.

It’s as if Ngāpuhi don’t care about the future. The egos has been getting in the way of a settlement and progress for Ngāpuhi.

Then along comes Uncle Shane with his barrel of pork, throwing it around and the incentive for Ngāpuhi to settle decreases even more. Here’s free money, they say, no need for all those tricky negotiation things. Just our man Shane with a big pile of cash that he has to give away. 

The amount of the PGF going to Northland is now just getting embarrassing.

There’s now $21 million for digital services. Rural digital hubs. Guess where the first of them is? It’s in Northland.

Then there’ll be broadband and Wi-Fi provided to some marae. Guess where the first of those marae are? That’s right. Oromahoe and Te Houhanga in Te Tai Tokerau - which we all know as  Northland.

It’s as if the rest of the country doesn’t matter. But there’s no accountability for this money, no reporting systems in place to tell us about the results of the investment.

It is blatant pork barrel politics the likes of which this country has never seen before. The sad thing is we can’t do anything about it. They can do what they like with our money.

For now.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Mornings every weekday, 9am - midday.