Jacinda Ardern denies stealing National's roading policies

The AM Show 30/01/2020

Jacinda Ardern has rejected accusations of stealing National's policies after announcing a $5.3 billion investment in roads.

Many of the roading plans in Wednesday's infrastructure announcement were first proposed when National was in power, such as the Melling interchange near Lower Hutt.

"After two-and-a-half years Jacinda Ardern's Government has realised it has no infrastructure ideas of its own that it can deliver on, so it has copied the plans I put in place when I was Transport Minister," National leader Simon Bridges said.

"It's quite flattering, really. It's just a shame that an entire term of Government has been wasted by tearing up these plans and putting them back together again."

The Prime Minister told The AM Show on Thursday that wasn't quite what happened.

"No, if what you're claiming is just because we have roads in areas that National put out a press statement in the last election claiming that they would build some roads in those areas too. 

"I mean look - ultimately they had nine years. They didn't complete these projects, start these projects, fund these projects. What we're doing is not only better because we've modernised, it will be faster and it's funded."

She said the plans were never torn up by her Government.

"They've remained on the books, but we've also altered them, so of course that was work that needed to be done. 

"When we first came in we really prioritised some really important parts of our transport funding - so we've increased the amount we've spent. We're spending $4 billion per annum on transport funding, but we've said actually, we need to make our roads safer. And also our regional and rural roads have been neglected, so we've prioritised that. Now we're coming in with some additional significant projects."

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said it was about time the Government stumped up significant investment in infrastructure.

"We have been long complaining about how we have an infrastructure deficit, that we need to spend more and this is the right time to borrow. If you look at the list of projects, all of the projects are stuff that would have been done anyway - but they've all been brought forward."

Despite many Green and perhaps even some Labour voters being not so keen on such a big investment in roads, Eaqub doubts the spend-up will be "particularly damaging" for the Government. 

"This makes them relatively centrist, it steals National's thunder."

Ardern made no apologies for the delay in investment, saying there were more important things to attend to first.

"I'm not apologising for investing in hospitals and schools, because that is what we did straight away. When you've got stories coming out of Middlemore of sewage down the walls, I think people expected us to look there first."

Some of the money used to build the roads will be borrowed. Ardern said the Labour-NZ First Government has managed to bring the core Crown debt-to GDP ratio down so much, even after borrowing to fund these projects, it'll still be lower than when they took office.

"We are [still borrowing] - we'll get up to a peak of 21.5 percent of GDP... that is lower than what we inherited our debt rate at. We came in, we got it down. Borrowing - the cost are low right now, our debt is low, now is the time."

In 2017, New Zealand's debt-to-GDP ratio was 21.7 percent. Last year it had dropped to 19.9 percent. In the 1990s it was as high as 42 percent, but had dropped to 5.4 percent by 2008, ahead of the global financial crisis. 

Ardern said the previous Government couldn't use the crisis as an excuse for not investing in infrastructure, as it didn't last for all their nine years in power, and infrastructure spending - even if paid for by borrowing - is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley