Monday, May 05, 2008

Reaction to rail nationalisation

Predictably, the soothsayers and faith based activists for rail are bowing their heads in deference to the mountain of taxpayers' money thrown into buying the ferries and railway rolling stock. Don't forget this is $150 of your money taken to be used on this - you might have preferred that be spent on food, health insurance or some books for your kids - no you've been forced to buy a business that will cost you more again, each year, so that a handful of companies can move their freight more cheaply.
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Mainfreight is cheering it on, after all, it will be a key beneficiary of subsidised rail freight.
Jim Anderton and NZ First's Peter Brown, both experts of regulatory economics (ha!), are wetting themselves with excitement. Peter Brown claims it "will result in improved service, innovation" though I wonder what he was drinking when railways were last government owned to think that state ownership means innovation and quality service. It was a national joke. Jim Anderton of course simply worships state ownership - remember that he will be deciding, along with other Ministers what trains you'll be forced to buy for the railways. Yes - the $665 million is only the start. It's worth noting that Air New Zealand, being publicly listed and partially privately owned doesn't have any such political interference (or subsidies) in its investment programme. However, you might wonder whether Peter Brown, whose personal policy fetish is coastal shipping - has realised the government is about to own one of the biggest competitors of the coastal shipping sector!
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Richard Prebble claims the buyback may cost as much as $3 million a day in subsidies. He may not be far wrong. He also asks if different companies will be allowed to run train services on the tracks (as is the case in much of Europe and Australia) or whether the government will run a monopoly? It's a good point. Why shouldn't someone wishing to buy their own trains run a service on the publicly owned tracks, especially now the government has bought Toll's monopoly access rights?
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The trucking industry, in the form of Tony Friedlander (ex. Muldoon era Minister of Works) of the Road Transport Forum said it was too early to comment. After all government owned rail is likely to compete with many trucking operations.
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The Greens are of course thrilled that taxpayers have been forced to buy their idol - the railway rolling stock and locomotives. It would be nice if they actually used it more though. Nevertheless Jeanette Fitzsimons is already calling for you to be forced to pay for the slowest motorised long distance transport in the country - passenger trains! It takes six hours to go by rail from Christchurch to Dunedin (without speed restrictions) four hours to drive, less than an hour to fly. It takes five hours from Wellington to Napier by rail, 3.5 to 4 hours to drive and an hour to fly. Auckland to Wellington by rail can, at best, be done in 10.5 hours, seven hours to drive and one hour to fly. Few things excite the Greens more than rail transport - it truly is a faith based initiative.
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National of course is opposing it, but wont reverse it. See that's what being in Opposition is all about - oppose a policy at the time, but go along with it when you get elected. It's called Ratchet Socialism - Labour advances socialist policies, and National can't move the ratchet back, (and has policy worthy of rat shit as a result). The claim the Nats make that it wouldn't get a good price for the sale. However, here's an idea. Don't sell it, hand out the shares to the general public. Give everyone a stake in the railways and hand over the shares. Publicly float them, see if the value is retained, and then people can bail out if they like. It wouldn't be "flogging off the assets to foreigners" it would be handing them to New Zealanders - true public ownership, though not one socialists agree with because it doesn't mean Cabinet is in control. However, David Farrar thinks there is a case for the state to own core infrastructure assets - so he wont think the Alliance is mad in seeking renationalisation of Contact Energy, Auckland and Wellington airports. Meanwhile Maurice Williamson has said National is committed to buying electric trains for Auckland. Why, except for votes?
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I'll expect ACT will advocate privatisation of it again, as it should.

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