Though New Zealand First may have had ambitions to run the infrastructure portfolios, National would seem to have ended up firmly in control of them.
POLITIK has obtained a private memo to members of Infrastructure NZ yesterday, which shows that the peak organisation for infrastructure sees National MPs Chris Bishop and Simeon Brown as the key players in infrastructure rather than NZ First Minister Shane Jones.
In their manifesto, NZ First had proposed a Ministry of Infrastructure which would be “tasked with determining an optimal investment programme and whole of government infrastructure pipelines to provide greater investment and employment certainty for private sector contractors.”
That appeared in the coalition agreement with National as “a National Infrastructure Agency under the direction of relevant Ministers” to coordinate government funding, connect investors with New Zealand infrastructure, and improve funding, procurement and delivery.
But from the perspective of Infrastructure NZ, the “relevant Ministers” are six National Ministers and, one from ACT and Shane Jones from NZ First.
Bishop will be the lead infrastructure Minister, but he has a busy agenda as Leader of The House, Minister of Housing and Minister responsible for RMA reform.
Brown, as Minister of Energy, Transport, Local and for Auckland, looks likely to be National’s key player in infrastructure.
The memo says: “Facing the Mayor, negotiating New Zealand First’s port movement ambitions, finding alternatives to three waters and Auckland Light Rail, and bringing the sector along on a vision for the energy system (among other rather significant challenges) will be no small task for the new Minister.
“Brown is a two-term MP who is obviously trusted by National’s senior leadership to step up and deliver.”
Shane Jones is a former infrastructure Minister and knows the sector and its challenges well.
He will take on the Regional Development portfolio as well as being Minister for Resources (and Associate Minister for Energy).
Infrastructure NZ’s memo says: “The splitting of the Energy and Resources portfolio is interesting.
“The assumption is that Simeon Brown will be responsible for the electricity, gas, and fuel markets and associated policy settings, while Shane Jones will be responsible for the Crown Minerals regime and operational policy.”
But possibly most importantly, Jones will oversee a $1.2 billion regional development fund.
Otherwise, National has opened the door to various avenues of private investment to help fund infrastructure.
The Chinese Communist Party newspaper, “Global Times”, has already noted that Luxon has been clear about his interest in collaboration with China under the Belt and Road Initiative framework.
Pressed during the election campaign on whether a National government would take money from China to pay for new roads, Luxon said: “Yeah, absolutely.”
That enthusiasm might meet some resistance from Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who has been wary of Chinese money in the past.
But New Zealand First’s objections to overseas capital go further than China, and the Infrastructure NZ memo questions Naitonal’s proposals to encourage overseas funding.
“Balancing the National Party’s desire to invest in infrastructure and bring in overseas capital and expertise with New Zealand First’s unease with foreign investment will be a challenge which Luxon will need to handle with some considerable dexterity,” the memo says.
“The runs are, however, already on the board for the new Prime Minister who has managed to guide his desire to reengage with Public-Private-Partnerships through the coalition negotiations despite Peters’ apprehension during the campaign.
“Another win is the agreement to amend the Overseas Investment Act 2005 to limit ministerial decision making to national security concerns and make such decision making more timely.
“We welcome the renewed openness to private capital.
“New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit is not something the government should or can address by itself, and bringing in overseas expertise should be top of the list for uplifting the sector’s productivity.”
However, Infrastructure NZ and the new government might part company over the repeal and replacement of the Natural and Built Environment Act and the Spatial Planning Act.
New Zealand First has ready and drafted a Bill, which National has agreed to introduce, which would establish a one-stop shop for fast-track planning consents administered not by Councils or the Environmental Protection Authority but by the Ministers themselves.
Infrastructure NZ is suggesting that it could be introduced within the National’s 100 days of action programme.
But inquiries by POLITIK to confirm this have been met with equivocation by several ministers.
Whether that means there are some second thoughts on how to go about the changes to Labour’s planning legislation is unclear.
Infrastructure NZ is one of several bodies who welcomed some aspects of David Parker’s changes.
“While we welcome the streamlining of consenting processes, we note the positive progress that has been achieved over many years, particularly with the establishment of the new planning regime under the Spatial Planning Act,” their memo says.
“Much of the sector is on board with a move to regional planning committees and a streamlining of the current national policy statement regime.
“The shift to debating and agreeing the appropriate location for activities and conditions at a regional scale versus the activity by activity consenting debate under the RMA was viewed as progress.
“ It would have been good to see some movement at the edges rather than a new regime birthed in reaction to the previous government’s reform programme.
“However, the incoming government has an opportunity to front foot changes early to send positive signals to the sector and engender greater certainty than the back and forth would imply.”