The Ross Report: 10 November 2014

The Ross Report
Monday, November 10, 2014

Security at home and abroad

In recent weeks international security has been in the headlines. As New Zealanders have been watching events unfold in the Middle East the Government has turned its mind to the role that we need to play as international citizens. Last week the Prime Minister gave an important speech on national security which outlined the threat that the terrorist group ISIL poses both globally and to New Zealand.

The Government takes its national security obligations very seriously. We have an obligation to ensure New Zealanders are safe at home and abroad. ISIL exposes New Zealand to a type of threat that we lack both the legislative tools and resources to combat.

Sadly, there are individuals here who are attracted to carrying out domestic attacks of the type we have seen in Canada, and luckily prevented in Australia. NZ agencies have a watch list of between 30 and 40 people of concern who may wish to become foreign fighters for ISIL.

To respond to the evolving foreign terrorist fighter issue Cabinet has approved limited, narrowly focused legislative changes which would allow:

  1. Passports to be cancelled for up to three years,
  2. Temporary passport suspensions for up to 10 working days in urgent cases,
  3. The NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) to carry out video surveillance on private properties for the purpose of observing activities of security concern,
  4. The SIS to conduct emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours prior to the issue of a warrant, with the approval of its Director and subject to the oversight of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

New Zealand will not be providing forces for combat roles, however military personnel are assessing what contribution New Zealand could make with training troops in Iraq. The likely contributions will be humanitarian, diplomatic, intelligence and capacity building.

Ensuring the safety of New Zealanders is the most important role of any Government. Our agencies are doing everything in their power to prevent harm and keep New Zealanders safe. In this case we believe additional limited powers are needed to help ensure the security of our nation.

Comment on the City Rail Link and Auckland Rates

Recently Mayor Len Brown gained media attention as the Auckland Council considered the start date for the City Rail Link as well as options for funding this project.

The Mayor is firmly of the view that he wants the start date for the City Rail Link to be brought forward to 2016. He is also floating the idea of raising funds for the Link and other projects by asking the Government to either hike fuel taxes across the country with part of it going to Auckland, or implement a motorway charge with users paying about $2 when they enter the motorway system.

Transport infrastructure is a significant issue, especially in Auckland. There is a historical deficit of investment that needs to be rectified. Since taking office we have been spending more than ever before to help build the city’s transport network – around a billion dollars a year.

This investment includes some very large projects like the Waterview Connection, the widening of the North Western Motorway, and the electrification of commuter rail. We are also accelerating motorway projects on the Northern and Southern Corridors and we will be significantly speeding up the AMETI public transport initiative between Botany and Panmure. These projects will make a big difference to congestion.

However, we are very sceptical about the Mayor’s proposals for funding future infrastructure that the Council wants to pursue. Aucklanders would need a very clear sense of what results we might be getting and whether the new projects would deliver tangible value for money and commuters. We also need to have the discussion about how much more Aucklanders are prepared to pay to fund these projects.

As your local MP I must express concern about the rates rises the Mayor is proposing. Local ratepayers are facing rising costs in many parts of their lives. There is an expectation that local government rates rises need to be reasonable. The proposed 3.5 percent annual rates hike for the next 10 years makes for sobering reading, especially when the consumer price index (inflation) rose by only 1.0 percent in the last year.

The Government agrees Auckland must have a transport system that meets the demands of a growing population. The Government work with Auckland to achieve that. But the preferred start date for the City Rail Link is 2020 – a date arrived at after careful consideration of the project’s economic benefits versus its costs, as well as the optimum time to start construction. The $2.4 billion price tag is a significant financial commitment and any action the Council takes to start this project prior to 2020 comes at a significant cost.

The Council will argue that a large rates rise is more desirable than cuts to community projects and amenities, or levels of service that are provided. Cutting important services is not a realistic option, but rather a tactic designed to scare locals into believing additional revenue collection is required. At some point we ratepayers must surely have to ask our local representatives – is the dream of a $2.4 billion railway, built years ahead of when the Government believes it is financially viable, really worth the financial strain on ratepayers now in 2014?

There are infrastructure upgrades that are needed in Auckland. Nobody disagrees with that. But everything comes at a cost and must be prioritised properly. A desire to improve Auckland’s transport is one thing. Uncontrolled fanaticism that could impose significant financial burden on ratepayers is something completely different.

Like the Council, local MPs will be listening to our constituents over the coming weeks and months. In my view, so far the messages from the Mayor and Council have been rather unconvincing.