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Bribe-O-Meter - cost of NZ First Northland bribes now more than $200 per NZ household

Following another week of policy announcements on the Northland by-election campaign trail, NZ First is now clocking up promises that, if implemented, would cost more than $200 per New Zealand household.

As of today, National has promised $63.5 million for Northland, while NZ First's promises total $378.9 million. The amounts are equivalent to a cost per New Zealand household of $35.67 for National’s promises and $212.87 for NZ First.

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The largest new bribe since last week's update was Mr Peters’ pledge to use taxpayer money to bailout the Kaipara District Council’s debt arising from the Mangawhai Heads wastewater project. This alone increased Mr Peters’ Bribe-O-Meter total by $80 million.

On yesterday’s TVNZ Q&A debate, Mr Peters made reference to a policy to build a ‘fast’ train service to the North. An independent economic expert commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union for the Bribe-O-Meter, estimates that a high-speed rail link to Northland would cost at least $6.5 billion, more than Northland’s total annual GDP.

But you can breathe a sigh of relief. Winston Peters’ Chief of Staff confirmed to us this morning that the NZ First leader was not meaning high-speed rail. Apparently Mr Peters’ comments relating to ‘fast’ rail to Northland was a reference to line upgrades, already factored into the Bribe-O-Meter, and an express passenger service.

We are proud that the Bribe-O-Meter is forcing politicians to be transparent about the cost of their promises, but with one week to go there is still a risk that politicians turn the by-election into a lolly scramble at taxpayers’ expense.

Over the flip is a breakdown of the promises and our methodology.

Pledge, bribe or policy Cost (million)
  National NZ First
Replacement of 10 one-lane bridges  50.5  
Development of the Port of Whangarei (instead of extension of the Port of Auckland into Waitemata Harbour)   123.4
Upgrade the Auckland to Northland railway line   50
Rail link to port   122
Akerama Curves realignment 13  
Taxpayer bailout of Kaipara District Council debt (related to the Mangawhai sewerage scheme)   80
Express rail service between Auckland and Whangarei   3.5
Total 63.5 378.9

As always we are happy to refine the estimates as we get more information from Government agencies, clarification from the candidates and receive economic advice on the costs of the various promises. We hope  the Bribe-O-Meter encourages politicians to be more precise and transparent in their bribes over the next few weeks.

Notes:
1 The National Party announcd on 9 March that National will commit to replacing 10 single lane bridges on Northland's Twin Coast Highway. We have used the mid-point of the estimated cost of between $32 and $69 million. http://www.national.org.nz/news/news/media-releases/detail/2015/03/08/national-to-replace-10-single-lane-bridges-in-northland
2 The Taxpayers' Union has requested from Mr Peters details of what the 'upgrade' would consitst or and any costings.  We are advised that the cost of expansion in Whangarei, on an equivilent scale to what Ports of Auckland intend would require significant infrastucture and capital investment.  We have therefore assigned a 20% apportionment of the current value of Ports of Auckland's property, plant and equipment, which is listed as 617 million in the  PoA 2014 finaical statements. http://www.poal.co.nz/news_media/publications/2014_Reviews/2014_FinancialReview.pdf
3 KiwiRail have told use that: "The Northland line between Auckland and Whangarei operates under a number of constraints.   There are 13 tunnels 132 bridges and around 1000 culverts on the 214 km km route between Westfield  and Whangarei.
Tunnel clearance restrictions   place limitations on types of locomotives   and wagons that can be used and the size of containers – tunnel floors would need to be lowered and improved clearances on most of the tunnels.
There is also axle- load restrictions in place and work would be needed on structures to enable heavier loadings.
High level investigations have put the cost of  those two pieces of work at around $50 million."
4 KiwiRail have told us that "The cost of building new track per kilometre varies significantly depending on the terrain and ground conditions.  KiwiRail has not done a detailed cost estimate on building the 25 kilometre rail link to Marsden Point, however a feasibility study carried out [between 2005 and 2006] estimated the cost to be in excess of $100 million." Inflation adjusted from Q1 2006 to Q4 2014 = $122million
5 On 1 July 2014 he Northern Advocate reported that: "The project has yet to be consented and work was unlikely to start until 2017/18, but it had not previously been programmed for construction" (see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503450&objectid=11285182 ).  On 18/3/15 Simon Bridges announced that construction would begin next month.
6 $80million figure obtained from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11269234
7 A passanger service between Auckland and Whangarei (158km) is aproximately the same distence as the Capital Connection service between Palmerston North and Wellington (142km). The Capital Connection service is forecast to lose $700,000 in the next financial year. Given that the Northland line would be serving a smaller population base than Palmerston North it is likely that a Northland service would operate at a larger loss. The figure assumes that Mr Peters is able to secure funding for 5 years.  Source for Capital Conneciton loss: http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/67474959/Regional-council-considers-subsidy-for-Capital-Connection-in-budget 
8 Households:  As at 31/12/14 $1.78million (see http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/estimates_and_projections/DwellingHouseholdEstimates_HOTPDec14qtr.aspx )

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