No Surprise over Northland Road Neglect

15 July 2022

The chickens have come home to roost - or more correctly, the potholes.

The headline "Pothole Crusade" would have come as no surprise to long term residents - one of many in similar vein over the decades. The 1917 Parliamentary tour of Northland is famous for its photos of the now vintage vehicles being dug out of the mud.

And the latest proposal from the NZTA to reduce speed limits across many Northland roads is a glaring example for those who have cared to look, of the neglect that has been evident for decades.

Most other examples have only touched discrete groups - those in poor housing, those with long term health needs, those unemployed.

Poor roads affect everyone and the costs to society and the regional economy are significant.

It's easy these days to blame the government for everything - this and previous ones. In this case that is fairly and squarely where the blame should lie.

Former National Party Northland MP for 24 years and now Far North Mayor, John Carter had it right when he said “Northland roads were a ‘challenge’ and blamed a lack of government funding for their poor condition”.  24 years of you being a government MP John, we note.

For over a century Northland has been ignored by the two major parties.

The electorates have been safe seats for National with very few exceptions in that time. They've had no need to spend money to secure re-election. They've been able to spend elsewhere to secure or win other seats.

The proof of that assertion was the Northland by-election of 2016 when it looked like National would lose to Winston Peters.

A tsunami of cabinet ministers descended and toured the electorate (more than in 1917). Suddenly a promise of ten bridge rebuilds materialised and took everyone by surprise - even the agencies responsible for planning and building such things, who had to go searching to find where they were.

A four lane highway between Whangarei and Ruakaka was announced weeks before the 2017 election when it looked like National might lose.

And nearly sixty years ago, when Social Credit's Vern Cracknell won Hobson, millions were poured into roads to convince farmers to return to the National fold. They did, and they've been ignored ever since.

For its part, Labour has never bothered either, knowing that the North would soon return to National anyway. Labour's Murray Smith, elected in 1972, was acknowledged all round as a great electorate MP for Whangarei, but lasted just one term, as will the current one.

Her performance on three crucial issues is instructive.

Despite describing herself prior to the election as "a stroppy woman" who would fight for Whangarei if she got elected, the best she could do over the closure of the Refinery was to say she was working with the company to try and find jobs for the hundreds of displaced workers. Better than nothing I suppose.

But surely a "stroppy woman" would have used her considerable MP's resources to marshall business and community support to fight the closure. Not so. That was left to me, the leader of Social Credit, a small party with access to none of those taxpayer funded resources at her disposal.

A "stroppy woman" would also have led a community fight to ensure the $60 million Provincial Growth Fund Grant for the now cancelled Oruku Landing project was retrained for other important Whangarei projects. Telling us that it was not the way the system works is making excuses for sidestepping action.

And instead of calling out the government for so many Northlanders needing to rely on food banks, she's been calling on people to support a food gift collection. Useful perhaps, but hardly dealing with the problem.

On the evidence then, what works to benefit the north is the election of an MP who doesn't represent either National, Labour, or their supporting parties.

History tells us that's when the money so desperately needed will flow in.

Voters facing up to a ballot paper in Northland, Whangarei, and Kaipara ki Mahurangi next year should perhaps take note.