Hard News by Russell Brown

The Corridor

I find it a little difficult to consider the proposed $4 billion Eastern Transport Corridor for Auckland without wondering what's in it for me, as an Auckland City ratepayer. The project seems likely to deliver vastly increased traffic volumes to a part of greater Auckland where I do go, and economic benefits to parts where I don't.

Certainly, major new roads do tend eventually to go from the protest phase to being indispensable. They're easy to oppose before they exist, and easy to use when they do. And there is, in the set of options presented yesterday, a new and substantial public transport component (John Banks' fantasy tunnel under the harbour appears to have disappeared back into his fevered imagination).

But, even assuming that the budget holds through years of consent and construction (and it's already eight times greater then when the plan was launched 18 months ago), this thing is unprecedented in scale. It will account for more than half of the future transport spending for the entire region. When Wellington still can't get $260 million for Transmission Gully, it does seem bizarre.

I do wish Auckland regional authorities could think about putting even a fraction of the billions proposed here into perhaps actually reducing the number of daily journeys required to keep the economy turning over. Where's a matching vision for Auckland's telecommunications infrastructure? I can't help but think of the kind of network $4 billion would buy.

Still, at least people from Howick will find it easier to get to the forthcoming downtown indoor stadium. Which is, of course, being wholly funded out of my rates, and not theirs ...

Don Brash last Thursday: the general public was "relieved that at last this issue was being put back on the table for debate." Don Brash yesterday: the public "[doesn't] want to debate that". So we had the debate? Crikey! Who won? Will it be on TV later?

Matters arising from Brash II: Kim Griggs, the author of the story on the kaumatua and the frogs that I linked to on Monday (and also a respected science and technology writer for Wired, among others) got in touch with some further comment:

At the time, I found McCully's comments outrageous given that many government organisations pay for the travel of key stakeholders when they consider it is warranted. You, no doubt, have your own examples, but one I always use is this.

In 2001, when I went to Antarctica (yes, a taxpayer-funded media trip) one of the DVs (distinguished visitors) on that trip was Stephen Tindall. (I'd posit that his 5-day journey to Antarctica cost the taxpayer far more than $2500; in fact the helicopter trip he and his group took, like the one my group took, probably cost more than that.)

Now I'm definitely not knocking Antarctica New Zealand's programme - as I think all DVs (and everyone else who goes there) - become important ambassadors for New Zealand's work in Antarctica and I'm sure that includes Stephen Tindall.

But of course there was no great business reason for Stephen to go there - he's not about to cut open a Red Shed near Scott Base.

Rather, the invitation from Antarctica New Zealand was to garner the support of a senior member of the business community for New Zealand's efforts in one of the most vulnerable and isolated spots in the world.

Rather like, I'm sure, that DOC wanted to garner the support of the senior members of the local Maori community for New Zealand's efforts in saving one of the most vulnerable and isolated amphibians in the world.

Aside from the size of the bill, and the ethnicity of those involved, I really can't see much difference in the practice.

Kim also points out that Tindall put on a very good shout at the Scott Base bar. On the other hand, research scientist Bart Janssen (speaking, he emphasises, personally) had some comment on research and consultation:

For the most part I agree with your comments about Brash's rabble-rousing. More importantly I'm very much in favour of special health care to keep Maori out of hospitals and special education initiatives to get Maori into Universities (as scientists not lawyers, please).

I agree ethics guidelines and more importantly the HSNO act and ERMA guidelines require most researchers to consult with local iwi. Where such research intimately involves Maori I can understand why that is so. But why were Maori given special rights of approval over the rest of the scientific research that goes on?

Where research specifically impacts on any group of the population in particular of course that group must be involved in the ethical decisions but Maori are involved (by regulation) in nearly every ethics panel for every decision. That's not reasonable nor sensible.

The Maori representatives on our panels are nice folks mostly struggling to understand science that is the life's work of the researchers involved and for most part there is simply nothing for them to do but turn up. That's silly. Fortunately, those representatives we've had do their duty well, they've tried to get some understanding of what's going on and they've asked honest and reasonable questions. But really, they are doing nothing more than a lay member of the panel could or should do. So why are they given that special position?

Personally I can't see anything in the copy of the treaty that is on the wall in our foyer that implies a special approval of scientific research in the country, but I'm not a lawyer.

BTW if you think those guidelines have no affect on research in New Zealand you are very wrong. Because of Maori guardianship of New Zealand native species most of us won't even start to do research on a native plant. It's just too much of a cultural and political minefield to bother with. There are plenty of interesting and valuable (to NZ) scientific questions to answer in exotic species. This leads to the bizarre situation where it's easier to do research on a NZ native species in England, using plants in Kew gardens, than it is in NZ.

Fair enough: on the face of it, that does sound counterproductive, even tokenistic. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have a fact. We appear to be getting somewhere. Further comment from the scientific community is welcomed.

Mel ventured a point of view on the taniwha's swamp near Mercer:

There's only about 2% left of the kahikatea swamp forest that used to cover the Waikato. Another reason that Transit should've compromised. Their lack of willingness to ever use flyovers for wetlands (roads ruin the hydrology) really irks me. Doesn't meet their myopic cost-benefit analysis.

An "indignant orc" named Tim pointed out I got the wrong quarry yesterday:

Helms Deep set was at Dry Creek Quarry, by the bogan lands of Upper Hutt and Taita, NOT at the Horokiwi quarry, near trendy Petone and environs.

I blame the locals. But Petone is "trendy"?

Brent galloped to the defence of the Galloping Gourmet:

Yeah, I was dubious about Kerr's steamed squid thing too. But I found that 20 minutes of steaming before frying or stuffing it turns out beautifully textured squid by getting rid of the rubberiness Try it yourself sometime.

Thanks. I will.