Hard News by Russell Brown

The Mystery Road

The more I look at John Banks' massive Eastern Transport Corridor, the more I think that it's not actually going to happen. For a start, it seems less clear with each passing day where the money is going to come from.

The project got a very enthusiastic thumbs up in a Herald editorial yesterday, but in the same paper the mystery was deepening. Approached for comment on the consultants' prediction that 80% of the cost will fall on Auckland City ratepayers (that is, the people who get least economic benefit from it all), John Banks chirpily declared that ratepayers would barely have to open their purses at all.

There would be a toll of, um, er, $5 - no, make that $2.50. But anyway, the government would come sailing in to pick up the tab - on top of the $6.5 billion it's already budgeted for new roading work in the Auckland region. Somehow, I don't think so. There was a little discussion of this on our rugby mailing list yesterday, and a certain Southern belle ventured what I strongly suspect will be the attitude of most taxpayers outside Auckland: piss off.

South Islanders will be thinking, she pointed out, of all those single-lane bridges on the state highways to the West Coast and Nelson, which have to be negotiated by big logging trucks. Wellingtonians will be thinking about Transmission Gully. And North Shore residents have not yet begun to get up in arms about Banks' proposal to reintroduce tolls to the Auckland Harbour Bridge after 20 years. Any government will confront that lot at its own peril.

So while I think there will be some sort of expressway built along the proposed route some day, this grandiose proposal, with its half-billion dollar tunnel to ease the nerves of the wealthy folk of Parnell, won't be it.

That's not Banks' problem of course. This, and his unexpected offer to buy the $400 million stretch of waterfront being thoughtlessly flicked off by Ports of Auckland (meaning, as things stand, a bidding war with the Royal Yacht Squadron's syndicate) are chiefly about Banks' raging ego and his desire to be re-elected as mayor. His astonishing comparison of himself with Sir John Logan Campbell (who gifted land that he owned to the people of Auckland, rather than spending their money on it) was testament to that. I do think the waterfront land has to be saved in some way, but I don't think the mayor's motives for doing so are as pure as he likes to pretend.

According to last week's NBR, Bill Ralston declared Mediawatch's interviews on TVNZ's coverage of the departed Sri Lankan girl a "disgrace", and questioned the credentials of the programme's hosts - that'll be - to comment on the media. How odd. Last time I saw Bill he told me how well the programme was going and enquired as to whether I was currently doing any TV work. Guess that's my big shot at a guest slot on Tonight gone then …

Anyway, the interview with Sri Lankan Community spokesman Dr Upali Manu and Parliamentary press officer Ted Sheehan is here. Stuff has since quoted Sri Lankan child protection authorities, who have accused the New Zealand media of exploiting the girl's case for commercial gain.

There's also a transcript of last week's interview with Hugh Rennie QC about his old friend, the late Warren Berryman.

A Hard News reader returning to New Zealand asked me a couple of weeks ago about the availability of TiVo here. Officially, it's not available. But if you simply must have a DVR, it can be done. I wrote about New Zealand's TiVo pioneers in my Listener column this week. They're a small but helpful bunch, and there's a lot of useful information on the NZ TiVo site. I'm hoping to have a dabble in my own home in the next couple of weeks, so I'll let you know how it goes.