City's issues to the fore

19:22, Aug 20 2014

Whoever ends up representing Wellington in Parliament after the election better have some sharp ideas about how to handle a super-city merger, foster new business, and fix the Basin Reserve’s transport conundrum.

They were the major issues that emerged when five of the region’s political hopefuls went toe-to-toe in a debate hosted by the Wellington Employers’ Chamber of Commerce tonight.

Taking part was Labour’s Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson, National’s Hutt South candidate Chris Bishop, United Future leader and Ohariu MP Peter Dunne, Green Party candidate for Wellington Central James Shaw, and Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar.

Bishop was the only candidate to receive a round of applause after his opening remarks, suggesting the 200 or so people at Massey University’s Wellington campus were a bit right-leaning.

That suggestion was confirmed within minutes as the audience began hammering Robertson and Shaw with questions about their party’s respective fiscal policies.

Labour’s proposed capital gains tax was not popular with the room, but Robertson did his best to extol the virtues of encouraging investment away from the housing market.


Likewise, Shaw faced an uphill battle selling the idea of an investment bank for funding environmentally-friendly businesses, and raising the top tax rate to 40 per cent for those earning above $140,000.

He knocked back suggestions his party’s tax policy would see talented Kiwi business people flee overseas, saying that had not been the experience in other countries with similar tax rates.

When asked what core policies they would see through if elected, Robertson went with increasing the capital’s housing stock in order to drive down prices.

‘‘It needs to be affordable to live in Wellington city if you’re on a modest income.’’

Dunne promised to be the guardian of Transmission Gully, claiming the $850 million motorway was still at risk of falling over if Labour and the Greens were elected.

‘‘I’ve been campaigning for Transmission Gully for a very long time,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not going to see it derailed at this point, because too much of my life has been invested in it.’’

Bishop also felt transport infrastructure was the way to go, but he was more interested in improving cycle links between Wellington and the Hutt Valley through the Great Harbour Way project.

Kumar was passionate about meeting Internet-Mana’s target of having 100 per cent of the country’s electricity supply coming from renewable sources by 2025.

Shaw wanted to see a ‘‘proper’’ assessment of transport solutions done for the Basin Reserve.

The Basin Reserve issue turned out to be a key one, highlighted by the fact two candidates were late to the debate because they got stuck in traffic around the historic cricket ground.

There was broad acceptance among the candidates that something needed to be done after plans for a proposed $90 million flyover were scuppered by a board of inquiry last month.

Pressing ahead with a second Mount Victoria Tunnel was a popular option. Dunne also suggested improving traffic-light phasing throughout central Wellington.

When it came to nurturing Wellington’s emerging ICT, hi-tech, film and knowledge-based industries, Robertson said the best approach was to hand out start-up grants of about $10,000.

Bishop, meanwhile, championed his Government’s approach of fostering a better business environment nationwide.

His party’s plans to build a national convention centre in Auckland would also benefit the capital by encouraging more businesses to relocate to this country, he said.

Shaw said a ‘‘green bank’’ would be a good fit for Wellington’s diverse business sector, while Kumar said the skills gap in this country needed to be addressed.

That meant getting school kids more interested in the ‘‘digital economy’’ from an early age, he said. ‘‘We’ve had enough ‘steady as she goes’ tinkering from the Government.’’

Dunne said a Wellington super-city merger would stop parochial interests holding the region back and allow its mayor to foster a better relationship with the prime minster.

He also wanted to see more assistance for local start-ups that had great ideas but little knowledge of how to bring them to market.

Bishop said he was not completely sold on the idea of local government amalgamation because the needs of Wellington’s various territorial authorities were very ‘‘distinct’’.

The Dominion Post