MP 'outraged' over Hillside decision

Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Government and KiwiRail have been accused of showing disrespect and disregard for Dunedin with the unexpected announcement the KiwiRail Hillside Engineering was for sale.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said there was much irony in the justification for the sale because of a reduction in forward orders, particularly as both the Government and KiwiRail had stopped Hillside from building the flat wagons, a contract that eventually went to companies in China.

"While I applaud the Dunedin City Council, the Otago Chamber of Commerce and the unions for putting a positive spin on it, you could see this coming for at least a year.

"KiwiRail and the Government have pissed on Dunedin," she said.

The Government was sanctioning the sell-down, according to Ms Curran, who has battled for more than three years to bring attention to the fate of Hillside.

Ms Curran found it unbelievable Prime Minister John Key and Finance Minister Bill English were unaware the announcement was coming, when it was a matter of high public interest.

There was a no surprises policy from state-owned enterprises or entities and if the KiwiRail board - many of them appointed by the Government - had not made shareholding ministers aware of the sale, it was an issue of negligence.

"I am outraged. For Government ministers and the Prime Minister to pretend it has nothing to do with them and they didn't know about, it is duplicitous at best."

The strategy to sell Hillside Workshops started about 18 months ago, Ms Curran claimed.

KiwiRail employed a person whose job it was to find new contracts. She understood that person did not find any new contracts and that his real job was to institute change management and ready the workshops for sale.

When more than 40 staff were made redundant last year, the plan was in play, she said.

Former Labour cabinet minister David Parker said if the KiwiRail board had made the same announcement without telling a Labour government, the board would have been sacked.

Mr English told the Otago Daily Times he was not aware of the sale announcement before it was made, but he, and most of New Zealand, were aware of issues around the viability of Hillside and had been for a long time.

"We are looking at the problem differently than Labour. We are representing the taxpayers' $4.5 billion investment over a 10-year term for KiwiRail.

"We have to focus on that investment to make sure the extra cash we are putting in, and the cash they might generate, is consistent with the 10-year plan."

Mr English was adamant the decision to put Hillside up for sale was a board decision. KiwiRail was a $5 billion business and the Government was not involved in every decision.

"Hillside is a small part of a big picture. We wouldn't expect to know every detail."

He accused Ms Curran of taking a negative political view that would not help Dunedin and no way could the decision be seen as anti-Dunedin.

"The Government is pouring money into Dunedin, particularly through the science and education budgets. More Government money than ever is going into Dunedin." The best thing for Dunedin was to have a supportive owner of Hillside that could secure ongoing contracts.

KiwiRail could, and had said it would, help find a new owner, Mr English said.

"As a Southern MP, what I hope for is a working viable Hillside to offer opportunities for our young people. What I do know is we need a commercially sustainable solution.

"If it depends on Clare Curran or Bill English, then it's not a viable solution," he said.

Otago Chamber of Commerce president Peter McIntyre and chief executive John Christie both assured the ODT they were not privileged to any prior knowledge of the decision.

Both were alerted through embargoed press releases after KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn told the staff.



Returned to haunt us again?

I keep saying to those who are interested, that the way this government is heading is spookily similar to the direction of the Thatcher government in the UK of the 1980s.  The difference is that this government is less openly direct about its agenda.  

I have also been saying for some time, that this government may well be the defining one for New Zealand for the next few decades, and not for the right reasons.

The UK is currently in desperate difficulty financially, in no small part to the disastrous 'sell everything' policy of that particular government, and at least in the UK they had the excuse in the 1980s that the industries sold weren't always performing.  In NZ, we have SOEs and other industries - agriculture, engineering, etc - that form the backbone of any well-balanced national economy, now apparently up for grabs to the highest bidder, because the government doesn't understand the basic principles of internal wealth creation!

Just as so many people in the UK now do with Thatcher, I predict that we will look back on this government's antics with shame, especially when find we we can't recall where all the money raised from these 'sales' has gone.....

Clare Curren and her 'beloved Labour Party'

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran appears to have conveniently forgotten that it was her beloved Labour Party that opened up the "free trade" door with China thus mainly contributing to the downfall of Hillside workshops!

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran also says "KiwiRail and the Government have pissed on Dunedin," 

Well she is most correct on that, but again omitting to tell us all that it is her beloved Labour Party policy's coming to fruition that have pissed on Dunedin.  


Let's be realistic

The chances of finding a buyer and carrying on heavy engineering at Hillside is virtually nil. There is no work in this type of industry in the South Island. As far as relying on future work from KiwiRail forget it, they have demonstrated a number of times that is not a choice.
From the point of view of the owner of KiwiRail, the Government, there is no votes in trying to keep the site a working proposition, so why continue?

The chances of National taking seats in Dunedin has always been virtually nil so why waste money and effort in this region. For English and his cohorts to say they were not involved in the decision is hogwash.
As for pouring money into Dunedin in science and education, this relates directly to the University only. The percentage of local people using the facilities of this establishment would be much less that 10% and therefore does not contribute to the infrastructure of Dunedin in any great way. If there was a financial gain for the present Government they would be relocating it to the North Island.

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