Infrastructure approach creating ‘uncertainty’

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has accused the government of dithering on important infrastructure projects such as building Dunedin’s new hospital.

"What they’ve done so far on a lot of infrastructure projects is create a lot of uncertainty that ultimately is adding to costs," Mr Hipkins said in Mosgiel yesterday.

"With the Dunedin hospital, they need to get on and build it."

The leader of the Opposition was at the Taieri Bowling Club in Mosgiel yesterday for the Labour Party’s lower South Island conference.

His comments about the hospital follow those of Associate Finance Minister Chris Bishop when he visited Dunedin last week.

Mr Bishop said that he, Health Minister Shane Reti and other key colleagues were "considering advice" for the next step for the new hospital and they had to make sure the project delivered value for money.

The government had inherited a project that was "off track", but it was committed to completing the job, he said.

Asked if Labour had produced a mess for the new government to clean up, Mr Hipkins said this was "absolute nonsense".

The building and construction sector had experienced significant price inflation and the building of Dunedin’s new hospital had been affected by this, but "the National Party knew this when they made their promise during the election campaign", he said.

"They were crystal clear they were going to deliver the new Dunedin hospital to its original specification."

Mr Hipkins said the lower South Island was entitled to expect the promise to be delivered.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon offered the reassurance when he was leader of the Opposition and, if honoured, this would mean the reinstatement of 23 inpatient beds, two operating theatres and a PET scanner.

When it was in office, Labour itself cut back on the original vision and then reinstated some elements amid a backlash.

Mr Hipkins expected more money would be needed to complete the build.

"The reality is Dunedin needs the hospital — the lower South Island needs Dunedin to have the hospital — and it’s really important the work gets done."

Asked if considering advice was dithering, Mr Hipkins said "totally".

"They’re dithering on a whole lot of infrastructure projects."

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins takes a selfie in Mosgiel with Dr Xaviour Walker and his...
Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins takes a selfie in Mosgiel with Dr Xaviour Walker and his children (from left) Xaviour, 6, Hugh, 12, and Sammy, 9, during the Labour Party’s regional conference yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The government’s Budget boosted infrastructure funding, including $1.2 billion over three years for a regional fund.

Mr Hipkins delivered a wide-ranging speech at the conference, covering subjects that included housing, climate change and tax cuts.

The government was taking New Zealand backwards at a fast rate, he said.

"They don’t have a positive plan for the future."

The government had to borrow $12b to afford its $14.7b package of tax cuts, he said.

It had dialled back action to combat climate change and it needed to deliver more housing, he said.

The previous government’s failed KiwiBuild programme had the "right goal" of constructing 100,000 homes in 10 years, but the wrong approach for execution, he said.

The new government’s disability support "cuts" were accompanied by Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds besmirching the character of carers, he said.

A U-turn from National on funding 13 new cancer drugs was "cruel".

Mr Hipkins said the government had abrogated its responsibilities to get drinking water systems upgraded in an affordable way.

This had left councils with no choice about hiking rates, he said.