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Partnerships between iwi and Government to develop a strong network of regional rail connections could generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, the Maori Party says.
The party will ask for $350 million in coalition negotiations to fund its new IwiRail policy which would look to take over mothballed KiwiRail lines and develop new rail connections to open up freight and tourism opportunities across regional New Zealand.
Party president Tuku Morgan and co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox announced the plan in Wellington yesterday, following informal discussions with the Government and talks with investors and iwi in Gisborne and around the country.
It will focus on freight, passenger and tourism with the first project to be reconnecting the line through to Gisborne.
‘‘That’s only going to cost about $6.5 million to fix that break in the railway line but it will open up productivity,’’ Ms Fox said.
‘‘We’ve talked extensively with iwi around the Gisborne area . . .
‘‘We’ve talked also as an introductory offer with other iwi in the country, but let’s concentrate on the Gisborne region because that will be the proof of the pudding that we can make this work.’’
The policy would allow iwi to invest in rail networks, but also create opportunities for other investors, creating profit by helping producers get their products to market.
‘‘And if we open up the top of the East Cape we open up an untapped tourism market,’’ she said.
Mr Morgan said it could generate thousands of indirect jobs around the country as a result.
Ms Fox said iwi in Nelson have expressed an interest in being part of an IwiRail programme down the track.
The Taxpayers’ Union accused the Maori Party of ‘‘populist economic sabotage’’.
‘‘Economically, this is worse than literally lighting a bonfire of taxpayers’ money,’’ spokesman Jordan Williams said.
‘‘Investing this much in New Zealand’s most uneconomic rail lines is a short-term make-work scheme at an eye-watering cost to taxpayers.’’