Bribes for big cities

To those who have, it shall be given.

That appears to be the way with taxpayer funding after last week's multibillion-dollar packages for Auckland and Christchurch.

We are all going to pay for central business district ''anchor'' projects in Christchurch and for huge transport projects in Auckland.

Particularly galling is the promise from the Government to fund Christchurch's conference centre completely, and to throw in $37 million for a ''roofed'' stadium. Somehow, all by itself, Dunedin is supposed to compete.

Already at a disadvantage because of its smaller size and inferior air links, it will be all the more difficult to attract conferences to Dunedin.

And the city will say goodbye to almost all A-grade rugby tests and big concerts.

Why come to Dunedin when all the facilities are there in Christchurch, including a 35,000-seat covered stadium?

Dunedin's stadium was built as a point of difference, and - even if it takes a while before the Christchurch stadium happens - there are drums aplenty beating for a bigger and better stadium further north, with determination to make it better than the southern ''direct competitor'', as was said in The Press last week.

Christchurch is also expecting about $140 million in insurance money for the wrecked arena at Lancaster Park, lessening the impact on its ratepayers.

The only saving graces from Dunedin's point of view at this stage are that costs rise exponentially as a covered stadium's size increases, and many in Christchurch will not see it as any sort of priority.

Neither should they. If Dunedin is struggling to afford what is seen as a non-essential project, how much worse is it in Christchurch with basic services lacking in so many places?

As well as the many billions that Christchurch is costing the taxpayer in all sort of ways - and most of this is not begrudged because the city must be helped to rise from its devastation - the Government plans to contribute $2.9 billion towards those big-ticket projects as part of the central-city rebuild, including a $284 million convention centre.

As Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said, all the money is beyond what is necessary to bring the city back to where it was. Add in hefty Government contributions to the proposed $11 billion worth of Auckland transport projects, including half the $2.86 billion city rail loop, and there is a central government preoccupation with Christchurch and Auckland.

Mr Cull wondered aloud if all this had to do with next year's election. Too right it does.

Auckland, with a third of voters, is battleground number one for National, and, as several political analysts have noted, Prime Minister John Key's largesse and his buddying up with Auckland Mayor Len Brown has trumped Labour well and truly because it, too, was willing to spend up large in Auckland.

Similarly, Christchurch is New Zealand's second-largest city and the big party vote swing there last election was crucial in National's success.

As Labour showed with the generous Working for Families and interest-free student loans, there is nothing like bribing people with their own and other people's money.

Meanwhile, the regions languish. Meanwhile, jobs - like those from Hamilton and Dunedin in New Zealand Post sorting rooms - are shunted to Auckland and Christchurch.

Meanwhile, the Government pays for Te Papa and not the Otago Museum, it coughs up most of the money for the upgrade of Eden Park and governmental functions are more and more concentrated on the three largest cities.

There is some truth to the claim economic success in Auckland is vital for national prosperity. Remember though, the nation's export backbone remains based on agriculture (where Dunedin benefits from its hinterland) and that all those head offices, New Zealand headquarters and other jobs in Auckland, and for that matter Christchurch, receive much of their business up the line from around the country.

Dunedin did receive $15 million in state support for its stadium, and crumbs might come this way.

Fundamentally, however, with the closure of Hillside as another shocking example, Dunedin and other southern centres have been shown clearly they will have to fight uphill for themselves, and that winning elections means bribes for the biggest cities.

 

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