Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: June 16

By Chris Woods

Tuesday June 16, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

New Zealand set to begin a familiar-sounding infrastructure blitz

Yesterday, while Scott Morrison’s announced a plan to streamline federal-state red tape and fast-track 15 major projects for a infrastructure blitz, the New Zealand government announced 11 infrastructure projects under legislation to be introduced later this week, the strangely similar COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track) Bill. 

Originally announced in early May and detailed in cabinet papers, the legislation will create three pathways for fast-tracking projects across the next two years.

First and foremost, the Bill specifies 11 government-led projects that, rather than go through public and council reviews under New Zealand’s Resource Management Act (RMA), will be referred directly to smaller expert consenting panels. These panels will be chaired by an environment court judge, have similar powers consenting authorities under the RMA, and set conditions on the projects before they can proceed.

In announcing the bill, attorney-general and environment minister David Parker claimed it will not sacrifice “positive environmental outcomes… at the expense of speed.”

While these projects are being advanced in time, environmental safeguards remain,” Parker said. “Part 2 of the Resource Management Act including the recognition of matters of national importance, will continue to apply.

“Furthermore, the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and Treaty Settlement obligations apply to all projects under this Bill.”

According to Radio New Zealand, the 11 projects include:

  1. Kaikohe water storage facility — to provide water for agricultural and horticultural use and drinking water (expected to provide 70 jobs).
  2. Unitec – Phase 1 — high density housing on the Unitec site in Auckland (250 jobs).
  3. Te Pa Tahuna – Phase 1 — up to 180 residential units and retail space on an old school site in Queenstown, as part of a wider development that aims to provide up to 300 high density dwellings (up to 100 jobs).
  4. Papakāinga network development — the delivery of Papakainga (Māori housing) across six sites to provide up to 120 dwellings, to be delivered by Māori developers with support from the respective department Te Puni Kōkiri (will help retain and expand an existing workforce).
  5. Britomart East upgrade — upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity once services commence (30 jobs).
  6. Papakura to Pukekohe electrification — electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe and the construction of three rail platforms, a project aimed at extending Auckland metro services south to Pukekohe and provide “South Auckland with increased lower emissions transport choice” (85 jobs).
  7. Wellington Metro upgrade program — suite of smaller projects aimed at increasing the passenger and freight capacity of trains between Masterton, Levin and Wellington; will involve upgrading drainage, new tracks, upgrading stations, new storage yards, and the establishment and operation of a gravel extraction site (90 jobs).
  8. Picton Ferry Dock and Terminal upgrade — to improve rail services by expanding the docks and upgrading the passenger terminal (200 jobs)
    • Additionally, KiwiRail notes that the design of the new terminal takes into account 100 years of projected sea level rise.
  9. Northern pathway — a cycleway and walkway between Westhaven and Akoranga in Auckland (50 jobs).
  10. Papakura to Drury SH1 roading upgrade — upgrades to SH1 to improve, capacity, construct new walking and cycling facilities, and respond to population growth and provide transport options (up to 350 jobs).
  11. Te Ara Tūpuna — a cycleway and walkway between Petone and Ngauranga in Wellington (between 30 and 40 jobs).
    • Similarly, this project represents an opportunity to strengthen existing sea walls and structures to create resilience against sea level rise and increased storm events.

The second track will allow applications from other public and private projects — “including district and regional councils, iwi authorities, NGO’s and the private sector” — to be considered by Minister Parker for referral to the panel. Applicants must explain how their project meets criteria specified in the Bill and qualifying projects can then be referred through an order in council.

According to the government’s press release, applications for resource consents take on average around four to six months to process — depending on the complexity, significance and the level of contention involved — while the new fast track processes are “likely to take 45 to 70 working days”. Further, some transport projects will be able to start one to two years sooner “depending on conditions set by the panel”.

While we will need to wait for the legislation itself to determine criteria, Parker proposed the following eligibility criteria in May’s cabinet paper:

  • a) economic benefits for communities or industries affected by COVID-19
  • b) the social and cultural wellbeing of current and future generations
  • c) whether the project would likely progress significantly faster by using this process
  • d) whether the project will result in a significant public benefit. When considering whether it will do so, the Minister may have regard to any relevant matter, including whether the project will:
    • i. generate employment
    • ii. increase housing supply and contribute to well-functioning urban environments
    • iii. provide infrastructure, to improve economic, employment, and environmental outcomes, and increase productivity
    • iv. improve environmental outcomes for coastal or freshwater quality, air quality, or indigenous biodiversity
    • v. minimise waste
    • vi. contribute to New Zealand’s efforts to mitigate climate change, including accelerating New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy
    • vii. promote the protection of historic heritage
    • viii. strengthen our environmental, economic and social resilience, including to natural hazards and the impacts of climate change.

That proposal would also allow Parker to refuse projects for any reason, partially approve stages of major projects, and specifically forbids projects that:

  • a) authorise any activity classified as prohibited in any plan or proposed plan;
  • b) authorise any works in a customary marine title area under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011, unless agreed in writing by the relevant customary marine title group;
  • c) involve land returned under a Treaty settlement unless there is agreement from the relevant iwi authority; or
  • d) involve land considered necessary for Treaty settlement purposes by the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

Third and finally, the Bill would allow Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail Holdings Ltd to undertake repair, maintenance and minor upgrade works on existing infrastructure in the road and rail corridor as a permitted activity; this effectively means works would not require a resource consent while still subject to certain standards.

These changes would only form a short-term intervention, and the legislation will self-repeal after two years.

“The current comprehensive review of the RMA, which I expect to release before the election, will set out proposals for long term reform to fix the issues that have plagued the resource management system for many years,” Parker said.

“But until then, the RMA is still the main pathway for resource consenting for all other projects.”

Trump to defy warnings over rallies, calls for health waivers

Over in America, Donald Trump is reportedly planning to proceed with a rally Saturday, 20 June in Tulsa, Oklahoma, despite calls to postpone from local health officials and local newspaper the Tulsa World, where an editorial on Sunday warned it, “is the wrong time and Tulsa is the wrong place for the Trump rally”.

As The Washington Post reports, Oklahoma has set new daily case records over the past week, and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart has warned that a rally of more than 19,000 Trump supporters, jammed into one arena, could lead to a greater surge.

Source: FT analysis of data from the Covid Tracking Project.

Still, a state Republican senator, James Lankford, has argued that the rally can be held safely, telling ABC’s This Week that he intends to go to the rally and that “everyone needs to take responsibility for their own health”.

On how social distancing will be possible in an enclosed arena, Lankford only said:

“That will be up to the city of Tulsa, the governor of Oklahoma and the Trump team itself to be able to figure out how they want to manage that.”

In a sign that the party does, at least on a legal level, understand the risk, the Trump campaign has asked attendees to register online, acknowledge “an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19”, and agree not to hold the campaign liable.

According to legal experts speaking to Reuters, the “poorly lawyered” form is unlikely to hold up in court.

On the home front: Victoria opens Business Growth Fund as announcements slow to a trickle

Yesterday, the Victorian government officially opened a $250 million program, the Victorian Business Growth Fund, that will operate in partnership with First State Super and raise funds for small-to-medium enterprises “with strong long-term growth prospects” that are having difficulty accessing capital.

Rather than providing grants, the Victorian-first initiative will invest in businesses on commercial terms and take an equity stake, with all investment decisions to be made by independent fund manager Roc Partners.

The fund manager will target a commercial return on investments, provide strategic insights, expertise and commercial experience to accelerate growth outcomes, and, prior to entering transactions, share with existing shareholders information on the implications on the governance arrangements as a consequence of receiving an investment from the VBGF.

Roc Partners decisions will be based on a commercial assessment about the potential growth and return profile for the business, governed by an investment mandate agreed by the Victorian government and First State Super, however the government will have no involvement in the decision-making process.

The fund will consider businesses that:

  1. Present a compelling growth opportunity to Victoria, meaning that it is expected to lead to growth in a Victorian business, fund growth of a business expanding into Victoria, lead to meaningful job creation in Victoria or add meaningful capital investment in Victoria;
  2. Have annual revenue of between $5 million and $100 million;
  3. Have no more than $250 million in assets; and
  4. Have positive cash flow, or cash flow is expected to be positive during the investment.

Businesses can express interest directly through Roc Partners’ website.

After a truly packed few months, we saw just one other major state announcements yesterday: the Queensland government will now allow up to 100 people to attend funerals.

Touch wood, but are the days of non-stop, drastic (and often very late night!) COVID-19 announcements almost behind us?

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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