Thursday, July 27, 2006
Toll have a vested interest in ending the Overlander rail service
So Toll Holdings, the Australian owned rail operator, have decided to axe yet another passenger service, the Overlander between Auckland and Wellington. This follows the chop of the night service over the same route in 2004.
At the time of the axing of the Northerner in 2004 I predicted Toll would cut more passenger services.
"More cutbacks and closures are likely, as the July deal between Toll and the Government stated there would be no new scheduled passenger operations for three years. So even if another operator decided they wished to run a service cancelled by Toll, they would be unable to do so. After three years, Toll is only required to run three return passenger services on a line to maintain its monopoly."
So by ending the Overlander service now, Toll have a year to kill off the service with no threat of the service being taken up by another operator. A new operator wanting to start a new service between Auckland and Wellington will now have to start from scratch.
So while Jeanette Fitzsimons is right to call on the Government to ensure the infrastructure for such a service is not lost, she does not appear to identify the real cause - the 2004 rail deal between Toll and senior Labour ministers.
While the 2004 deal was widely touted as 'taking back the tracks' into public ownership, the deal actually put some significant restrictions on what the Government could do with its new dilapidated 'asset'. At the same time the Government 'bought the tracks' for $2* the Australian transport multinational gained a near effective monopoly on the use of the tracks until 2070. Toll also gained a seat on the board of the track operating company, and the ability to take the Government to arbitration over track access fees and track spending plans. Negotiations over track access fees for the next year have been dragging on for months, so I would not be surprised if the end of the Overlander is part of a Toll 'hardball' negotiating strategy over track access fees.
Toll asked the Government for a subsidy for the Overlander to continue. For a private business Toll are regularly demanding public subsidies - perhaps it would be simplier if the Government just nationalised the company!
Toll have shown no interest in passenger services, apart from what they call 'high value tourist operations'. In March this year Toll cut several North Island towns from the Overlander's schedule - so it could be argued that the drop in passenger numbers was not all pure 'market forces'. It is reminicient of the stupid decision of the previous owners TranzRail to build the new Christchurch passenger railway station miles from anywhere and on no bus routes - the Southerner train service between Christchurch and Dunedin did not last long. With such a mindset, there was no incentive to keep fares competitive with other forms of transport.
And of course if private ownership had not been so darned irresponsible in failing to maintain the tracks passenger rail journeys would now be a darn sight faster and more comfortable.
Update: Many of the comments on Frog's post echo the point made above - if Toll run a rubbish service, they should not be surprised when not enough people use it.
Instead of making deals with Australian mulitnationals with dodgy employment records, the Government would have been far better to nationalise the whole railways and gain a clear start to promote its social, enironmental and transport goals, without having to make concessions to profit centric private investors.
Tags: Politics, Rail, Corporates, Toll Holdings, Privatisation
* Toll ended up getting $2 for the rail network, as a government official did not have a $1 coin in his pocket.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
The kidnapped Israeli soliders are a flimsy excuse for war
While there has been a lot of criticism of Hizbollah for "sparking" the current crisis by capturing two Israeli soldiers - there seems to be a remarkable hesitation to see the kidnappings for what they are - a response to the Israel's 'collective punishment' of Gaza.
The following open letter on Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine is worth a read. It is signed by Tariq Ali, John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Naomi Klein, Harold Pinter, Arundhati Roy, José Saramago & Howard Zinn.
July 19, 2006
"The latest chapter of the conflict between Israel and Palestine began when Israeli forces abducted two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from Gaza. An incident scarcely reported anywhere, except in the Turkish press. The following day the Palestinians took an Israeli soldier prisoner - and proposed a negotiated exchange against prisoners taken by the Israelis - there are approximately 10,000 in Israeli jails.
That this "kidnapping" was considered an outrage, whereas the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the systematic appropriation of its natural resources - most particularly that of water - by the Israeli Defence (!) Forces is considered a regrettable but realistic fact of life, is typical of the double standards repeatedly employed by the West in face of what has befallen the Palestinians, on the land alloted to them by international agreements, during the last seventy years.
Today outrage follows outrage; makeshift missiles cross sophisticated ones. The latter usually find their target situated where the disinherited and crowded poor live, waiting for what was once called Justice. Both categories of missile rip bodies apart horribly - who but field commanders can forget this for a moment?
Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over. But the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.
This has to be said loud and clear for the practice, only half declared and often covert, is advancing fast these days, and, in our opinion, it must be unceasingly and eternally recognised for what it is and resisted."
According to sources quoted by Matthew Kadman of the San Francisco Chronicle, Israel planned this war more than a year before the kidnapping of the two soldiers
In the years since Israel ended its military occupation of southern Lebanon, it watched warily as Hezbollah built up its military presence in the region. When Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers last week, the Israeli military was ready to react almost instantly.
"Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," said Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. "In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal, when it became clear the international community was not going to prevent Hezbollah from stockpiling missiles and attacking Israel. By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."
The kidnapped soldiers are just an excuse.
PS: Apologies for the lack of blogging of late. I finished a long post earlier this week only for it to be eaten by blogger just as I was posting it :( Gah, blogger nearly did the same thing again, lucky I copied this post to the clipboard first!
Tags: Politics, Israel, Middle East, Anti-war
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Brian Gaynor: Profits for banks, losses for New Zealand
Bryan Gaynor in the NZ Herald demonstrates how the New Zealand economy loses while the overseas owned banks profit.
"One of the unique features of the New Zealand economy is the size, influence and profitability of the banking sector. KPMG's Financial Institutions Performance Survey 2006 says the country's 16 registered banks had net earnings of $2.66 billion in 2005, compared with $980 million 10 years earlier. Banking is the most profitable commercial activity in New Zealand by a country mile."
While it has been common among the right wing elite to criticise Kiwis for sinking too much of their capital into the housing market, Gaynor points out this could have a lot to do with the lending practices of the banks themselves.
The banks, particularly the four major Australian-owned banks, have a strong bias towards the housing market as residential mortgages now represent 50.5 per cent of total bank lending compared with 47.7 per cent at the end of 2004. By comparison, residential mortgages have fallen from 36.3 per cent to 35.2 per cent of total Australian bank lending over the same period.
Despite the continued hype about attracting foreign investment, allowing significant overseas ownership of core assets like banks is never a free lunch. Overseas owned banks account for 98.2% of New Zealand's total banking assets, and this is a major contributor to our mammoth current account deficit.
"Net bank overseas borrowings of $68.2 billion are a huge cost to the country and these borrowings contribute an estimated $1.7 billion to the current account deficit.
Thus, the 14 overseas trading banks contributed in excess of $4 billion to the March 2006 year $14.5 billion current account deficit through a combination of their net earnings and offshore borrowings. Bank economists don't quote these figures in their analysis of the New Zealand economy.
This makes the banking sector the fourth-largest contributor to the current account deficit after oil, mechanical machinery and automotive imports, which all exceed $5 billion a year."
I am pleased to see someone else (other than me), point out how the so called 'economic commentary' offered by the banks so often coincides with their own private interests.
If you want to do something about New Zealand current account deficit - start by banking with a New Zealand owned bank, and stop these bunch of bankers profiting at our expense. We also need to call for greater controls on the lending pratices of the banks, to ensure they are not encouraged to damage the New Zealand economy in pursuit of their own short term profits.