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NZTA to reduce Te Huia train funding



A reduction in funding for the Waikato to Auckland commuter train Te Huia, which was less than expected, may still spell its demise.

Waikato Regional Council and Te Huia supporters have welcomed news Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) will continue to fund the service at a reduced rate.

It would do this by progressively reducing its contribution to the funding assistance rate (FAR) from 75.5 per cent to 60 percent, starting on 1 July.

Supporters are claiming the outcome as a victory, but Waikato Regional Councillor Angela Strange would not be drawn on whether it could ensure the survival of the service.

That is because the council has to go through its long-term plan budget in the next fortnight and work out where it can find the 5.5 percent in FAR that NZTA will drop next year.

Strange said the announcement was good news but she did not want to pre-empt the long-term plan outcome and could not conclusively say that Te Huia would continue.

NZTA’s contribution had been expected to drop immediately to 51 percent by those fighting for the train service’s survival.

However, Campaign for Better Transport convener Jodi Johnston said the decrease in funding could make it harder for the service to continue in its current form.

“So there may need to be fare increases, the quality of service may need to decrease slightly but it does mean that the trial should be able to continue until June 2026, which is definitely a win from our side.”

The future of the service had been up in the air after the government had not allocated further funding past 30 June for the remaining two years of a five year trial.

On Thursday, the NZTA board met to thrash out the funding and on Friday confirmed it would continue to invest in the service, but at the progressively reduced rate.

Strange, the Future Proof Public Transport sub-committee deputy chair, said the news meant the service had continued central government funding and recognised Te Huia was well on track to achieving its targets set by NZTA.

It gave the council the certainty it needed to continue planning for interregional passenger rail connecting New Zealand’s fastest growing city and largest city, she said.

“We appreciate the board’s support and belief in the service. It’s clear they have also listened to our passengers, who say this service is a vital link to study, employment and social connections with family and friends; it’s not a luxury for them.”

Strange said only yesterday the council heard from tamariki they want Te Huia to continue because it was about their future.

“We have received overwhelming support from the regional community, including through submissions to our long term plan and the regional land transport plan, and I know our loyal passengers will join us in rejoicing over this news,” she said.

“This decision supports the vision those before us had for a service connecting Waikato and Auckland, and the work of the amazing KiwiRail crew.”

Te Huia is funded by both passenger fares and public funding (taxpayer and ratepayer funding). This funding was equal to the gross operating cost minus fare revenue.

The public funding portion is currently split between NZTA (75.5 percent), Waikato Regional Council (21.2 percent) and Waikato District Council (3.3 percent).

The board decided to progressively reduce the subsidy to 60 percent over the next two years, starting with a reduction to 70 percent in July and dropping to 60 percent in 2025 and 51 percent in 2026.

Waikato Regional Council would need to consider options for providing the regional share, which will be discussed through long-term plan deliberations due to begin on 24 May.

NZTA board chief executive Nicole Rosie said funding pressure for land transport and a new draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) which outlined new priorities for NZTA, meant on-going co-investment in such services had to be carefully considered.

“The start of the Te Huia trial was delayed due to Auckland rail network rebuild and various Covid lockdowns and the trial is now timed to run until April 2026. As a result, further funding approvals were required,” she said.

“Performance for Te Huia as a start-up public transport service has been generally encouraging. While the service has gradually built patronage, Te Huia has not achieved all of the targets set out in the original business case.

“Our decision to progressively reduce the level of our co-investment aligns with the draft-GPS, takes into account current funding pressures and recognises the performance of the trial to date.

“Waikato Regional Council runs Te Huia and they will need to determine what the operational impacts could be. They will need to take some time to work through the impact of the Board’s decision on the service and their local co-investment share. NZTA will work closely with them and continue to support Te Huia for the remainder of the trial.”

The new co-investment arrangements for Te Huia come into effect from 1 July, 2024.

NZTA’s co-investment in public transport is expressed as a ‘Funding Assistance Rate’ (FAR). This is a percentage of the cost of operating the service net of fare and other revenue received.

For most public transport services across the country, the standard FAR is 51 percent.

Ticket prices will increase from $18 to $22 for a one-way trip from 1 July.


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Police guarding scene after Massey house fire overnight



Seven fire trucks were required to put out a blaze in an abandoned house in Massey overnight.

The fire on Don Buck Rd was first reported around 10pm, with multiple calls coming in from the public, said Fire and Emergency NZ northern shift manager Carren Larking.

Nz herald

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Mother of missing Marokopa children posts letter she says is from their fugitive dad



The mother of the missing Marokopa children has published a letter which she says was written to her by the children’s fugitive father, Tom Phillips.

Police have been searching for Ember, eight, Maverick, nine, and Jayda, 10, since December 2021, when they were taken by Phillips to an unknown location – though police believe it was in Western Waikato within Marokopa or the surrounding areas.

Tom Phillips does not have legal custody of the children and there is a warrant out for his arrest.

A picture posted by Cat on social media which she says is the last birthday we got to celebrate with Jayda as a family.

A picture posted by Cat on social media which she says is “the last birthday we got to celebrate with Jayda as a family”. Photo: Supplied

Posting on Facebook, their mother, known as Cat, said she was “well aware of the hateful rumours being spread around” and asked that people knew her before judging her.

She said she was sharing the letter to show that all was not as it seemed and to assure people that the children would be coming home to a loving and stable family.

Cat said she along with their two sisters, grandparents, aunties and cousins would be waiting for them.

The handwritten letter – which is not dated or signed and which RNZ has not been able to verify – describes the writer’s love for Cat, apologises to her and says he has a good heart and means well.

“I know if I ever give up trying to make things right I will regret it forever,” the letter says.

“Im sorry for everything I have ever said or done to hurt you,” it says.

The letter goes on to say that “although I make multiple f*** ups I have a good heart and I mean well”.

“We have an awesome family and thats worth fighting for,” is the last line of the letter.

Cat said she had not spoken out earlier because she did not believe it would bring her children home, but the fact that police were now offering a substantial reward had given her the courage to break her silence.

On Tuesday Cat broke her silence to make a video appeal provided by police for people’s help in returning the children to her.

Police have offered an $80,000 reward for information that would help discover the whereabouts of three children and lead to their safe return.

RNZ has contacted the police to verify whether they knew about the letter and whether they can confirm it is from Tom Phillips.



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Nicola Willis challenged over climate change, cancer drugs



Finance Minister Nicola Willis has revealed new details about the timeline for cancer drug funding, and faced a barrage of questions over climate under questioning from MPs.

Willis appeared before the Finance and Expenditure Committee on Wednesday as part of Parliament’s first Scrutiny Week, a new initiative which allows for extended questioning of ministers over the government’s spending.

She quickly came under fire from Labour’s Finance and Climate spokespeople Barbara Edmonds and Megan Woods, and the Greens’ co-leader and Finance spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.

Cancer drugs

The election policy of funding 13 specific cancer drugs had been a glaring broken promise from this year’s Budget.

Willis told the committee MPs that as the Budget for this year was formulated, the cancer drugs policy “did require more work”, and she outlined how the government intended to pay for the drugs using money from next year’s Budget while still working to supply the promised drugs.

“It was not resolved in time for Budget 2024, so we agreed it would be a priority for funding set aside in Budget 2025,” she said. “So we are now working diligently on the policy delivery ahead of Budget 2025, with a view to making a decision on it shortly.”

However, she soon clarified that “we will be funding those drugs this year”, and the reason the policy was not funded in this year’s Budget was “we still had significant policy choices to make as we worked through the problem. And so it wasn’t appropriate to set aside a contingency until those fundamental policy decisions had been made”.

She later explained under questioning from Woods that people would be able to access at least some of the drugs before 2025.

“We will be making an announcement that will ensure that some of those medicines are funded this year,” she said.

Woods questioned if that would mean funding for the drugs this year, and Willis agreed.

Under questioning from Edmonds she said expressed confidence that the government would find the money, noting the government had already approved health funding from the 2025 and 2026 Budgets.

“As the member says, budgets are about priorities – and we are confident that, because this policy is a priority, we can and will fund it.”

She later told reporters at Parliament the word “some” was “just a use of a word, we will be funding the 13 medicines, we’ve made that commitment, we’ll be making announcements on it shortly”.

When pressed, however, she would not confirm whether that meant all 13 specific drugs listed in National’s policy would be funded and available before 2025.

“We’ll make a full announcement with the details of how drugs will be accessed and what dates in due course. I’m not making that announcement today.”

She also refused to shed light on how exactly the drugs would be funded.

Climate change

Swarbrick focused in on the Budget and its effect on climate change, asking how Williis could account for the $700m her Budget assumed would be coming from Emissions Trading Scheme revenue when today’s unit auction appeared likely to fail.

Swarbrick highlighted that at an expected $58 price point they would fall short of the $60 lower limit at which the units would be permitted to sell, and asked what would happen if the units failed to sell, but Willis said she was “not going to go into a hypothetical”.

“We have a requirement for approximately $2.9b in terms of your numbers stacking up here for revenue from the emissions trading scheme,” Swarbrick said, “but you’ve also have presented a Budget which cuts approximately $15m from market governance and integrity of the emissions trading scheme, so I’m wondering if you could help us reconcile those things”.

“It is very important … that I not in any way influence auction behaviour,” she said. “We want it to be a functional, effective, reliable market.”

When Swarbrick pushed her on why the funding had been cut from the efficacy and market governance, Willis said the government did not consider that funding necessary to improving the market’s operations, and rejected Swarbrick’s characterisation there was “next to no meaningful regulation of the ETS market, for example insider trading is technically legal”.

“We do not have concerns about the current way in which the ETS is regulated,” Willis said. She noted the government was yet to release the second Emissions Reduction Plan, due in December. That plan would set out how the government intends to achieve the emisssions reductions set out in the Emissions Budget, in line with international obligations.

“The government is doing its own work on the emissions reduction plan and we envisage the ETS will play a critical role,” Willis said. She also pointed to some initiatives the government had not scrapped in this year’s Budget including the rollout of electric vehicle chargers and the purchase of electric buses for local councils to buy.

Swarbrick earlier asked whether the decisions in this year’s Budget would increase or decrease emissions. Willis acknowledged climate impact policy assessments had showed they “won’t make a significant material difference to emission period 1. Over the second two emission periods, they will have an impact of potentially increasing emissions”.

However, she questioned whether those reports were “as good as they could be”, and pointed to the emissions impact report having included policies like more police on the roads, and upgrades to Defence Force equipment and infrastructure, as examples of where the reports were questionable.

“My point is it is not always appropriate to narrowly look at a policy based simply on its emission impact, because I don’t think there is a New Zealander who would say ‘I don’t want you hiring more police because it might add to emissions’.”

She later told reporters the assessment only looked at a subset of 40 initiatives.

Swarbrick also asked about the $3 billion to $24b the government is estimated to need to fork out in “offshore liability” – buying foreign climate credits to make up for the lack of domestic emissions reductions, and whether Willis had budgeted for those expected costs this year.

“No, I have not,” Willis said. “That has not been a priority in this Budget.”


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