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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University Wellington. Vol. 23. No. 1. 1960

Roll out the (Pork) Barrel

page 9

Roll out the (Pork) Barrel

The Nelson Railway.

The Government's decision to proceed with the Nelson Railway seems at first sight like a return to the Gay Twenties, when seals in Parliament were lost and won on the burning issues of where this road or that bridge went. One or two rather odd-looking lines, whose routes were determined as much by electoral boundaries as anything else, were built during this period.

The Labour Party, loud in its disapproval of such goings-on 30 years ago, has not been above such manipulating in more recent years. Hamilton got a new Post Office just before last year's by-election (with no noticeable return in Labour votes, to say the least!) Palmerston North and Hamilton, both marginal seats, are sites for the new Branch Universities.

Labour first won the Nelson seat in 1957, but the Nelson M.P. from 1919 to 1946, the colourful Independent Harry Atmore, was a fairly consistent supporter of the party after 1935. Atmore was a hold-over from the Liberal era and used his vote in the House to extort a good many plums for Nelson. Many grateful Nelsonfans other than Labourites voted for him and his position was impregnable. But when he died the official Labour candidate could not win the seat. In fact, National held it until 1957, when Labour promised to build the railway and won by a narrow margin. Labour obviously has come to the conclusion that National lost the seat only because of the dismantling of the railway, and that if something is not done pretty quickly Labour's narrow hold on Nelson will be lost. Hence the announcement of a little over a fortnight ago.

Minister Unhappy

However, the '60s seem to be outdoing the twenties, for today a proposal to build a new branch line can become not only a hot local issue, but a national one as well. In the absence of its leader (who used once to represent a seat in the Nelson district), the National Party has come out strongly against the line, and its stand has received wide publicity. Judging by the cynicism with which most of New Zealand (except Nelson) has greeted the Government plan, this may be a profitable move. The cost of the line will be great, and the Prime Minister has so far refused to give details of it. Some Labour members are unhappy about it. Among them is, of course, the Minister of Railways, Mr. Moohan, who has made a brave attempt to cut down his department's operating losses. He might as well give up if the Nelson line is to proceed. When asked how much tonnage the line could carry and if it would ever tecome self supporting, he merely referred the question to Mr. Nash. public dislike of the plan might easily halt Labour's slow climb back to popularity and nullify the effects of the goodies which Mr. Nordmeyer undoubtedly plans to dish out in this year's Budget.

Unpredictable Mr Shand

However confident the National Party might feel about its stand on the national level, it cannot be too happy about its chances in Nelson. To make matters worse, Mr. Shand, the unpredictable National M.P. for Marlborough, instead of lying low and saying nothing, has been one of the loudest of those denouncing the plan, although the line would run through part of his electorate. Most New Zealanders will agree with him that the line would be a "shocking waste of public funds," but many people in Marlborough will nut. To complete the local picture, one E. P. Meachen is reported to have declared himself "amazed" at Mr. Shand's niggardly attitude to such a generous offer from the Pork Barrel. Mr. Meachen is chairman of the Nelson - Marlborough - West Coast League of Local Bodies, which sounds like a pressure group to be reckoned with. What is more interesting, he was Labour M.P. for Marlborough until Mr. Shand roared out or the back-blocks to defeat him in 1946. Perhaps he is thinking of running for his old seat again this year?