The Boy On The Tram

By   /   May 15, 2018  /   33 Comments

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When the state-owned railways Prebble had pledged to save were being “corporatized” (i.e. readied for sale to private buyers) a story began doing the rounds which Labour insiders always insisted came from Prebble’s Office. It was “The Story of the Disappearing Bulldozer”.

RICHARD PREBBLE has always been the master of the telling anecdote. A born politician of prodigious talent, he needed little formal coaching in the dark arts of political persuasion. From his halcyon days in the Fourth Labour Government, to the years he spent keeping Act above the 5 percent MMP threshold, Prebble’s knack for illustrating the need for change with a telling anecdote was always on display. Facts and figures are easily forgotten, but a good story settles into the voters’ memory and is extremely hard to extract.

When the state-owned railways Prebble had pledged to save were being “corporatized” (i.e. readied for sale to private buyers) a story began doing the rounds which Labour insiders always insisted came from Prebble’s Office. It was “The Story of the Disappearing Bulldozer”.

According to this tale, New Zealand Railways and its staff were so incompetent (or was it corrupt and/or thieving?) that somewhere between its point of loading and its final destination an entire bulldozer had somehow been made to disappear into thin air. I lost count of the number of times the story was repeated. In Parliament; at Labour Party meetings; in the newspapers; on radio and television: The Story of the Disappearing Bulldozer very soon came to stand for everything that was inefficient – if not downright dodgy – about New Zealand’s nationalised industries.

I was reminded of The Story of the Disappearing Bulldozer only last Sunday when Richard Prebble popped-up on the panel of TVNZ’s Q+A current affairs show. Responding to comments from one of his fellow panellists on the fate of the proposed Light Rail Network for Auckland, Prebble predictably opted for the telling anecdote.

Viewers discovered that Prebble was not a fan of light rail. As a boy, they learned, he had travelled up Dominion Road by tram to school and the memory was not a happy one. “If anyone thinks trams up Dominion Road are going to solve Auckland’s transport problems,” declared Prebble with his trademark certainty, ”they’re dreaming.”

This was clever politics. The very idea that the snowy-haired Prebble could ever have been a tousled school-boy was itself preposterous. Surely, Prebble had emerged from his mother’s womb with a lawyer’s wig in one hand and a copy of Parliament’s Standing Orders in the other? Never mind. The image of this young chap making his way through the Auckland suburbs aboard something as quaintly retrograde as a tram was an arresting one. It spoke to the viewers of old technology and an Auckland that no longer existed. Effortlessly, Prebble’s telling anecdote had made the Auckland Light Rail project look like a costly and inefficient exercise in political nostalgia.

But was it true?

The problem with anecdotes is that they are notoriously difficult to verify. Though The Story of the Disappearing Bulldozer was repeated endlessly by right-wing talkback hosts and political commentators, I don’t recall ever reading even one honest-to-goodness news story detailing the events leading up to the bulldozer’s disappearance; whether or not the vehicle was ever found; and, if it had been recovered, who was ultimately deemed responsible for misplacing it?

With this journalistic deficiency in mind, I set out to discover whether or not The Boy on the Tram story was true or false.

Thanks to the prodigious memory of Professor Google, I soon discovered that if Richard Prebble had travelled up Dominion Road on a tram, then he would have been a very young school-boy indeed. In fact, the oldest he could possibly have been was five – which seems a very young age to be travelling alone on any sort of public transport!

For the record, Prebble was born in 1948 and the tramline along Dominion Road came into service in 1930 and was decommissioned twenty-three years later in 1953. The reason for the service’s demise lay in the Auckland Transport Board’s 1949 decision to replace all of the city’s trams with trolley-buses. Accordingly, in 1956, the last of the highly-efficient, non-polluting, electric-powered trams which had served Auckland magnificently since 1902 ceased running and the tramlines were torn-up.

My guess is that the young Richard Prebble who travelled up Dominion Road in the 1950s and 60s did not do so on a tram (a vehicle which runs on rails) but on an electric trolley-bus which drew down its motive power from overhead wires via long flexible poles. These vehicles were very prone to random stops and starts (as any Wellingtonian will tell you) on account of the fact that the conducting poles were forever becoming dislodged – forcing the driver to get out and very carefully reconnect them to the power source. [Trams also draw their motive power from overhead powerlines, but because the vehicle runs on tracks, allowing the conducting apparatus to be fixed to the tram’s roof, they are much less prone to breaking down.]

Now, it may be that Richard Prebble was simply confused about the modes of public transport he used in his youth. Then again, he may not have been confused at all. What isn’t in dispute is that the opponents of the plans for a light-rail-based public transport system in Auckland are forever using the word “tram”.

The reason for this is obvious. In the public’s mind trams are cumbersome, out-of-date vehicles from the days when men sported trilby hats and women wore ankle-length skirts. Prebble’s Boy on the Tram story plays directly into these negative public stereotypes. Regardless of whether or not his political anecdote is true, it is, as always, bloody clever.

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  1. RosieLee says:

    I find it deeply offensive, after what he and Douglas did to this country, that he is being wheeled out on these shows as some sort of guru or expert. He deserves nothing less than oblivion.

    • Observer Tokoroa says:

      I Agree Rosielee

      The Fruit of capitalism – as we have witnessed here and elsewhere in the civilised world – is to successfully produce lots of rotten Wealthy Apples – and thousands and thousands and thousands of working people who own no home and spend most of their pay on exorbitant Rent.

      The best thing RNZ and Corin Dan are sick to the Core.

      It is utterly criminal and scandalous what RNZ and Corin Dan is doing to Aotearoa.

    • Maama says:

      I agree Rosielee, how insulting to viewers for that clown to be a guest on TV’s Q & A.

      When I hear the name Prebble, I immediately picture the clown with egg dripping down his face. Pity it wasn’t a rotten egg.

      Great Post Chris.

  2. Sanctuary says:

    The constant use of the term “tram” isn’t clever politics, unless your politics are to play to ZB’s audience of angry pensioners and ACToids. Anyone who has traveled know what light rail looks like. Prebble is completely past it; calling them trams simply underlines what a dinosaur he is.

    The use of the epithet “tram” or “trolley” simply indicates you are an enthusiastic member of a tedious group of culture warriors with no popular support.

    • Cemetery Jones says:

      If he’s winning people over in a situation where on paper he should be losing them, then it is clever politics. Observing the tactics of these old veterans like Prebble can teach us this much – once you’ve seen the emptiness of strategies where you lose by doing the ‘right thing’, you learn to use guile to gain advantage.

    • Chris Harris says:

      I agree. It shows he’s a fossil. Obviously hasn’t been to Melbourne yet.

  3. roy cartland says:

    I dunno, I never think of whatever Prebble says as particularly worthy. The man is synonymous with his agenda and thus anything he says is tainted with that. Just like Hooton, the only logic to apply is “what would you gain by saying that?”.

  4. savenz says:

    Great post!

  5. G.A.P. says:

    Every time one of our state owned agencies (tvnz rnz nat radio) wheels out this odious person, (save rail preble) i immediately switch off. I consider it an insult to the intellect that this persons thoughts are presented as being relevant to any discussion on the future of this country after his treasonous actions as part of the douglas cabal.

  6. Denny Paoa says:

    But the use of the term “Tram” versus Lite Rail is easier to distinguish the difference between Lite Rail, Heavy Rail(trains) other than just using the term “Rail” as those tricky bastards from AT,Council exec’s and the corporate contractors do, deliberately to confuse the public. A bit like calling Aucklands public transport system, just that. A “Public” transport system when its privately run and funded by ratepayers twice you could say. Firstly, a load of cash up front, then ratepayers pay for the trains and then, the company that runs the network literally “Clips” the ratepayers tick again when they use the services they’ve paid for when they get on the train, bus or boat.

    Are kiwi really this stupid or are they just sheep?

  7. Gerald says:

    Did not Prebble also mention a “fact” that railway wagons had been shunted off the Picton wharf and forgotten about? or does my memory play tricks?

  8. Pete says:

    Now, it may be that Richard Prebble was simply confused about the modes of public transport he used in his youth. Then again, he may not have been confused at all. It could be though that he is simply a cunning, lowdown, weasly, lying shit.

  9. Mjolnir says:

    The host of Q+A could’ve asked a simple question of Prebble; what would he have suggested as an alternative. That would have drawn out whatever sneaky agenda he was playing with. The man is a fraud.

  10. WILD KATIPO says:

    Wasn’t it Jim Bolger who recently recanted on neo liberalism and the 4th Labour govt ‘reforms’ under Roger Douglas stating they were ‘bad for the people of New Zealand and were a mistake ‘… or something to that effect?

    And yet here we have this disgusting little cretin of a man – being way past his political use by date , – being seen fit by the far right wing members of certain of the newsmedia dragged out, post Brexit, post Trump , post Corbyn, indeed,… post neo liberalism itself ,…

    To comment on yet another subject to which he is irrelevant , and which his archaic and out of date ( and destructive ! ) ideology is the only guiding motivation behind every word he ever publicly says …

    How CAN we expect anything more than the guile , rhetoric and falsity’s that we have come to associate specifically with him ???

    There is a reason why ACT declined rapidly to become a party of around 0.5% over 3 decades,… and it is called ‘ the peoples disgust’ .

    The ‘ peoples disgust’ with the lies, avarice , greed and falsehoods with the neo liberal ideology , those who support it such as the remaining (most now being retired ) politicians of that era , NZ Initiative et al , … to which Richard Prebble is more than just merely ‘ tainted’ … he is thoroughly IMMERSED.

    And for a better historical insight into the criminal treasonous activity of the originators of neo liberalism in New Zealand , – READ THIS :

    New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?

    • countryboy says:

      Holy Jesus @ W K! Is what I’ve just read re your link on the level? If so, then Fuck!

      I’m a bit flabbergasted to be truthful. How the fuck are ‘they’ still managing to escape prison? It reads like a feeding frenzy of criminals!
      How can policing authorities not be interested in that material?? There’s fraud, treason and if ‘The Paradise Conspiracy’ can be believed then murder too.

      • WILD KATIPO says:

        Well , I’ve been posting that link up for quite some time now , – and to date?

        NOT ONE far right wing nut jobber has ever been able to refute it.

        There was one over at The Standard that did the usual deflective troll thing and tried to criticize the format of the site,… as that was all he / she had to go on. It was also one of the Nat / ACT / Free Market neo liberal type supporters that habitually lurks there.

        Yet as for the actual validity and truthfulness of the content,… it is , as they say ,… history.

        History because the person who compiled it was none other than Hugh Price ( of Hugh Price Publishing fame ) , – who , – was also a contemporary to the events taking place at that time. And whose writings were also vindicated by the sorts of people who made these documentary’s :

        Revolution (part one) – Fortress New Zealand – YouTube
        Video for fortress NZ business roundtable you tube▶ 55:17

        New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full Doco – YouTube
        Video for New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full Doco▶ 1:44:13

        New Zealand – Somebody Elses Country Full Doco – YouTube
        Video for New Zealand – Somebody Elses Country Full Doco▶ 1:47:20


        And even in further commonly documented historical data such as this :

        Ruthanasia – Wikipedia

        Ruth Richardson ,… a leading light allied with Prebble and co to impoverish the working people of this country and expatriate that wealth to the already mega wealthy here and abroad…


        Ken Douglas, then president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, recalled in the 1996 documentary Revolution:

        …” The Employment Contracts Act was deliberately intended to individualise the employment relationship. It was a natural outcome of the ideological propaganda of rugged individualism, of self-interest and greed and the appeal to individuals that you could find better for you by climbing over the tops of your colleagues, your mates, and so on. Ruth Richardson was very clear, very blunt, very honest about its purpose. It was to achieve a dramatic lowering of wages, very, very quickly ” …


        So he , ( Hugh Price ) … was also , it seems , … very much a patriot of this country and was appalled at what was taking place under our very noses here in New Zealand.

        AND IF , … we are genuinely concerned at the past track record , and the veracity of claims of these so- called ‘nominated’ far right wing ‘commentators’ , … ( that after having been dragged away from their voracious vampyric feasting’s on the public’s wealth after 3 decades) , … then perhaps now it is time that the record was truly set straight in the public gaze and that the activity’s of these treasonous criminals was finally laid bare.

        Of the complete assemblage of these political criminals , – ONLY ONE , – Jim Bolger , … has finally at least had the cringing tentative courage to attempt to redeem himself and admit openly that the neo liberal destruction which these individuals foisted upon us was WRONG.

        Both morally and ethically, in practicality and in nationhood.

        As for the rest ?

        It reads like a who’s who of landed gentry/aristocracy who gained their obscene wealth since 1984 onward’s through lies, theft and by plundering the wealth of the Commons of NZ.

        Look at them all- holding high status positions CEO type positions , totally insulated from the hell they unleashed upon so many of their own countrymen and women… enjoying their wealth and filthy money and only remaining out of our high courts through the passage of time and the dimming of memory’s…

        Except from documented evidence presented on sites such as those mentioned above.

        From that they can never hide .

  11. Andrea says:

    Perhaps he visited Wellington as a lad. Those trams ran until 1964, despite the Wellington topography.

    Trams are still used overseas. They’re not particularly ‘old-fashioned’. The main reason for doing away with them seemed to be the growing number of private cars in the cities making it dangerous to enter and alight. Buses pull in to the kerb – a bit safer.

    Prebble is entertaining, even sounds reasonable, and usually has a rarely disclosed agenda. “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain…”

  12. XRAY says:

    Amazing isn’t it? The Nats have obviously focused grouped, again, and come up with they think to be the most derogatory terms for light rail, Trams. Simeon Brown, the lack wit MP for Pakaranga has used the term deriding public transport, of course that black star of negative energy, Judith, uses “trolley services” Now the creature from the crypt, the long forgotten yarner, Prebble parrots “Tram”.

    These creeps must fear light rail will be popular and are shitting their pants, having committed to abandoning any attempt to use it to free us from gridlock.

    No policy, no way forward, just personal gain and black rage.

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      NICE ^^^^^^^^^^^^

      1 / Simeon Brown, the lack wit MP for Pakaranga .

      2 / That black star of negative energy, Judith.

      3 / The creature from the crypt, the long forgotten yarner, Prebble .

      And WHAT do all these individuals have in common?

      They are all rabid supporters of the extreme far right wing , deregulated and neo liberal free market who have ALL done very nicely out of it , thank you very much.

      And ALL have vested interests in perpetuating it and vehemently opposing ANY measure that would curtail or otherwise minimize those interests.

      One only has to mention ‘ milk powder’ , ‘free water’ , ‘swamp Kauri’ and China in the same breath to conjure up images of one in particular – that of Judith Collins and her rather creative ways of exploiting this country’s resources for her own gain…

      To which she was also stood down by John Key and removed to the backbenches for political expediency’s sake ,ie:

      Political embarrassment in Collins exposing the far right wings REAL agendas ,- such as John Keys creation of a NZ tax haven for the wealthy, – mainly foreigners.

      And one just cannot escape the very strong feelings that when this country was corporatised, then privatized, … ( with the asset stripping of our SOE’s with only skeletal workforce’s left to do the work of three or four working on flat rates with no overtime … ) ,… that one Richard William Prebble wasn’t right there under the milking cow along with all the rest and sucking furiously for all hes worth on the teet for his own ill gotten share…

      What a treasonous piece of shit.

      New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?

  13. countryboy says:

    One of the old crim’s trying to cover their tracks. RNZ’s been lousy with them of late.
    For an old …. (Oh my God, I’d love to use that word but Scarlett Mod won’t let me) like prebble to crawl off his blood boy and gasp out boring gibberish for the non thinkers to lap up there must be something even smellier than jenny shipleys undies in the wind.
    Is he clever? Or well trained?

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      … ” like prebble to crawl off his blood boygasp out boring gibberish for the non thinkers to lap up there must be something even smellier than jenny shipleys undies in the wind ”…


      Yes,… yes,… and I would suspect something to do with the former corrupt J.Key and the National party’s fetish with private trucking firms and the degradation of our national railways.

      We need to follow the ‘paper trail’ and see who accrued dividends from that process , which ,… would in turn furnish two answers… one being Prebbles reasons for his current views , – and two being why National let our national rail system deteriorate.

      The trick is looking past the contrived and jaded 1980’s jargon of ‘efficiency’ and ‘cost effectiveness’ , – that is the usual neo liberal justification for allowing infrastructure to deteriorate, ( Middlemore Hospital, anyone ? ) , – and seeing who’s REALLY been gaining financially …

      Anyone can draw up a bogus balance sheet , ie : Stephen Joyces ‘Hole’.

      The 11 billion dollar non existing ‘Hole’.

      What does exist however, is the chaotic shambles they left the country in. The next step is to establish just HOW and exactly WHO gained from doing so.

      And we are not that backwards in this country that using unethical behavior to gain pecuniary advantages does not count in a court of law , – nor are we that childlike that we could not stand the prospect that these characters have been systematically lying for decades to us using our news media despite being elected officials, – officials WE ELECTED to serve OUR best interests.

  14. Staircase says:

    Other claims made by Prebble around the time of the sale of NZ Rail to Tranz Rail Ltd were that this consortium was responsible for initiating major operating changes such as single crewing of trains and remote controlled shunting locomotives etc. In fact, most major reforms were introduced prior to privatization by the SOE NZ Rail Ltd.

    Once rail was privatized, Prebble’s Tranzrail mates sold off locomotives, rolling stock and rail ferries then leased them back. In addition, they deferred maintenance on core infrastructure. This led to a contrived injection of capital which temporarily pushed up share prices. Unsurprisingly, the NZ Securities Commission launched an investigation into the beneficiaries of the corporate share trading irregularities.

    The rest is history but Richard Prebble certainly has not left a legacy that benefited NZ. In the meantime he continues to be rewarded for his services to the road transport industry via his Mainfreight Directors fees.

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      Thank you STAIRCASE !!!

      So now we see, where formerly we didn’t.

      The plot thickens… interesting, isn’t it,… just how contrived these people actually are ,… much like their neo liberal descendant , John Key… with the same strands of duplicity and double meaning designed to deceive.


      Being the reason.

  15. mango says:

    A different version of of the “disappearing bulldozer” story that did the rounds for many years was the “disappearing tractor”. In this story a tractor was found in an obscure north island siding six months or a year (sources vary) after it was dispatched. Many years later it turned out the the dealer had promised the farmer a tractor he didn’t have to sell and blamed NZR for “losing” it.

    • Mike the Lefty says:

      The right are famous for their invented stories, aren’t they? Another one is the “people of the Tampa throwing their children off the ship” (shown to be complete crap) and the ACT (yes them again!) story about the Fart Tax (it was actually concerning gases burped, but obviously ACT can’t tell the difference between a cow’s arse and its mouth).
      On that subject, ACT spinster Gerry Ekoff was parading up and down preaching against the “fart tax” in Feilding one day in 2003 telling everyone how great ACT was when I reminded him how his parties’ policies contributed to so many rural suicides when his ACT mobsters hijacked the fourth labour government (to their eternal shame). I told him he was a disgrace and a hypocrite claiming to be working for farmers when his policies caused the downfall of so many. At first he pretended not to notice and then when I persisted he became all nice and buddy buddy and tried to change the subject.
      Hey but the political right never let the truth get in the way of a piece of fiction, do they?

  16. cushla says:

    if you are looking for who has been benefitting from privatisation of infrastructure and public assets since 1989:
    set up by Lloyd Morrison in 1989 who was a friend of John Key in their financial market days. current chair of the board is Rob Morrison (son of Lloyd). Rob was also chair of Kiwibank board when it was sold to NZ superannuation fund which is managed by Morrison and Co. he sold it to himself!
    look at the vast array of previously public assets and new infrastructure projects either managed by them or owned by them through Infratel or trutpower.

  17. cushla says:
    they are also involved in the proposals for auckland airport rail.

  18. Mike the Lefty says:

    If I had my way Richard Prebble, Roger Douglas (I will never call him sir) and a few others in the ACT Party would be hanging on a gibbet on Tyburn Hill very shortly. Thats the customary punishments for treasonous traitors isn’t it?

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      Formerly , many years ago , the death penalty was the common way of dealing with treason … yet all that would be required today would be to have assets frozen , cash returned and a long period in prison ,… they did that to Kim Dotcom for far less on bogus charges which turned out to be an illegal arrest – AND – on the auspices of a foreign country’s legal body in OUR country… yet here we have our own nationals committing what amounts to white collar / political crime which undermined our very wealth , our sovereignty and the health of our population and getting away with it scot free.

      And they did so knowingly and deliberately.

      And they never had any democratic or legal mandate to do so because they not only rammed through changes running roughshod over and circumventing our democracy , – they used deceit , omission and duplicity in which to do so. Grossly so.

      The passage of time is no excuse to not bring these to justice, either.

      A murderer or embezzler may feel remorse at what they did much earlier but that still does not mean they should not be brought to justice when sufficient evidence is there to convict them.

      And they certainly committed what amounts to large scale theft in regards to undemocratically selling off our SOE’s against the public wishes ( despite ongoing widespread public protests and opposition ) and re appropriating the wealth from those sales to their colleagues and indirectly themselves through insider trading, shares and the like, – they are also guilty of causing peoples deaths – see Hugh Prices comments on our Public Health services .

      Dictators do as much.

      And that , in effect , was how they conducted themselves and have continued to do so for the last three decades.

      Justice needs to be seen to be done.

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