10 Sep 2019

Auckland mayoral debate: Phil Goff v John Tamihere

From Checkpoint, 5:30 pm on 10 September 2019

Auckland's two mayoral front-runners join Checkpoint host Lisa Owen in RNZ's first mayoral debate.

Here's what they said: 

Incumbent mayor Phil Goff and contender John Tamihere have expressed little love for each other so far.

Mr Goff has previously called Mr Tamihere a "failed Cabinet minister" with a loose handle on the truth, while Mr Tamihere has said Mr Goff is a central government puppet who has lost control of "corrupt" council companies.

Mr Tamihere says it's time for some colour, for someone to stand up and champion issues like his proposed 18-lane Auckland Harbour Bridge, while Mr Goff has argued he is a steady pair of hands and is bringing better public transport and cleaner water to Auckland.

Facing off in RNZ's Auckland mayoral debate, Mr Goff said trustworthiness and reliability were the two most important qualities for the next mayor of Auckland. 

Mr Tamihere said they were integrity and being straight and direct.

Read the full transcript here: 


Rates, ‘stealth taxes’

(Checkpoint host, Lisa Owen): John, you're gonna freeze rates, you say, so you need council agreement to do that. How are you gonna get that?

Tamihere: By winning the election. So elections and local body politics are predominantly mayoral driven because they're the people that drive policy. If you look at all the local body, local board governing councillors, they don't and so the contest in Auckland is specifically about a suite of policies that I've introduced versus a suite of policies that I don't know. 

So the mayor is kind of like the President, is that what you’re telling me, you get to make all the decisions?

Tamihere: No, I didn’t say that. What I've seen is you’re putting the cart before the horse. You have to put a suite of policies up, you have to take those to the electorate, you've got to win the mandate. Once that mandate’s won, and the dust settles, no-one knows who [which councillors] is going to be returned. 

Is that how it works, Phil?

Goff: No, it's not how it works. Council is made up of 21 people. Yeah, the mayor leads, I introduce each budget proposal, and each time I've introduced a budget proposal I've got overwhelming support. And particularly the 10-year budget - which was the most important document in this term of council - but you can't automatically rely on there being a majority support for your proposal. You've got to go around, you've got to persuade each councillor that what you're proposing is the right thing to do. I wouldn't think there was more than probably two or three councillors that would believe that it's realistic to freeze rates at a time where this city needs more than ever before to invest heavily in the infrastructure we need to build for the future. 

John, have you done a head count? Do you know what support you would have with the current councillors? Two or three is what they’ve said.

Tamihere: Well, he wouldn’t know, I’ve got one more ... policy to release, and then I will poll the present councillors. Here's the thing: you don't know whether they're gonna be returned either. So what does that count tell you? 

We don't know if they'll be returned but it might give you a general feel because at the moment you’ve got zero and you need a majority on side. 

Tamihere: Well, he [Goff] has got nine that are opposing right now

Goff: No that’s not true. 

Tamihere: There’s been an A team and a B team, it’s true. 

Goff: You just make it up, John.

Tamihere: And you’ve been outvoted on a number of policies.

Goff: Once. Once on a minor policy. 

Tamihere: If you behave yourself you’ll get a chance. You can protect him, Lisa. Look, going back to the point that I’ve just said: once the dust has settled we’ll work out the numbers then. 

Okay. So despite increasing rates and targeted rates and a fuel tax, the council is in a position where it has “limited capacity to deal with external shock”. We’re pretty much maxed out are we? Is this the best you can do after three years?

Goff: Yeah, well, first of all you're talking about despite rates - we’ve had the lowest rate increases of any significant city in New Zealand. So let's get it in perspective. And you can go and check that ... we're in exactly the position that all growth cities are in, in New Zealand ... and more so in Auckland, because we're getting more growth in Auckland than the rest of the country put together. So there's a huge demand on expansion of infrastructure. And, you know from the stories you've been doing for years, that for a decade we've been under-investing in infrastructure. We're now playing catch up to get that investment - into transport, into housing, into the environment - to make this the city that it can be. 

Tamihere: Yes, Auckland is too small to be gouged in rates and stealth taxes - Phil’s brought four of them in -

Goff: That’s bulls--t. 

Tamihere: No, no, I’ll rattle them off. That is the 11.5 percent petrol tax.

Goff: I sat in this studio and talked about them three years ago, how can that be a stealth tax?

Tamihere: Let me just rattle them off. The environment tax, the water tax, the bed night tax. This is a truth. You’ve brought the most gouging rates and this is why the cost of living in this city, it’s a death by a hundred cuts when you’ve got a leader like this.

Clean beaches, Watercare, and 'selling out'

John, I just want to interrupt there ... we know where you stand on the regional petrol tax, right, on rates freezes. So, these extra taxes to bring forward the improvements in wastewater, to stop poo washing up on our beaches, and to do something for the environment - will you get rid of those when you come in?

Tamihere: If i’m elected then I get to release 49 percent of the equity in Watercare to achieve those.

I want to be clear on this, I’d like a pretty straightforward answer. So you're saying if you get elected as mayor, you're gonna sell off 49 percent of Watercare and therefore the extra targeted rates will go - the environmental rate and [water rate]?

Tamihere: It’s a straight set-off. If you do the numbers, what he’s brought in terms of his rates-

Again, he needed law change and the support of the council in order to do that...

Tamihere: But you know, I’m not a puppet to Wellington. I want to be a champion for Auckland, this guy's a sellout to Wellington.

Goff: You promised me a right of reply, so let's go through some of it.

Are you a sellout to Wellington?

Goff: Absolutely not. Let's give you one example of that. We increased the transport budget for Auckland by 50 percent when I negotiated the first Auckland transport alignment project, that's $9 billion more than we were getting out of Wellington before. Now is that a sellout? No, that was a remarkable achievement and all of the councillors acknowledged that. Let's come back to John's point about the privatisation. He keeps saying ‘selling equity’, but it's privatised, he's selling the shares privately. If you sell … $5 billion ... all the economist tell me the minimum would be a 7.5 percent return.

Tamihere: That’s not true.

Goff: It is true. That would require the water rates for the average family to go up between $200 and $300 a year. That is the equivalent of a 12 percent increase on general rates, so the worst thing is you’re trying to beg for your proposal - now, let me finish, let me finish - the people that you would hurt most are the low income because their income is low compared to the rates they have to pay, and secondly, those with families. Now, let me - 

Tamihere: What’s wrong with privatisation?

Goff: No I haven't finished on it, please let me. I've got a right of reply to what you said. You talked about stealth taxes: the environment and the water quality taxes went out to submissions, we got more submissions on that than ever before and we also polled on it. [A ratio between 2:1 and 3:1] Aucklanders said ‘yes, bring that in if that's a way we can clean our beaches up, and we can protect the environment'. No stealth about it, absolutely open and transparent. 

Tamihere: This is important. Firstly, Phil understands privatisation, right? He sold the Bank of New Zealand ... sold our telecommunications. 

He’s done the numbers, have you got some numbers for us?  

Tamihere: No, no, I’m talking about privatisation. Sale of an asset is…

Goff: What would it cost in an increase in our rates? Give us a figure.

Tamihere: So what we’ve got with Phil - I’ve got three points to make. Let me finish the two points. Let me finish now, he’s babbling on, we can turn this into a circus-

$200 to $300 extra in water rates?

Tamihere: No, no, I’ll come to that -

I’d like you to come to it now

Tamihere: Yeah, no, I’m talking about privatisation. It’s not privatisation when you own 51 percent of an asset. 

Goff: Why won’t you answer the question? Why won’t you answer the question? 

Tamihere: Hang on, the second issue is this- 

Do you have numbers on that?

Tamihere: Can I come to the numbers now? 

Yes, please, do.

Tamihere: Okay, he’s telling fibs. The fact of the matter, here’s the problem I’ve got. He’s a sitting man. He's been sitting there for three years on his hands and he just doesn't provide any workings. He pulls numbers out of the sky. Let’s look at the workings. If you look at his targeted environment tax and his targeted water tax, they will average out at exactly what New Zealand Super Fund or the ACC Fund who will buy the 49 percent -

Do you know that they will buy the 49 percent? Have you had any discussions with them?

Tamihere: Here’s their problem, they have significant dollars that they want to invest on shore at the moment. They're investing offshore because there are no infrastructure -

Have you had any discussions with anyone John?

Tamihere: I have, but can I come to that?


Tamihere: New Zealand Super Fund.  

And have they expressed interest in buying Watercare?

Tamihere: Well go and ask them.

I’m asking you.

Tamihere: No, you’re asking me all these questions, he won’t open the door to the New Zealand Super Fund. They’ve got between $8bn and $14bn to invest in our rail and they can’t get a meeting with this guy to get that across the line and the problem with that is unless you use those funds he’ll start taxing us.

Goff: Lisa, did you get an answer to any of the questions you asked?

Public transport versus Auckland Harbour Bridge upgrade

Let’s move on from there. You've got a strong focus on environmental issues, Phil, so planting 1.5 million trees and getting e-cars for the council and all the rest of it. 'Great' some people will say, but what have you got for the people who are struggling to fill the petrol tank and to pay massive rents? What have you got for them in your policy?

Goff: A number of things. First of all, in terms of income distribution, the government has brought in a major family package that is designed to put more money into the pockets of those with less income - but what can we do as council? Well, the first thing we can do as council: let’s make it easier for them to use public transport. That's why we’ve brought in the free travel for kids under 16 on weekends and public holidays. That's why I've reduced - or promise to reduce - the cost for school kids and that's why I'm working with [Associate Transport Minister] Julie Anne Genter to significantly cut - I would like to use the term slash - the cost of public transport to those using community service cards. That would be a huge help to those who are our most vulnerable and our lowest-income-earning Aucklanders.

So, quick question. When was the last time you took public transport from your home into Auckland from Clevedon? When did you do that?

Goff: Well, you know that there’s no public transport to Clevedon.

That’s my point, Phil, so you haven’t, you can’t.

Goff: Let me answer, you’ve asked a question, let me answer it. I sometimes drive to Papakura and catch the train in.

Right, so you still have to use a vehicle. 

Goff: Yeah, I still have to. That’s the cost of living in the countryside.

No, it’s in the greater Auckland area. When will we be able to opt out of cars, avoid your petrol tax and take convenient public transport? Give me a date.

Tamihere: Yeah, come on. 

Goff: Let me tell you what we've achieved for a start. We've got 100 million passenger trips a year, we haven't done that since 1951. A hundred million passenger trips - public transport is increasing on our rapid transit lines by 9-11 percent a year, you know that’s one of the fastest rates of increase 

Right, but that doesn’t answer my question does it?

Goff: No, it does. It says more and more people are finding it more and more convenient to travel by public transport. We have had record increases in use of public transport and that's a good thing and ... Auckland Transport actually reorganised our bus network, so a system - and the people in Wellington will be crying into their beer over this - and they did it right. They got a massive increase in people using our bus networks. You just look over the North Shore and you see how successfully our bus lanes have been, our busways - the northern busway; we're building a new one out in the eastern area; we're linking the airports through Puhinui, with rail. Those are all huge advantages.

Tamihere: The problem we’ve got with the 'Nirvana' is there are not enough park-and-rides for us to just access public transport in the event that it was frequent enough and affordable enough. So what we've got is that we're in a sequencing of a build out and what he's allowed Auckland Transport to do is just make war on motorists. You know, if you're a woman with children you got to get to the supermarket, you’ve got to get to care facilities for the kids, and you got to get them to school and back ... The reality is, Lisa, is that even if we spent the $28bn in the ATAP (Auckland Transport Alignment Project) there will still be - and this is on AA’s numbers - 82 percent of folk minimum will still require cars.

Okay, so speaking of cars John: your idea for the bridge. How many lanes again, remind me?

Tamihere: Ah, 10 lanes for vehicles, four lanes in terms of the pedestrian and cycle, and two lanes either way for rail. 

So what will that cost?

Tamihere: The engineers from Auckland University who have priced that for me and done the work on that, they’ve priced that between $2bn to $4bn

And how much will you put aside for acquiring the houses that you will need in St Mary's Bay and over the bridge in Northcote. 

Tamihere: Here’s the thing about the Point -

Will you use compulsory aquisition to get those properties to expand the bridge? Or how will it work?

Tamihere: Like all major projects in this country this is a New Zealand Transport Agency-funded project. It is not Auckland ratepayers. To suggest that it would bankrupt the city with $10 billion is just telling porkies as usual. 

How many houses do you anticipate would have to go? 

Tamihere: Don’t know the numbers yet, but what we do know is that under our future planning that has all been planned. What we haven't got is an eye on crystallisation on a solution for another crossing, and Phil wants that in 2030. That community in Auckland needs it within the next five to 10 years. 

Goff: Just give me a moment. The first thing is he wants to put trains up the top of the Harbour Bridge. The gradient is so steep the trains won't go over that gradient, and you can ask any transport authority on that. Secondly, you're going to put the cyclists, the walkers on the top level of the Harbour Bridge exposed to the elements. Is that going to work? Why would you create another two lanes over the Harbour Bridge when the problems of congestion lie up towards Northcote Road and coming into the city? 

Tamihere: What’s your solution?

Goff: The solution is not to bring more cars into the city when the city is already at maximum. 

Tamihere: It is an arterial route, an arterial route for the people of South Auckland.

Goff: The future, Lisa, you look at any city in the world, even Los Angeles - [to Tamihere] I’ll tell you what my solution is if you just give me a chance and stop interrupting - the solution is not to build more and more and wider and wider motorways. That won't work. We're heading towards two million people, we're of a size as a city now where we have to have a strong public transport system and that's what we're building.

Social housing, homelessness and '0800 Jacinda'

Phil, given the dire situation we have with housing 30 percent of Auckland is paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, why shouldn't the council housing arm, Panuku, allow greater percentage of social housing in their developments?

Goff: Let me tell you what we're doing ... because it is a real problem. First of all, what is succeeding is that our house prices haven't gone up in three years, they've gone slightly down compared to the rest of the country and interest rates have gone down so houses are becoming more affordable. One reason they’re becoming more affordable is that under the Unitary Plan we have signed up to a million sites - potential sites - for housing. Secondly, in the last figures that just came out two weeks ago, we were consenting 14,236 houses a year. That is four times what we were consenting eight, nine years ago. We're building more houses, therefore we are supplying to meet the demand. 

I asked you about social housing and Panuku developments, why not allow more social housing in the Panuku developments?

Goff: The difference between John and I, he is working - his trust is working - as a commercial developer and he wants to put a whole lot of social housing into one area. Invite into the studio anyone from the community housing providers and they will tell you that that failed in England with the council estate. What our plans are - and it's consistent with government plans - is that you do 1/3 social housing, 1/3 affordable housing, and 1/3 market housing. That way you get a balanced community. 

Tamihere: There’s not one suburb in Auckland that reflects a 30-30-30 split. 

Goff: Of course there is. Mount Roskill. The community I represented for 32 years reflects that. 

Tamihere: Have a look at your schools and the decile rating, it’s just not truthful. What we need in Auckland on brownfield sites that Auckland Council owns: it’s strategic and it's necessary and we have to build a lot more social houses and he's capped them at 30 percent on that land. Certain parts of lands you should have a cap but in major areas where poorer communities have a right to live, they shouldn't be pushed out into the margins as Phil's doing. We should open up that land.

Goff: Okay, then let me just make one more point about social housing. As a result of our advocacy to central government we're getting 3500 new social houses built in Auckland in the next three years. That is many times the number that has been built and we’re doing something about the homeless as well. 

Okay, John, on the subject of homelessness 0800 Jacinda. How many people have phoned your phone line?

Tamihere: The point is -

Goff: Is there a phone line 0800 Jacinda?  Did you actually ever register that?

Tamihere: No, no, no, no, no, no, you’ve done your question and I’ll answer it again. This goes straight to the point: whose job was it to fix homelessness in Auckland city? It's not the ratepayer being double taxed as usual, it's the central government.

Here is the point, John, that some people will see. Nobody’s called your 0800-Jacinda number because the TOP party owns it. So did you have any planning behind that policy, or was it just actually a publicity stunt and there was no depth to that policy’s intent at all?

Tamihere: No, no, no, you can't say - when you've got - you walk past them downtown here, when you've got other humans laying in the gutter - you can't say that’s a stunt, what you've got to say is- 

No, I’m saying - I’m asking you - if your phone line was a stunt?

Tamihere: Contentrate on the, on the homeless-

Was your phone line a stunt?

Tamihere: No, my phone line was bringing home to roost whose responsibility is to fix homelessness in the city, rather than spending millions of dollars of ratepayers’ funds -

But you don’t have a phone line. 

Tamihere: But I don’t care.

So it was a publicity stunt. 

Tamihere: What I care about was bringing home to roost where the responsibility lies,

Where was the substance behind that policy in planning, if you were serious about it? 

Tamihere: Let's work through the policy, shall we?

If you were serious about it, and you were seriously suggesting that phone line? Well, you failed because you didn't secure the number...

Tamihere: No, I haven’t failed. I haven’t. How have I failed by bringing attention to the fact that we've got homeless on the street that he won't lift, but he'll go and spend money and count them, but won’t fix them? How has my policy failed, when the investment that's coming into the city - that we've already paid for from central government - haven't ...  it’s health, welfare and housing.

Isn’t the concern, John, that people will look at that and see, 'okay, well, he didn't get the number, he wasn't serious about it, maybe he’s not serious about any of his other policies too'.

Tamihere: No, no. People like you can frame it like that but there’s plenty of people on the street that got it real quick, got it real quick as to where the responsibility for homelessness resides.

Goff: Very quickly I want to make one point because it’s really important. We have housed 1000 people - nearly half of them children - in the last two and a quarter years through Housing First which is a group made up of five different housing entities and the steering group of which I chair. A thousand people, out of emergency housing, off the streets, out of cars. 

Tamihere: Why aren’t you housing them downtown? Why aren’t you housing them downtown, Phil?

Goff: Don't question something that is a fact. Unlike the phone number, this is a real number: 1003 people housed in two and a quarter years by Housing First. That’s a fantastic achievement. 

Phil Goff's past term

There's a lot to get through. I want a very short answer to this. Phil, what's your biggest achievement this term?

Goff: I think it's bringing forward by 20 years of cleaning up of our beaches and stopping wastewater going onto it.

John, what do you think his biggest achievement is this term? 

Tamihere: Oh I think his most efficient achievement is Auckland Transport’s ability to ticket and fine people. 

Goff: Keep within the speed limit, mate. 

John Tamihere's stance on homosexuality

John. Auckland is a very diverse city. John, do you still think sex between two men is quite unhealthy and violating? I know this subject, you're sick of answering this, so let's just get it over and done with quickly and answer directly. Do you still think it's unhealthy?

Tamihere: I was at the LGBT debate. Phil was with me. Now, are you from that community?

I am asking you a question, John, about whether you still think that it's unhealthy and violating for two men to have sex. This is a very diverse city, people have a right to know where you stand on this. So how about a direct answer?

Tamihere: As I said at the LGBT debate, they've got a right to their own lifestyle.

That's different to whether you believe it's unhealthy and violating, so do you still think that?

Tamihere: They've got a right to their own lifestyle.

Why’s it such an issue for you to give a direct answer to this, John? 

Tamihere: Why is it such an issue of you trying to promote the specificity of sexual preference and acts on national radio? I have just answered your question. The LGBT community -

I’m asking where you stand on this issue because you said a bunch of controversial things over the years, and Auckland is a very diverse community. They have a right to know who they may or may not be voting for. So were those mistakes, those things that you said.

Tamihere: Look, I was brought up in ‘60s, ‘70s New Zealand you know it, I was brought up by a Catholic Irish mother and I have eight brothers. I was brought up in a black and white world, Lisa, I wasn't brought up in a flash world like yours. So on my street in west Auckland, it was the way in which that society operated at that time. 

So was it a mistake, what you said? Do you think it’s changed?

Tamihere: Of course it has.

So do you still hold that view. 

Tamihere: No, I don’t. 

Okay so you say you’re better for every error you have made. So how has that mistake made you a better person?

Tamihere: Well, name one mistake that you've made that has made you better and that you've gone back and you've laid out again. We all learn better by mistakes, I’m not perfect like Phil Goff and you.

I'm not standing for the mayoralty.

'No confidence' in Phil Goff's leadership?

Okay so, Phil, allegations are that you have divided the council into an A and B team. There was a letter of no confidence in you, allegations of bullying and arrogance on your part. So is it just that you know better than the other councillors, know better the way the system works? Or what's the problem there?

Goff: No, first of all it wasn't a letter of no confidence, you can go and read it for yourself

I have read it. ‘Expressing no confidence’ from some councillors...

Goff: No, go and talk to those councillors that signed that letter. They had a disagreement over one particular aspect and that was an aspect on which the Ombudsman actually upheld the position that I took. The second thing is, yes, of course there'll be disagreements on council from time to time but watch in - we're online, every council meeting - watch in when I chair a meeting and give me one instance where I have chaired that meeting unfairly or unreasonably. I get on with just about every councillor on that council on a personal basis. 

So any suggestion otherwise is incorrect, is that what you’re saying?

Goff: We have different opinions on some things, that's not unusual. But tell me how any minister of finance in a government would feel to be able to pass the budget with a 70-80 percent majority in favour of that budget, and that's what I've achieved on the three key financial documents that I've proposed to council and has been passed by council. I want to clarify one other thing. I have never, ever, in my whole political career been accused of bullying anybody, that’s not me, I've never done it. If you want to make allegations to the contrary you’d better put your evidence on the table.  

Concerts at Eden Park?

Gentlemen, concerts at Eden Park, for them or against them?

Tamihere: Absolutely for them. 

Goff: Um, I think - the - there’s 

Tamihere: Yes or no?

Goff: They’re provided, the plans provide for five concerts a year. I'd be happy for that. 

No more?

Goff: That’s what the plans allow. 

Is it because Helen Clark objects to them?

Goff: It's because a whole lot of people in the residential area, you know, if you had, if you work the stadium the way that you need to -

[News pips] Time for the news…

Goff: That will disturb their lifestyle.