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Q + A: Susan Wood Interviews Russel Norman

Q + A
Susan Wood Interviews Russel Norman

SUSAN Co-leader Russel Norman, very good morning to you.

RUSSEL NORMAN – Green Party Co-leader
Morning.

SUSAN To be fair and clear, it’s not really your strategy – it’s the Auckland City strategy, isn’t it? The rail loop we’re talking here.

RUSSEL Yeah, that’s right. I mean, we’ve been promoting it for a long time, but the Auckland Council obviously is totally on board as well. It’s a key part, as well, of the Auckland plan, about our compact urban form. Having a decent transport system is a key part of that.

SUSAN Let’s have a look at it, because we’ve just got a graphic here so people can see where the loop actually goes. Why do you think this is just such an important thing? It’s a central city loop around Auckland – we can see it coming up here, you know, Britomart, into Aotea Square, around Karangahape Road and around it goes in that loop back to Britomart again.

RUSSEL Well, what it means is that effectively you double the capacity of the network. It means you have trains every 10 minutes, combined with the electrification, and so that means you have a much more efficient transport network in Auckland. You can get a lot of people out of their cars and on to the rail, and that reduces congestion on the roading network, so then the roading—

SUSAN Aucklanders love their cars. Aucklanders love their cars. How are you going to prise them out of their cars and on to a train?

RUSSEL Well, we don’t need to. If you look at the Northern Busway, as soon as it was built, it was basically at capacity because Aucklanders love to use the Northern Busway.

SUSAN But looking at the bridge as you’re trying to get on there in the morning, it’s still full of cars, despite the Northern Busway, as successful as that has been.

RUSSEL That’s right, and so we’ve managed to move a lot of people, or rather people have chosen to get out of their cars and get on the bus. That’s improved the efficiency of the network dramatically. And if you look at it, when you ask Aucklanders where they want the money spent, what they say repeatedly is that the priority is getting this rail loop finished so that we can actually have a decent transport network in Auckland.

SUSAN To be effective – and we all know this – public transport has to be accessible, it has to be fast, it has to be there. You can’t be waiting 20 minutes for it. It’s got to be every five. And it’s got to be affordable. Does that city rail loop tick all those boxes?

RUSSEL If you think about New Lynn, it means that if you’re in New Lynn, you could get to the CBD in 25 minutes. There would be a train every 10 minutes. I think that would make a significant difference to people. A lot of people would choose to use the train. You wouldn’t use it all the time. You’re not going to use it for every trip, but if we can move a lot of the peak commuter traffic off the roads, or a significant proportion of it, on to the rail network, then we make the roading network work a lot better. That’s really the key to it, and that’s good for business, as well as making Auckland a great city, which is really what we want to do.

SUSAN But you want to pay for this project, and the tag’s about $2.4 billion at this point. Of course, it will change. But you want to pay for it by getting rid of some roads or certainly putting them lower down. And these are roads like the Wellington Northern Corridor, the Waikato Expressway, the Puhoi to Wellsford roads, these roads of national significance. So you are punishing the rest of the country to pay for Auckland’s rail loop.

RUSSEL Well, if you think about it, you know, how do we make allocations about the best way to spend money? So it seems to me you need to do a rational analysis. That’s the benefit-to-cost ratio, all that kind of stuff. When we look at our benefit-to-cost ratio, this rail network comes out on the latest study at about five to one. We get $5 back for every dollar we spend on it, whereas some of those roads that— new motorways, particularly the northern ‘holiday highway’ that the National Party are so keen—

SUSAN No, but that’s also— that’s also about opening up the north also for trade. We’re talking about economic development up there. It’s not just the holiday highway.

RUSSEL I think that’s fair, but it’s also true that when you look at the analysis of the benefits versus the cost, it doesn’t do very well compared to the rail loop, which does exceedingly well because it frees up the roading network in Auckland, which is our key international city.

SUSAN Why, then isn’t the Government buying it? Because their cost-benefit analysis says, ‘Yeah, maybe sometime in the future, but just not right now. It doesn’t add up.’ That’s the trouble with the numbers, isn’t it? You can crunch them a lot of different ways.

RUSSEL That’s true, and so what the Ministry of Transport did to come up with their study is they assumed that there was unlimited capacity for the Auckland CBD to absorb more cars and more buses. Now, anyone that lives in Auckland will know that that is not a fair assumption and that we’re already facing really significant congestion coming into the CBD. Now, the rail loop isn’t just about the CBD. It’s about making the whole network work better, which is great for Auckland – makes it a more liveable city. It means that we can have a more compact urban form, which will help in so many ways to make Auckland more liveable. But it’s great for business as well if we can free up the roading network so those people that have to use cars can use the roading network.

SUSAN Some of the roads, though, are used for freight. How are you going to move that freight around?

RUSSEL Oh, the roads that—

SUSAN Yeah, I mean some of our roads. I’m talking about Northland, for example.

RUSSEL But that’s the whole point.

SUSAN No, but if you need an upgrade of that road to actually get the freight up there in a better way, certainly.

RUSSEL I’m sure that’s true for some of them, but, you know, if you’re looking at priorities, this is a $2.4 billion project for the city rail loop. If central government puts in, say, 60% of the cost, elsewhere they’re paying 100% of the cost for the roads of National Party significance, right? That’s what they’re doing. So even if we just put in 60% of the cost, it comes out a lot cheaper than some of the other much larger and, you know, much less needed roads of national significance.

SUSAN A lot of that roading, though, is paid for by motorists – the various ways, you know, with your registration. And that money, to some extent – not entirely but to some extent – is kept apart to be used – paid for by motorists – to use for roads. Is it fair to whip that money away for rail?

RUSSEL Well, some of it’s going to be borrowed, so the National Party’s planning to borrow for this as well. But the basic point is that if you want the roading network to work—

SUSAN But if you’re a motorist— To the question, if you’re a motorist—

RUSSEL Yeah, and so if you want the roading network to work, then you need to reduce congestion at the peak. That will make the system work. The way we reduce congestion is we take some of the demand off the roading network and put it on to the rail network. That makes the roading network work, and motorists are the major beneficiaries when the roading network works. That’s how transport works.

SUSAN Some of those roads also that we’ve talked about, Waikato Expressway for one, part of the rationale behind the upgrade –improving them – is because they are horrible places for people to die. They are death-traps. And there will be a cost in lives if those roads are not updated, upgraded.

RUSSEL That’s exactly right. So if you look at the northern motorway, the ‘holiday highway’, or Puhoi to Wellsford, or whatever you want to call it, right, we can make that road safe for a lot less than the Government’s spending, and we can do it faster. Because what the Government, what National’s proposing to do is to delay the upgrade because they want to create a whole new road, right? We can improve the road that already exists to make it much safer—

SUSAN Isn’t that a patchwork quilt? Isn’t that what we’ve done all along? A patchwork quilt here, a little patch-up here and there—
RUSSEL Well, if you spend $400 million, for example, to improve that road, you could make it a much safer road rather than spending the many billions that National’s proposing for their gold-plated road of national significance. We can save lives sooner. In fact, under our plan, we will save more lives because we’ll fix the road sooner.

SUSAN Are you opposed to roads in any way, shape or form? It’s just the building of new roads I’m talking here. Do you just want to patch up what we’ve got?

RUSSEL It’s about making— It’s about prioritisation of transport spending. If you have $1 to spend, the next dollar – what’s the best way to spend that next dollar? And when you’re trying to deal with Auckland in particular, this is our international city, we need Auckland to be a great international city of the Pacific, if it’s going to work properly, then we need to spend that next dollar freeing up the network. The way to do that is to move some of the demand on to the rail.

SUSAN I want to change the subject. One final, last question. The Prime Minister’s interview with Corin Dann we’ve seen just out of China – essentially he said the Greens were in la-la land over the GCSB and the SIS and your claims that we essentially don’t need them, and I want your response to that.

RUSSEL Well, we didn’t say we don’t need them. What we said is that we need a thorough review of these agencies. John Key’s been—

SUSAN Isn’t that what the Kitteridge report has done…

RUSSEL No, it isn’t.

SUSAN …of the GCSB?

RUSSEL She’s reviewed the current malfunctioning of the agency that the Prime Minister has supposedly had oversight for four years. It’s a disaster. But, actually, the GCSB and the SIS sit alongside each other. They’re complementary in many respects, as we’ve seen. And so we need to say, What is the purpose of these agencies?’ They were built for the Cold War. We need to go, ‘What is the purpose of these agencies? What should they look like in the 21st century?’

SUSAN But isn’t that the whole point of bringing Ian Fletcher in that you’ve got a man in there that’s not your military old school; it’s somebody who’s looking at— We all know the new game is cyberterrorism. It’s IP attacks. Surely, we need to protect ourselves from this.

RUSSEL I am not someone who says you have to have an old military guy in the GCSB. I’m not that guy.

SUSAN Yes, you’re not.

RUSSEL So we need to have a thorough commission of inquiry to look at what’s going on, but it also needs to look at what do we need out of these agencies going forward. You know, we aren’t comfortable with being spied on by agencies, no question about it. I think most New Zealanders aren’t, so we need to have a first principles – what do we actually want out of these agencies? What should be the proper accountability mechanisms around them?

SUSAN Thank you for your time this morning, Greens co-leader Russel Norman.

ENDS

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