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Q + A: Gerry Brownlee

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee Rules Out Fastracking Auckland’s City Rail Loop

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told TV1’s Q+A programme this morning that he won’t be bringing forward an Auckland City Rail loop based on new figures showing increased rail patronage.

Auckland Transport figures show rail patronage for 12 months to June was up 13.9 percent.

But Mr Brownlee says the Government is sticking to its 2020 target:

GERRY …We've already brought it forward by 10 years, and we would expect that round about 2017, '18, the business case to start.

CORIN Because Len Brown and others would argue that in fact, no you’ve got to get need it to be in place by 2020.

GERRY Well that’s not what the numbers tell us at the moment. If you look at that track it's rising at about 12% a year. You get round about 19 million passenger movements by 2020.”

He also denied Labour’s claim that National will announce its plans for a second Auckland Harbour crossing next month – and rule out a rail option.

GERRY We've already said that we think the necessity for it will be in the period from 20/25 to 20/30, and that in the next couple of years you'd expect the business case to start considering how it would be funded, and what the construction programme would be.”

CORIN Will it include rail?

GERRY Well that would include obviously an analysis of Rail. Where this came from last week that we've got rid of rail, I've no idea.
Q + A
Episode 21
Gerry Brownlee
Interviewed by Corin Dann

SUSAN Gerry Brownlee got into a spot of bother this week by breaching airport security rules. He has stepped back from his aviation duties while waiting for the outcome of a Civil Aviation Authority investigation. Corin is with the Transport Minister, Gerry Brownlee.

CORIN Mr Brownlee thank you for joining us this morning. Thursday, talk us through what on earth happened there. Your Prime Minister would have been talking about watching for complacency, not doing stupid things, and that’s exactly what you’ve done.

GERRY BROWNLEE – Transport Minister
Well that’s it, I don’t really have too much more of an explanation than that. You know there is going to be an investigation, I don’t want to start you know pleading a case here. I don’t think there's much I can say other than that I've accepted full responsibility for it. We were in a hurry, we thought we were going to miss a plane. But that of itself is no excuse.

CORIN Was it you acting in the moment that you thought you were above the law?

GERRY Look I don’t believe so, because I don’t consider myself above the law.

CORIN Well you did in that moment didn’t you?

GERRY Well I don’t know that I actually even considered the consequences of doing anything other than getting to the gate as quickly as possible. Well I know I didn’t consciously say right, I am going to avoid this. I can't explain it.

CORIN That’s the danger isn't it, is that it gives a perception that there is sort of an inherent arrogance after two terms in government that your government is arrogant and doesn’t care.

GERRY Well I don’t know how to respond to you. I don’t feel as though I behave like that all the time, and you know that wasn't my intention. But yes it is a huge distraction, and I deeply regret that for all the party volunteers who are working for us at the moment. The Prime Minister is clearly distracted by issues like this, added to the fact that it becomes the news as opposed to the genuine policies issues that should be.

CORIN It was only the main news after a colleague of mine at TVNZ actually made some inquiries. Again would you have even sort of acknowledged it, if it hadn’t have been for our inquiries.

GERRY I think that’s the bit that’s got me a little bit perplexed, because when I got back to my office in Wellington, got an inquiry from – well a staff member came and said, did you bypass security at Christchurch Airport, and suddenly just everything dawned on me, and all I did was reach for a pad and start writing the letter to the Prime Minister. I found out after that that you guys were making inquiries.

CORIN Doesn’t that suggest that your thinking was I'm above the law I can just go through. You weren't thinking that it might be something you shouldn’t do?

GERRY Well I think in hindsight I realised what I had done, and knew what the potential consequences would be.

CORIN What happened with this guy at the door, did he wave you through, was he a mate of yours?

GERRY No, no.

CORIN Did you know him?

GERRY Well he works there all the time, I've spoken to him on numerous occasions, because he's a person who's there to assist people, and to be courteous. He's a hell of a good guy, does his job really well. I did put him in a difficult position. All I said was look we're in a hurry for that plan over there…

CORIN Just to be clear, he let you through, that’s your reading of events?

GERRY He said okay and we came through. I really don’t want to dump it back on him. I mean you’ve got someone there who's working for the airport company, his job is to be courteous and helpful, and…

CORIN But doesn’t that suggest there's something wrong with the rules here. I mean my understanding is that the Prime Minister isn't screened, that other people aren't screened. What are the rules here, I mean why is there even a door there that allows some people and some people not to go through.

GERRY Oh the door is an exit that is for the convenience of travellers who come off main trunk flights, who are then connecting to regional flights. We'd used that door a couple of hours beforehand, and you use it quite frequently and it's available to people for that purpose. And you know when it comes to who gets screened, who doesn’t, there are various exclusions, but that’s no excuse in this case.

CORIN Alright, let's move on to why you should really be here and that is Transport. What I guess National would do if it was re-elected. Roads have been very much your focus haven't they? For the six years you’ve had the roads of national significance. Your critics say too much so, that you're in fact stuck in the 80s and not recognising that the public is starting to want public transport more.

GERRY Well I think there may well be a perception around that, but we think public transport is a good thing, and in each of the years since we became government, we've invested heavily in public transport. It's never been less than 250 million a year, and then you’ve got over the top of that the continued investment into the electrification of the Auckland Rail and Wellington Rail. We've also changed the operating model around public transport to ensure that we get better arrangements for passenger convenience, and public transport continues to be as I say subsidised at a very heavy rate.

CORIN It's subsidies though isn't it? Can you point to any new public transport infrastructure that has been brought on by your government in the last six years?

GERRY Well all of the electrification …

CORIN Was funded by Labour.

GERRY No it was committed, it was agreed to, but the funding had to be committed by successive governments.

CORIN It was their project.

GERRY Well it might have been their project, but someone had to deliver it, and it's a bit like a future government coming along here and saying that they delivered the RoNS. We're doing that, we're funding it, we found 1.7 billion for Auckland, and about 485 million for Wellington. And that’s you know very significant infrastructure build for a part of the transport network, that only sees about 3% of kilometres travelled taken on public transport.

CORIN The criticism is though, we've heard it from Road Transport Forum and other groups is that you’ve effectively been cherry-picking, choosing the bits that you want. I mean we saw this with announcement after the recent conference, the regional roads. Strong criticism from road users, that this is just port barrel politics and you're out there choosing, and that’s not the way to plan a network.

GERRY Well look I spoke at the Truck Operators Conference just recently, and I don’t believe for one moment that the comments that were made by their representatives, truly was the feeling from the membership of that organisation. Those additional projects add to what will be a significant increase in money available for regional New Zealand roads in the next government policy statement. And I'd just like anyone to tell me which one of them shouldn’t go ahead.

CORIN But it's the bigger picture though isn't it? It's that once again you’ve picked a bunch of roads while you’ve been continuing to fund public transport, there are not new public transport initiatives.

GERRY Well I'd take issue with that too, because the entire Auckland electrification network, run by Auckland Transport. That is building towards a more frequent and regular service. And what we are seeing and it's encouraging, it's not as big as we'd like to see it, an increased patronage on those services around the rest of the country. Then we do want to see expansion of public transport, but the primary driver for that are those local communities through their regional authorities, setting those services up.

CORIN Yeah 14% patronage increase in Auckland Rail, does that justify now bringing forward the inner city loop?

GERRY Well I think it's really interesting to look at that inner city loop. So for a start, on the projections that you'd normally work to we brought that project ahead by a decade and said we want to fund construction from 2020, and that we'd look at the business case sooner, if there was some of the trends that Auckland themselves identified. And look when we looked at them we thought actually they’ve set too tough a targets. So we halved the number of employees increasing in the CBD, and we said okay we'll see what the trend is on the 20 million number for passenger movements. Now the increase that we've seen in the last 12 months, it's still tracking on a 5 year basis.

CORIN Not enough to bring it forward?

GERRY Well not enough to bring it forward by 2 or 3 years. We've already brought it forward by 10 years, and we would expect that round about 2017, '18, the business case to start.

CORIN Because Len Brown and others would argue that in fact, no you’ve got to get need it to be in place by 2020.

GERRY Well that’s not what the numbers tell us at the moment. If you look at that track it's rising at about 12% a year. You get round about 19 million passenger movements by 2020. But that itself was half the target.

CORIN So you won’t be promising to bring that forward to an earlier start. What about a tunnel or…

GERRY Let me just finish. We've always said, that if we see that trend rapidly rising then we'll …

CORIN Then you'll change?

GERRY Yes.

CORIN What about this speculation of some sort of a tunnel under the harbour in Auckland?

GERRY Well we've already announced that.

CORIN Bringing it forward.

GERRY No, the Prime Minister announced in June of last year that that would be one of the long term infrastructure projects we want to look at. We think the necessity for that is in the 25 to 30 period, and so…

CORIN But that’s earlier than had previously been said isn't it?

GERRY Yes it is. It was talked out to 2041.

CORIN So you're saying bring that forward 15 years?

GERRY Well, potentially. Don’t necessarily think that there's a direct swap between road transport that people choose, cars effectively, and then other modes of public transport. If you take the numbers from 2006, the percentage of people moving off the roads, all adjusted for population and everything else, now into public transport is about 1%. New Zealand at the moment has got record levels of new car purchase, so people still want to use their car.

CORIN Yeah we're about a 5 cent drop in the dollar away from record petrol prices. I mean the global financial crisis is what cut demand in car use. That’s going to come back, and we're gonna have record petrol prices.

GERRY Well it may, but look I was talking to my son yesterday and saying the first car I ever bought, I thought it was brilliant, did 25 miles to the gallon. Now you know you can buy a 15 year old car these days that will do far better than that.

CORIN But the point is, your critics argue, you're planning for roads, and you're saying hey look great, the road use is coming back.

GERRY That’s not what we're planning for. What we're planning for is a connectivity across New Zealand, that allows an economy to grow. That’s why we're keen on this road up into Northland. It's why we want to go round the country with those 12 regional projects that we think will make a difference.

CORIN Yeah but there's no rail bits that are part of that. Where are the metro rail additions, there aren't any.

GERRY Hang on a minute, we've committed to 4.6 billion dollars to recapitalise Kiwi Rail. So we do want to see a greater use of the main trunk line, particularly for freight. There are a lot of other issues that become difficult around that. So if you take the Napier/Gisborne line, which has been controversial – we've got one political party out there saying they’ll put it back. That is an extremely expensive prospect.

CORIN Can I just come back to that, just to clarify…

GERRY I need to finish it, because it does illustrate the point. So they say there's a wall of wood there, you’ve got to get it out and rail's the best way. But when you take it from the skids, the log from the skids, it's six dollars to load it on to a truck. Then you take it down to the railhead it's another six dollars to take it off the truck. It's six dollars to put it back on the rail and when you get it off the rail six dollars to….

CORIN It's another whole interview, we'll get to that.

GERRY Well it's a problem.

CORIN I just want to clarify on the tunnel under the harbour. You were saying effectively this morning that you would bring that forward 15 years?

GERRY No we've already said that we think the necessity for it will be in the period from 20/25 to 20/30, and that in the next couple of years you'd expect the business case to start considering how it would be funded, and what the construction programme would be.

CORIN Will it include rail.

GERRY Well that would include obviously an analysis of Rail. Where this came from last week that we've got rid of rail, I've no idea.

CORIN Before we go, the flyover in Wellington, you’ve expressed disappointment that this isn't going ahead. What's going on here, do you feel that this is being stymied by a group of environmentalists and doesn’t reflect the wider views of the Wellington public?

GERRY I think our concern is that we're putting a lot of investment into the north of Wellington to create that connectivity. The road round the Basin is a significant part of that to keep that flow of traffic going from out at the airport, and you know there is another 20 days or so, or less than that now, about 15 days to go, where people can put in their views on the draft decision, before a final decision is made. But I think if people look at that draft decision they’ll find a couple of things in there that are a little bit perplexing.

CORIN I mean are you going to fight this? Are you going to appeal?

GERRY Oh no we're not making any decisions about that until the final decision is made. There's a proper process to go through.

CORIN What you seem to be signalling here is that you're not going to give up on this?

GERRY Well we think, we know that there is a problem that has to be dealt with there, one way or the other, and one of the extraordinary things is that NZTA consider, or their predecessors also from 2001,have considered 73 different options for traffic movement around that part of Wellington City.

CORIN But you're effectively saying you’ve got issues with the decision.

GERRY Well hang on, of course we have, we wanted it and they’ve said no, so that creates a situation where you’ve got to look at what you do now.

CORIN What about the process itself, I mean are you frustrated by the actual process that have reviewed this flyover?

GERRY Well it's the same process that’s delivered the Puhoi to Wellsford. So I'm not having a go at the process, I'm just saying that the decision itself is interesting.

CORIN Just then one final question on that, what would you do, what could you do, what do we see next?

GERRY Oh well look you know people have said look put another tunnel through Mt Victoria, do all those sorts of things. You know if you can't get this consented goodness knows how you'd get a tunnel consented. But whatever you do, you're doing in recognition of the fact that there is a congestion problem around there and so we've just got to have another look at the best way to overcome that problem.

CORIN Gerry Brownlee thank you very much for your time.


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