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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Goff

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Goff


Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says ratepayers will not pay a hosting fee for the Americas Cup regatta. But he says there is infrastructure needed for the Cup and some projects that are going to happen anyway could be brought forward.

Goff says he expects road pricing to be introduced in the next decade, and the regional fuel tax to be phased out. But he says at some point Aucklanders may have to pay both at the same time.

Goff says there is still a $5.9billion deficit in Auckland’s transport funding and he doesn’t know where that money will come from.

Lisa Owen: Welcome back. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has been under fire this week after he presented a proposed 10-year budget that includes a number of new rates. He has proposed a maximum average rates rise of 2.5%. I spoke to him just before we came on air this morning.
We’ll talk about rates in a minute, but let’s talk about homelessness first. Auckland has the biggest homeless population in the country. Can you see a need for a night shelter?
Phil Goff: Well, I’ve talked to most of the groups that work with the homeless, and they tell me, ‘No. Don’t give us short-term solutions that don’t take people anywhere. Get in behind Housing First, as you’re doing. Let’s look at permanent solutions. Let’s get people off the street into houses of their own, but don’t just give them houses. Give them the wraparound services that deal with all of the problems in their lives that led them to becoming homeless in the first place.’ That’s the advice I’m following. It’s very strong advice. We will promote Housing First. It’s proven to be effective, and I’m working with ministers right now to see how we can ramp up what we’re doing in this area.
So no help then from the Council in respect of the homeless…?
A lot of help from the Council…
On the homeless shelter, I mean. You know, no money. No help. No building or anything like that.
We’ve put quite a lot of money – a couple of million dollars – into the James Liston Hostel, which is a short-term accommodation facility, but everything I’m told by the housing groups – ‘Please, get behind Housing First. We’ve housed 221 people since we began that programme – just six months ago – people and children. We want to ramp up. We’ll get to 437, which is the target, by the end of next year. I want to do even better than that. I think that we can actually help hundreds and hundreds more people, and the Government has indicated that they’re interested in this problem, and they will help.
OK. Let’s move on to your 10-year plan, your budget. You promised a 2.5% general rates increase. You add up all the levies or the special rates – whatever you want to call them – and it’s more than 6%, so some people will think you’ve lied to them. Did you lie?
That’s not true. I promised 2.5. Actually, the average ratepayer in Auckland – that’s a person with a home that’s worth just over a million dollars – will get a net increase in their rates in July next year of 1.4%, and given that other cities that are big-growth cities around the North Island, are charging double-figure rate increases, we’ve done remarkably well.
Yeah, but you’re kind of skewing the pitch a little bit because you’re taking out the interim transport levy because you say there’s a regional fuel tax. Let’s put that to one side because they cancel each other out in essence. You’re taking one and getting…
No. One’s rates and one’s not.
But it’s a fee. You’ve got a 2.8% water quality levy, basically.
If people choose to support that, and they will have that choice to give us that feedback. This is a consultation process.
But this is your preferred option.
Absolutely, because you and I want our kids to go to beaches that are safe and healthy to swim in, and we want to stop pouring our sewerage into the harbours, and I think most Aucklanders want to do that, and that’s why I think they will support that targeted rate.
Let’s just go through the numbers then. 2.8% on the water quality, 0.9% on the levy, and a promised cap of 2.5% on general rates. You add those up to, what, 6.2%.
Yeah, but you take off the 4.8% which was the interim transport levy and you come to 1.4. What people…
But they’re still going to be paying a petrol tax though, aren’t they, Mr Goff? They’re still going to be paying a petrol tax.
No, no, no. Lisa. Yeah, of course, and I promised that, and I promised that in this studio to you last year during the campaign. I said I would keep average general rates at 2.5%, but there would be a regional fuel tax. I’d push for that because I didn’t think it was right that a pensioner out in the suburbs that hardly used the transport system paid the same as a big corporate with a fleet of trucks 24/7 on the road. We’ve done away with the inequitable interim transport levy. That’s $114 on your rates and on low-income people’s rates, and we’ve replaced it with – or we will replace it – with a fuel tax that will depend on how often you use the roads. It’s user pays, and it makes sense. It’s much fairer.
Couldn’t you have been clearer about this, though, and say…
I was absolutely clear about it, and in this studio to you, Lisa.
No. Not about the exact numbers – about the principle, yes – but about the exact numbers, and you can move these numbers around how you like. Some people will look at this and say they’re getting a 6.2% increase.
Yeah, but they’re not. They’re not. When they pay their…
So you feel you’ve absolutely told the truth?
Look, and I’ve set it out more clearly than I have in my mayoral proposal where I set it out – how much you’ll pay a week, how much you’ll pay a year, what the percentage is, and how we arrive at that total. For the person with the average-priced home in Auckland, when they go to pay their rates after July next year, if this proposal is accepted, their rate bill next year will be 1.4% higher than it was this year. They will be paying a fuel levy. They know why they’re paying that. We’ve got gridlock on the roads. I can do nothing about it, if that’s what you’d prefer me to do, or I can try to put more money into investment in our infrastructure, and that’s what we’re doing. We’ll be putting $11 billion into transport infrastructure in the next 10 years, but most importantly – and I want to come back to the point you raised before – we will be cleaning up our waterways after a century of every time it rains, the wastewater overflowing into our streams and our harbours. We will do something to cut that overflow by more than 80%. I think Aucklanders will embrace that idea and that proposal. They want something done about it.
So the regional fuel tax –do you see that as a temporary measure, or do you think that will be there forever?
It won’t be there forever. Give us 10 years, and most of us, like I am, will be driving electric cars, so a fuel tax is not going to be a long-term proposal.
Do you have an idea in your head of a timeframe?
I hope that it stays there until the government and the council come up with an alternative proposal that’ll be around demand management. The last government was talking to me about…
Congestion charges.
A congestion charge. The new government has said, ‘Look, we’ve got to have some sort of demand management road pricing – smarter road pricing. We’ll do that, just as London, Stockholm, Singapore and other places have done.
So in terms of congestion charging, are you thinking that congestion charging will be a replacement for the fuel tax or will be on top of the fuel tax?
Oh, I’m not sure yet. It’s some years off.
It’s possible that there could be both – a congestion charge and a fuel tax.
I think you’ll see the removal of a fuel tax because it will no longer be relevant because more and more people will be travelling in electric-powered cars.
Yeah, okay, but conceivably, we could still have a fuel tax and a congestion charge.
Look, this is a decision that’s probably four or five years out. I don’t know yet. I don’t imagine that there’ll be the two of them. I think you’ll simply have a form of smarter road pricing that takes into account how often you drive and what times of the day you drive to try to reduce congestion by managing demand.
We know that Phil Twyford, when he came in, when we last saw him, he said he was expecting the previous government’s advice on congestion charging to come across his desk. Have you seen that yet?
Yeah. Look, we’ve got a working party.
What did it recommend? What did it recommend, Mr Goff?
It hasn’t reported yet. We’ve got a working party that is looking at how smarter road pricing works around the world and how it might best be adapted to Auckland.
Yeah, and I get that, but the advice that the previous government had asked for, you’ve seen it?
Oh, they were in favour of it. I talked—
And what timeframe did they favour in that advice that came back?
My timeframe – I said, look, Singapore has introduced—They’re wanting the latest GPS-type congestion charge. It’s taken them some years. We’re not going to go into technology that’s not yet proven. I think personally it’ll be four or five years off.
But what was the advice? In that government advice, what did they recommend?
No, they haven’t reported yet. All I’m saying is that the ministers in the last government were in favour of it and I suspect that the ministers in the new government will be in favour of it, because it makes sense.
Where does all of this leave the Auckland Transport Alignment Project? Because you’d agreed on the long-term projects, and when we spoke last time, you said it was all up for renegotiation. But is that dead in the water now?
No, no, it’s absolutely not dead in the water. You have to have a system where council and the government are working together to deal with congestion problems that are costing this country – not just our city, this country – $2 billion a year, so what the new government has said – we’ve got some different priorities. We don’t want to do the East West project in the way that it was set up. That was $1.8 billion. What we want to do is bring forward things like light rail, more busways, more mass transit.
Yeah, and those are the bits we know about, so what about the bits that we don’t know about? Are you still talking about that? What’s happening with Penlink and the second harbour crossing?
We’ve got a programme to work with government over the next three months. They will issue a government policy statement, we’ll have a regional land transport plan, and we’ll have a new ATAP alignment, but it will be worked and negotiated together because we need to align what council is doing with what government is doing; the old system didn’t make sense, where the two were at odds and nothing happened. We’ve got a massive problem in congestion. You know that and I know that; we drive on the Auckland roads. We’ve got to deal to it, and the regional fuel tax will help us do that, but we need the ATAP programme to be finalised, and I’m hoping that that will be done by the end of the first quarter of next year.
We’re running out of time, and there’s a couple of things I want to get to quickly. The $7 billion shortfall – do you know where that’s coming from yet?
The $6 billion. $5.9, actually. It’s a shedload of money. Yeah, we didn’t work it out with the last government. They were coy about talking about it before the election, which I understand.
No, so this government’s still not?
But we need to negotiate that. My position is, look, every dollar that we get out of the regional fuel tax will be hypothecated to transport. That means we’re not going to spend it on other things. It’s solely on transport, and we want that to be our contribution.
But the point is you still don’t know how much the government’s giving you?
No, no, because they haven’t got to that point yet. They’ve been in office a matter of weeks, not years.
Well, given that you have got shortfalls and, you know, you can only spend a dollar once, there’s all this talk about the America’s Cup. The hosting fee – who should pay that? Are we going to pay that as Auckland ratepayers?
No. I’ve been pretty adamant about that.
Absolutely not? Categorical assurance from you?
Well, let me explain it, please. First of all, we will put money into infrastructure. What I’ve said to Team New Zealand is, “You need a base for your syndicates. We will make sure you need the land space and the water space to enable you to host a successful cup in Auckland.” And that’s what we’ll do. We’ll actually do something beyond that; we’ll bring forward some of the infrastructure spend in the centre city and the waterfront area that we were going to spend on anyway, but we’ll bring it forward, so that is another cost on us. Am I going to compete with so each either the Russian mafia in that city and the Middle East, Abu Dhabi, to pay $116 million? Not on your life.
So that’s got to come from the government?
Well, I don’t think the government will want to pay that money.
So who’s going to pay it, then?
Well, I don’t mind Team New Zealand having a go at it. The truth is—
You could lose this over that, though. You could lose it over that.
Well, I’m sorry. There is a bottom line for us. I’m the guardian of your money and the ratepayers’ money, and I don’t have $116 million or anything like that or anything a fraction of that to throw at it.
So you are prepared to lose it if it does come down to someone having to stump up that money and the government’s not going to do it?
If the demand was we had to put another $116 million in of the ratepayers’ money, my answer is no, we won’t do that. Do I think Team New Zealand will walk away from Auckland? I don’t think so. We’ve got the best harbour in the world to do this. They are patriotic New Zealanders. They want to have the cup here.
So does that include the hosting fee too? No way, no how will you pay the hosting fee.
Look, there’ll be a negotiation, but I don’t have the money. It’s not my money; it’s your money, and I’m not prepared to spend money on a hosting agreement. That is not part of the deal. The deal is to provide the infrastructure.
Well, that’s a definitive no, then, if you’re saying that you’re not going to go to the ratepayers and ask them for it and you’ve got no magic pot of money. That’s no to the hosting fee.
I can’t spend money that we don’t have, and I’m not intending to, and that would not be my top priority when I’ve got huge priorities right across the city on behalf of Aucklanders. And that’s what Aucklanders tell me – “We want the cup here. We really want to host the cup.” I want to host the cup. We will pay a fair share to the infrastructure. I’m not up for hosting agreement fees that were never paid in 1999 and weren’t paid in 2003. I don’t believe they should be paid this time.
That’s pretty clear. Thanks for joining me, Mayor.
Thank you. Thanks, Lisa.
Appreciate your time.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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