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Q+A: Phil Goff interviewed by Corin Dann

Q+A: Phil Goff interviewed by Corin Dann

Mayor Goff confident of court victory over speaker ban decision

Auckland mayor Phil Goff is confident he can win a court case over a decision to ban two right-wing speakers from using a council venue for a seminar next month.

Speaking on TVNZ 1’s Q+A this morning Mr Goff told Corin Dann that banning Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux was not a “captain’s call” because it was in line with Auckland’s policy.

“I’ve got an obligation to promote a city that is inclusive. I’ve got an obligation to protect ethnic and religious minorities who are being brought in to contempt, who are being abused, provoked and insulted by the sort of language that these people are using,” he said.

“I’m not banning them. I’m just not going to aid and abet malicious comments about part of our community by providing them with a venue.”

He also said the rates system needed an overhaul.

“I think the system’s antiquated. No more so than in Auckland,” he said.

“We’re still working on a funding system that essentially hasn’t changed much since the 19th century.”

Q + A
Episode 18
PHIL GOFF
Interviewed by Corin Dann



CORIN Mayor Phil Goff is in Christchurch at the local government meeting. He joins us now. Good morning to you, Mayor.

PHIL Yeah, good morning, Corin.

CORIN Do you agree with Dave Cull that the system is broken? That in terms of your revenue gathering via rates, it’s broken and it has to be changed?

PHIL Yeah, I think the system’s antiquated, and no more so than in Auckland. Way back in 2010 the government decided to create a supercity, bringing together eight different councils into one with 34% of the country’s population, 38% of its GDP, but we’re still working on a funding system that essentially hasn’t changed much since the 19th century.

CORIN So what do you want?

PHIL Well, I think a devolution of funding would be a good idea. I mean, I don’t think it’s great that local government has to go cap in hand to government on a case-by-case basis for funding. We’re elected at a local level. We’re accountable at a local level. And if you look at a lot of jurisdictions overseas – and I’m thinking about probably Australia – where the local infrastructure, for example, is created by the state government rather than the federal government, the federal government returns some of the GST to state government to spend directly on the projects that are necessary. So one of the ideas I put up to Bill English and Steven Joyce, and equally to Grant Robertson, is, look, the government puts a tax on our rates. It’s called GST. So for every dollar we put up, they add 15% to it. If the government wanted to have a system of devolution of funding to local government, a very simple way of doing that would be to return the GST that they charge on our rates. That would provide funding proportionately.

CORIN And what’s Grant Robertson said to you about that request?

PHIL I’ve got to say that neither finance minister that I’ve talked to has been entirely enthusiastic about it and I understand why. They’re under a lot of pressure. You know, they don’t have money that they want to give away at the moment. They’ve got huge demands on their spending. But this wouldn’t be in addition to everything else. This would mean that local government could do some things directly itself without each time having to go cap-in-hand to central government to say, ‘Please give us some money for this particular project.’

CORIN Well, it’s not just cap in hand to central government, is it? Because you’ve obviously brought in your petrol tax. We know there’s a bed tax. Some say there’s a toilet tax.

PHIL No.

CORIN I mean, how many times can you keep going to ratepayers with these new charges, these environmental levies, these water levies?

PHIL Yeah, well, that’s the whole point. Some of those things are so we don’t go to ratepayers each time. The average general rate increase in Auckland this year under the 10-year plan is 2.5%. That’s half and sometimes a quarter of what other growth cities are doing, and why can we do that? We can do that because this government has given us access to a regional fuel tax. And, you know, instead of just putting the rates up to every ratepayer regardless of how often they’re using transport services, we’ve opted for a more user-pays system that actually does start to modify behaviour. It’s a form of demand management. I was listening to the radio the other day and the car dealers were saying, look, Aucklanders are starting to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. Well, if that’s the outcome of it, that’s a great thing for Auckland and for New Zealand.

CORIN So just before we move on, will you—If you can’t get a change in the rates and the GST system from the government, you can’t find any more money, we know you can’t borrow much more money, will you keep on with the user-pays taxes? Will we see them in other areas?

PHIL Well, you’ve seen that a little bit with what you call the bed tax, which is a targeted rate on accommodation. Previously the ratepayer was paying for all of the marketing of the private sector working in the tourist field. And I said, ‘Well, why is the ratepayer paying for that rather than a share of that being met by the people who directly benefit from our promotion of major events, of marketing our city for tourism?’ And we’ve taken that off the ratepayer – or half of it off the ratepayer – and put it directly on the accommodation provider, and I think that’s fair. Two to one – three to one, actually – Aucklanders supported that. The so-called toilet tax—

CORIN Mr Goff, if you’ve got a funding problem—Yeah, I was going to get to the toilet tax where you’ve set up this separate vehicle to run your infrastructure—your water infrastructure and you get charged a slightly higher interest rate or whatever. If you’ve got problems with your funding and your balance sheet, why don’t you sell something?

PHIL Well, here’s the challenge – Auckland’s growing by 45,000 people a year. That means we add a city the size of Tauranga every three years to Auckland. Massive population growth – one of the fastest-growing cities in the world – and an underinvestment in infrastructure that means that we’ve got more and more congestion, houses are becoming less and less affordable because we haven’t provided the infrastructure at the speed we want to.

CORIN So sell the port shares and spend it on infrastructure.

PHIL No, no, no. It’s not a case of selling strategic assets. Some people say sell Watercare – not interested in doing that. Not interested in selling our airport shares. What we are doing – we’re selling things that are surplus, such as buildings that we don’t need or land that we don’t need, so we are recovering some of that money. But the fact of the matter is if you’ve got massive growth you need to create the infrastructure to match it, and that’s the challenge that Auckland faces. So what the last government offered and we picked up and the present government is also offering is that they will put some of that debt on their books. We’ll still pay the interest. For example, instead of paying water rates to cover the cost of a massive central interceptor that takes sewerage from the centre of town to Mangere, we need to—we need that because to accommodate growth, we need to stop putting our wastewater into our harbour. That will be a charge, if we go ahead with this proposal, to what’s called the Crown Infrastructure Partners, rather than appearing on Council debt, which is limited.

CORIN OK, fair enough. We’re a bit short of time and I want to get to this issue on free speech. What prompted you to make this captain’s call on banning these alt right coming to—using Council venues?

PHIL Well, it’s not a captain’s call, for a start. It’s fully in line with Auckland’s policy, which we’ve just agreed to.

CORIN Well, it might be, but you made the call as mayor, didn’t you?

PHIL Yeah, yeah, but it’s about—Our city has to be an inclusive city. We’re hugely diverse. 40% of Aucklanders are born overseas. So when the Regional Facilities Auckland came to me and said, ‘We’ve got this problem. These people want to use our facilities.’ They said they were concerned that the speech that these two individuals were engaged in was deliberately provocative to some of our ethnic communities and our faith communities. My view was very clear. Why--? You know, I’m not against free speech. They can come here. The people that are paying 50,000 in legal fees to promote their right – they can provide them with a hall somewhere or a cow paddock somewhere.

CORIN Yes, but I want to know why you think it’s your right—Was it your right to make that call?

PHIL It’s my obligation, first of all, to follow the advice I get from Regional Facilities Auckland that said this will be a security threat and, by the way, it’s probably inconsistent with the guidelines that we operate under, which is not to bring the Council into disrepute.

CORIN Fine. You’re drawing a line. That’s fine. I want to know why you think you are able to make that decision and not the courts, because that’s what people are very upset about. They look and they think you’re acting like a dictator.

PHIL No. Look, the people that support dictators are the people that aren’t coming now to Auckland. They’re the ones that said Hitler was a social justice warrior and said that the colour of their skin depends your IQ.

CORIN Maybe you’re right but that’s not the point.

PHIL Now, I’ve got an obligation, Corin. Just listen to this for a second. I’ve got an obligation to promote a city that is inclusive. I’ve got an obligation to protect ethnic and religious minorities who are being brought into contempt, who are being abused, provoked and insulted by the sort of language these people are using. That’s why the United Kingdom banned them from coming to the United Kingdom. What I’m saying is I’m not banning them. I’m just not going to aid and abet their malicious comments about part of our community by providing them with a venue.

CORIN But have you not now amplified this issue in the sense that with these toxic culture wars, you’ve given—you’ve really elevated their status and you’ve elevated this debate, haven’t you? Did you need to do that?

PHIL Well, these people were coming to New Zealand exactly for that purpose. They were coming to use provocative speech attacking religious and ethnic minorities in our country. Now, is it my role to facilitate that? No. There would have been a debate if we’d granted them the right to use our halls because a very large section of Auckland would have said, ‘What the hell are you doing helping these people that many people would describe as neo-fascist—‘

CORIN Most of Auckland doesn’t even know who these people are.

PHIL ‘…that engage directly in racist comments that would have been in breach of the Human Rights Act under Section 61?’ I simply made the call to agree with Regional Facilities Auckland that we should not be facilitating their use of our venues, and that’s the right call.

CORIN OK. Can I just ask you before we finish this, would you--? Wouldn’t you have to, on this logic, prevent Donald Trump from speaking at one of your venues?

PHIL No. No, no.

CORIN Yes. But he said in this interview over the weekend, ‘I think what has happened to Europe is a shame.’ And he’s talking about immigration. ‘Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame.’ He’s gone on to—You know, clearly provocative language around migration and the exact same issues you’re talking about. You would have to ban him.

PHIL No. No, there’s a difference in degree. I don’t agree with much – in fact, most – of what Donald Trump says. I’m not about banning him, but I am about banning people who say that Hitler was provoked into the Holocaust to massacre 6 million Jews, who say that I can judge you on—your IQ on the colour of your skin – the sort of stuff that they are using in their language designed deliberately to incite and provoke minority groups who are already subject to quite a lot of abuse because of their being minorities. That’s not right.

CORIN And you’re happy to fight this in court? You’re happy to fight this in court?

PHIL Oh, absolutely, and we’ll win.

CORIN Phil Goff, Mayor of Auckland. We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

PHIL Thank you.

Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
Repeated Sunday evening at around 11:30pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
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