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On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Goff

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Goff

Youtube clips from the show are available here.

Incoming Auckland mayor Phil Goff now says he’s in negotiations with the Government over road user charges, after earlier saying he had the green light.

Goff says the Government’s infrastructure fund needs to be much larger than the current $1billion, and Auckland should get the majority of it.

Goff says he supports safer cycleways so that more children can cycle to school, and he’d consider allowing children to ride on footpaths to make them even safer.

Phil Goff says central and local government need to work together to solve Auckland’s problems or they will both be punished by voters.

Lisa Owen: Labour MP Phil Goff has won the race for the Auckland mayoralty — a job some say is the second most important political role in the country, but Auckland's a big city with some big problems. So where do you start? Phil Goff joins me in the studio now. Congratulations to you.
Phil Goff: Thank you very much, Lisa.
You've got some serious concerns about the really low levels of trust people have in the council, but you've got a lot of the old faces back too. So isn't that going to make it harder to turn that perception around?
No, I think both the bureaucrats and the elected representatives at Auckland Council recognise that we have to do things a whole lot better. You know, 15% trust and confidence, 17% satisfaction ratings — you can't go on like that in a democratically elected body, and that means both the officials and the elected representatives working together to do it better. You draw two conclusions — one, either that Council hasn't been doing what the public wants it to do or secondly, they haven't been communicating it very well, or probably a combination of the two. We've got to do a whole lot better. That's my priority.
Well, that means what you choose to do first is going to be essential, isn't it?
So what are you? What are your top three priorities for, say, the next 100 days?
The first priority will be to put a budget together, because we have to do that in the first six weeks after the council is sworn in, which will be in a fortnight's time. So what do I want to see? Well, I've made some very specific campaign undertakings about capping rates at 2.5%. Now already the projected rates are 1% higher than that. We've got to learn to do more with less. We've got to learn to be more efficient, and I don't want to hear back from Council that, 'Well, we'll cut this service, and we'll cut that service.' I want to hear how they will do it more effectively than what we're doing it at the moment, and I'm looking for an efficiency drive across council. I'm employing somebody specifically with the treasury skills at a high level to work with Council.
Who's that person? Do you know who that is?
Yes, it's former Deputy Secretary of Treasury by the name of David Wood. He's a person that I've known for many years. He's living in Auckland; he has those skills.
So he's going to look for cost-cutting in your council?
He's going to work together with the council bureaucracy to say, 'How can we do these things more efficiently?' Look, I've been through this process many times. I've done 15 budget rounds as a minister, and every time you come up with a new spending proposal, you've got to look at where you can save money and where you can cut programmes that are less-quality programmes.
Okay, I want to look at a few things that you raised during the campaign. You think the government's $1 billion infrastructure fund is too small, right?
Oh, absolutely.
What's the right number?
It's considerably higher than that.
Can you put a figure on it?
That'll be a negotiating figure between myself, I suspect, and the Minister of Finance.
But that fund's not all for you.
No, no, no, exactly.
So how much should the fund as a total be?
Let me give you the context. It's 1 billion spread over five growth centres. So maybe Auckland will get half or two-thirds of that. So that's three quarters of a billion, if you're lucky, and what is the underfunding for infrastructure for investment over 10 years? It's probably 17 billion to 20 billion. So I'm going to get 17 billion to 20 billion from the government, but I'm going to get a realistic sum that acknowledges the fact that there is more growth in Auckland than the rest of New Zealand put together, and if Auckland doesn't succeed, New Zealand can't succeed. It's a pretty powerful argument.
Okay, the other thing you raised — obviously, housing, big issue. You were talking about raising deposit requirements for investors. It's already 40%. Should it be higher than that?
What's the number there?
Well, let me give you a couple of things to throw in there. One, Vancouver, a couple of months ago, decided they'd put a 15% property transfer tax on foreign investors who didn't live in Vancouver. That is already producing good results. It's supported by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada, and my first argument to government will be, 'Think what most New Zealanders are asking at moment. Why is it that when we allow foreign investment to come into New Zealand into the housing market we don't require them to invest in new housing, which is producing additional housing for New Zealanders, not simply pushing the rate of inflation up?' It's a good question. I'm really interested to know what the government's answer is in declining to do that at the present time. I hope that they'll show some flexibility on that, as, indeed, I'll have to show some flexibility.
You talk about immigration; you say there's too many people, basically, coming into Auckland. Where is the sweet spot? 800, just over 800 a week, you were quoted as saying. So what do you think is the right number?
We're growing by 800. Look, the government, if it chooses to work with Auckland to provide the infrastructure, probably can absorb that number, but there is a lag between providing the infrastructure and the sheer rate of growth — 45,000 people into Auckland last year, and again my argument to my colleagues in central government will be, 'If you want us to grow by this level, then you must be prepared to return some of the revenue that you raise from Auckland — in GST, in income tax, in company tax — back to the city that's having to meet the cost of the infrastructure.
How much is that figure, then? Because you say 50% to 60% of growth will come from Auckland.
So how much should we get back of the GST and tax?
Well, that again, is a negotiating position, you know. I'd be foolish to—
You're mayor now, but you won't stick a single figure on any of these things I've asked you about.
No, because there is a lot of work that needs to be done, and when I present my case to government, I need to make sure that it's absolutely right. So I can fling you a figure off the top of my head, but that's not going to help my negotiation with the government unless I can found that in hard facts, which is what I'll be spending the next few weeks doing.
Because the things is — everything we've just talked about then relies on the government coming to the party.
No, not entirely. There are things that the council can do off its own bat, and, you know, what government has been saying to Auckland Council all year is—
What are you going to do off your own bat, then?
Well, the Unitary Plan's the obvious one. The government has been saying for the last 18 months, 'The housing crisis in Auckland is all the fault of council, because they haven't adopted the Unitary Plan.' Well, we have adopted it now. We have to deal with the legal issues, but—
I'm talking about you as mayor, Mr Goff, because all of those require the government to help you out or agree to certain things, and you've said then that there are—
Of course they do.
...things that you can do on your own.
Yeah. We've talked.
I mean, Justin Lester in Wellington is going to give a $5000 rates rebate to people who build new houses. Why not do something like that?
Yeah. Well, that's not been part of my policy agenda, and, you know, I'll look widely at a range of different options, but look, you know and I know and the people of Auckland know that, in the doing major infrastructure projects in Auckland, it has always been a partnership between local and central government. When we created the supercity, we did not devolve to Auckland statutory powers of funding abilities that would enable us to do that on our own, and I don't think government's going to do that quite yet. So what we have to do is work professionally and collegially together, because we share the same electorate, and if we don't tackle growing congestion, if we don't tackle housing unaffordability, the electorate in Auckland will punish both central government and local government.
Is that a warning to the National Government, Mr Goff?
It's a warning to both of us. We need to be seen to work together to resolve those problems.
Okay, so on that issue—
The people of Auckland don't want to see central government slagging off local government or local government slagging off central government. They want us to be seen to be working closely together to address the real problems.
On the working together, last time you were on this show, you told us that you'd met with Simon Bridges to talk about a regional petrol tax, and you said, 'He indicated far more flexibility than the government has in the past about introducing that.' I asked you, 'Have you got the green light?' And you said to me, 'I would call it that, yes,' but then a few weeks later, I have Simon Bridges on the show, and I'm wondering if you're a bit colour-blind, because he said—
No, I'm not.
He said that the government would be incredibly loath — and that was his terminology — in respect of a petrol tax. So are you deluding yourself a little bit about how good the relationship is?
No, I'm not, and I've had several conversations since then with Simon. I think he's a competent minister. I think we'll work well together and we'll work to resolve it.
So what's going on here? What's the politics of this, then, Mr Goff?
This politics of this is that Simon can't go out and give an undertaking unless he has cabinet support. I understand government by cabinet; I've been part of it for a long time. So I know that he's restrained in what he can say. What I'm saying is I've found him to be flexible and to be reasonable to listen to my arguments, and I will be making those arguments to him and all of his colleagues.
So where have you got to? Is the light still green?
I... am saying this — that if it is a choice between putting the cost of infrastructure on rates or on a road pricing system, all of the logic, all of the logic, all of the equity, all of the common sense is saying you relate it to road usage, not simply to rates, otherwise at the moment with the interim transport levy—
So you have agreement?
No, let me finish this.
You've got agreement, in essence? No, I think this is really important, because you've said one thing before. We're getting mixed messages. So are you saying—?
No, there's a negotiation, of course, that's going on; we've had conversations. His conversation with me is as a candidate, and it's not a negotiation.
So it's not quite a green light. At the very best, it's amber, isn't it?
No. I believe that government will see the logic and the common sense of having a road pricing system. They've already agreed to that in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, but they're talking about a congestion tax, which is still six or seven or eight years down the track.
And you want tax to replace the levy.
I'm saying I don't want to keep putting infrastructure costs on rates. It's not equitable; it's not sensible, and I believe that we can have the discussion, we can have that negotiation, and I believe that common sense will prevail.
Okay, so when John Key rang you to say, 'Congratulations, Mr Goff,' did you say, 'Well, here's my wish list, Mr Key.'
We exchanged messages, and his was congratulatory, and mine was saying that I look forward to working with him professionally, and that's what will happen. We will work together professionally—
But he didn't ring and say, 'Good one, let's get a regional petrol tax.'
I've deal with Ministers of Finance and Prime Ministers over a long period of time, and I know that when it comes to spending, they are incredibly cautious, as they must be — as they must be, but I'm saying to government and I'm saying to you today that we can't keep wasting $3 billion a year on growing transport congestion in Auckland. Auckland can't afford it; New Zealand can't afford it. They know they have to act, and I'm prepared to work with them to get a good solution.
We're running out of time, but I want to ask you one other thing about congestion. You've said on the campaign trail, part of your policy, you want to get kids back on bikes going to school.
You say in the '60s about 70% of them rode their bikes to school, down to 3%. How are you going to do that?
Exactly the way we're doing it in my area of Mt Roskill at the moment. We're building cycle ways to connect schools to their local communities so parents can feel confident that their kids can ride safely to school, taking, you know, up to 10% of traffic off peak hour in the morning and giving kids some badly needed exercise when we've got the third most obese child ratios in the world.
But that's a long way away citywide, to get kids on cycle ways. So would you support them riding on the footpath? Because there was a petition about that.
Yeah, I think you've got to look carefully at that, because you don't want to endanger pedestrians, but that's been a debate since I was a kid. My parents always made me ride on the footpath when I was 6 to 11, because they thought that as the safest place. What we're doing in Mt Roskill is we're widening the berms so that there is room for pedestrians and for cyclists without one endangering the other, and I think that's a common-sense proposal.
Okay, before we go, you say you haven't chosen your deputy yet; you need to speak to some people.
That's correct. I need to talk to all my councillors first; that's a matter of common sense.
When can we expect an announcement on that?
Oh, it will certainly be before the 1st of November, when the council is sworn in. That's only a couple of weeks away, but I'll be doing it on merit, but I owe it to all of my councillors to talk to all of them first to find out what their hopes and aspirations are.
So you're considering more than one candidate? Have you got more than one person in your sights?
There'll be a group of people that, on merit, could be considered for the deputy mayoral position, but of course, it'll be on merit, and I need to give fair consideration to all.
We need to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Thanks, Lisa.

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

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