Q+A: Phil Goff on funding infrastructure and free speech

This morning Phil Goff will be interviewed on Q+A.

Goff says that one way of dealing with local government funding problems is to have the GST on rates returned to councils for them to do as they wish with.

On free speech, Goff says that he has a responsibility to ensure Auckland is an inclusive city – by excluding some speakers?

Goff intervenes, Auckland venue banned, speaking tour canned

Two Canadians reported to be promoters of controversial far right views planned on visiting and speaking in New Zealand, but after mayor Phil Goff banned them from an Auckland city venue they canned the tour.

I haven’t heard of them or seen or heard anything they’ve said, so can’t judge them on their views.

NZH: Mayor bans controversial Canadian pair from talking in Auckland Council venues

The promoter of a controversial Canadian pair accused of hate speech has cancelled their tour of New Zealand after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff denied them access to city venues.

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux hold far-right views on topics ranging from feminism and immigration to Islam.

The Canadian couple had been due to speak next month at the council-owned Bruce Mason centre on Auckland’s North Shore.

Pressure had been mounting on Immigration NZ to deny the pair entry with members of New Zealand’s Muslim community and the Auckland Peace Action publicly among those expressing concern.

This seems to be a growing problem around the world – campaigns to block non-liked views or peoeple with particular reputations.

This could well be a slippery slope against free speech.

But promoter David Pellowe said the tour was instead cancelled when Goff moved to bar the pair access to Auckland Council venues.

So Goff decides who should not be able to speak at Council venues?

Free speech isn’t an absolute right. Private venues can choose who hire their facilities and speak at them.

It’s a bit different with publicly owned and managed facilities. And especially with mayors deciding who can’t use them.

This makes them too vulnerable to speech bans by pressure group and adverse publicity – politicians too often do what they think is best for themselves, rather than for the greater good and fundamental speech rights..

Fuel tax law passes, more price rises

Parliament has passed the regional fuel tax legislation, just in time for 1 July implementation in Auckland. TYhisn will bump petrol prices up 11.5 cents a litre, but there are claims the real increase in the near future will be double that.

RNZ: Regional fuel tax becomes law

The government’s regional fuel tax changes have become law this evening, ahead of its planned introduction in Auckland on Sunday.

The bill passed 63-57 last night with Labour, NZ First, and Greens in voting in favour, and National and ACT opposed.

It means Aucklanders will be paying another 11.5 cents at the pump, in order to pay for major transport projects.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford told the House he was excited about the possibilities for transport infrastructure, and coming solutions to congestion, once the tax is implemented in New Zealand’s biggest and most congested city.

Mr Twyford told the House that Auckland Council would be accountable for how it uses the money.

But wait, there’s more (increases). NZH: Auckland motorists face two new petrol taxes hiking pump prices by up to 15.5c a litre

The council’s regional fuel tax of 11.5 cents a litre is due to come into effect on July 1.

Weeks later, the Government looks set to increase the fuel excise tax nationwide by between 3c a litre and 4c.

Papers released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show the Government intends to increase the fuel excise tax on September 1.

A spokesman for Twyford today said the tax is part of a draft 10-year transport plan due to finalised shortly.

Raising the excise tax happens often. Over nine years the National government raised excise tax six times, once by 2 cents and five times by 3 cents (that’s a total of 17 cents).

Petrol prices rose to near record highs recently before settling back a little.

Auckland prices look set to rise by 14.5 to 15.5 cents soon, plus GST – this will be on top of normal fluctuations.

Other local bodies are lining up to also get their regional fuel tax, but areas outside Auckland may be hit regardless as petrol suppliers often shift price increases around. Regions with less price competition tend to get whacked with higher prices.

 

Nine councillors express ‘no confidence’ in Mayor Goff

The Herald reports that nine Auckland City councillors have signed a letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff, but Goff says he did not know anything about the letter, would not comment on it, but that he was ‘was not particularly concerned’ about the stadium issue (that seems to have led to the loss of confidence).

NZH: Auckland councillors pen letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff

Nearly half of Auckland councillors have penned a letter of no confidence in mayor Phil Goff.

The Herald understands the letter relates to Goff’s handling of the recent controversy for a new downtown stadium for Auckland and his refusal to give councillors full and open access to a $923,000 report by PwC on the matter.

It is believed the councillors plan to release the letter publicly at midday tomorrow.

Goff said tonight he had not received any letter from councillors, did not know anything about it and could not comment on something he had not seen.

Why has the Herald received a copy of the letter before Goff? That seems a crappy way to do things.

A source said the nine out of 19 councillors who signed the letter are John Watson, Wayne Walker, Greg Sayers, Mike Lee, Cathy Casey, Efeso Collins, Chris Fletcher, Daniel Newman and Sharon Stewart.

Watson, Casey and Collins have asked the Ombudsman to review the decision by Goff to release the report only under strict conditions.

Goff played down any possible vote of no confidence in him, saying he had just received unanimous support in glowing terms for his 10-year budget, unlike former Mayor Len Brown’s last 10-year budget, which was passed with a bare majority.

“On what matters to Aucklanders I have received strong support,” he said.

Goff said he was not particularly concerned about something – the stadium issue – that is an irritant to some people but not critical to what he is setting out to achieve.

The mayor said he believed councillors had had access to the pre-feasibility stadium report, but he had been disappointed from time to time when confidential material was released to other parties.

The leaking of confidential information is a serious issue – but so is the suppression of information from councillors by the mayor.

The letter highlights growing frustration among a group of councillors about Goff’s leadership style. The frustration has been simmering since a minor committee reshuffle last December.

There is a feeling that Goff operates a Cabinet-style A team, marginalising a group of councillors who regularly vote against his initiatives.

Goff denied there was any tension between him and a group of councillors, saying generally he had a very amicable relationship with councillors as a whole and operated an open door policy.

Sounds like bullshit from Goff. The leaking of the letter indicates a lot of ‘tension’. And is claiming he has an ‘open door policy’ a joke? Probably not intentionally.

This from Newshub three weeks ago: Phil Goff under investigation over alleged Auckland stadium secrecy

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is under investigation after allegedly keeping a $1 million report secret from councillors for months on end.

Auckland councillors put in an official complaint over the secrecy surrounding the report, which discusses the pros and cons of building a new $1 billion stadium.

The proposal for the new build in Auckland’s CBD has been kept under wraps by Mayor Phil Goff for a year, according to some councillors – a claim Mr Goff denies.

But the pre-feasibility report from PwC, which has already been done, cost nearly $1 million – and Albany ward councillor John Watson told The AM Show many of his fellow councillors are yet to see it.

“The only way councillors can get to see this report is to go into the mayoral office with mayoral staff like security guards watching over us as if we’re like KGB spies.

“Some councillors have put in a complaint to the ombudsman given the notion of elected representatives being denied access to a $1 million document. And I would suggest it’s not a particularly well-spent million either.”

The letter suggests Goff has been unsuccessful in dismissing concerns over his stadium report.

And this doesn’t look like partisan political side taking, as the named councillors appear to be spread across the political spectrum.

If councillors are claiming they are being shunned by Goff for not supporting him this won’t help.

Goff has a major problem, and publicly at least seems in denial.

Vote confirms Auckland fuel tax

Auckland City councillors have voted in favour of a regional fuel tax of 11.5 cents that will be applied from 1 July this year.

The council has also a ten year infrastructure budget of $26.2 billion.

RNZ: Auckland’s fuel tax a reality after council vote

Auckland councillors have voted to bring in a 11.5 cent-a-litre regional fuel tax to fund transport projects after a crunch debate today. Councillors voted 13 to 7 in favour of the tax.

Today’s debate on the proposed tax began with Mayor Phil Goff saying the consequences would be “inconceivable” if it was not introduced.

After the debate, Mr Goff told RNZ it was a “great news” for the future of Auckland.

“We’ve grasped the nettle, we know that we need to invest more, we know that for every dollar we invest, we’re getting more than a dollar back in terms of government payments. This is another $4.3 billion into Auckland transport over the next decade and that’s critically impertinent.”

Stuff: Auckland Council approve Goff’s $26 billion budget

On Thursday, council decided to implement Goff’s final proposed budget which will represent the largest-ever investment in Auckland’s infrastructure – $26.2 billion over the next 10 years.

It marked the beginning of “transformative work” aimed to tackle the critical issues of transport congestion and protecting the environment, Goff said.

The largest part of the budget will be going toward transport, where Auckland Council plans to commit $12b, of which $4.3b will be leveraged from the approved regional fuel tax.

That will take the overall transport investment in Auckland to $28b – with Goff also indicating a further $4b could be on the way from the Government to help with light rail.

On the environmental front, $311 million, from a natural environment targeted rate, would go toward tackling kauri dieback.

Auckland’s 10-year budget breakdown:

– The budget represents a capital investment of $26.2b
– $12b for transport
– $452m in stormwater infrastructure and beach/harbour clean up
– $311m from a natural environment targeted rate to tackle Kauri dieback
– $40m for a climate change response fund
– $90m for coastal asset management
– $120m for sports and recreation
– $475,000 to Auckland City Mission to fight homelessness

Big city, big money.

 

Super Fund proposal to build and operate Auckland light rail

The Government has revealed an ‘unsolicited proposal’ from the New Zealand Super Fund to design, build and operate two light rail projects in Auckland.

Grant Robertson and Phil Twyford: Auckland light rail a step closer

A modern, rapid transit light rail network to transform Auckland is a step closer with Cabinet agreeing to launch a procurement process, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced today.

“The Government is committed to progressing light rail to transform Auckland. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal and will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour – the equivalent of four lanes of motorway,” Phil Twyford says.

“We are investigating innovative solutions to tackle congestion and build a vibrant and modern city.”

“The New Zealand Transport Agency will now set up a robust process to explore a range of possible procurement, financing and project delivery options. This process will invite and assess all potential proposals and report back to the Ministers of Finance and Transport. The Transport Agency will work with the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport in this process,” Grant Robertson says.

The procurement process covers both the city to Mangere and the city to North West lines. The recently announced 10-year transport plan for Auckland earmarked $1.8 billion in seed funding with the option of securing private investment in the network.

“Last month, the Government received an unsolicited proposal from the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, which proposed they would form an international consortium to design, build and operate Auckland’s light rail network,” Phil Twyford says.

“The Government will not be commenting further on the proposal other than to say that we welcome the strong interest in light rail and acknowledge that any investors will require a reasonable commercial return. The procurement process agreed by Cabinet will review all other proposals in the same way as the Super Fund’s proposal is assessed.

“It’s good to see that investors recognise this project will be a game-changer for Auckland commuters and the first step in tackling Auckland’s ever-increasing congestion,” Phil Twyford says.

This would be a variation on a public-private partnership, with in involvement in the Super Fund  working alongside international investors in a consortium.

The Super Fund is a Government owned fund – that means a taxpayer owned fund. The new Government has just resumed putting more money into the fund after the National Government suspended payments when the Global Financial Crisis struck – it didn’t make sense to borrow heavily and put money aside as an investment at the same time.

The Super Fund explains it’s purpose and mandate:

In response to the challenge of New Zealand’s ageing population, the NZ Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001 established:

  • the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, a pool of assets on the Crown’s balance sheet; and
  • the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, a Crown entity charged with managing the Fund.

The Government uses the Fund to save now in order to help pay for the future cost of providing universal superannuation. In this way the Fund helps smooth the cost of superannuation between today’s taxpayers and future generations.

The Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation is the Crown entity charged with managing and administering the Fund. It operates by investing initial Government contributions – and returns generated from these investments – in New Zealand and internationally, in order to grow the size of the Fund over the long term.

Government contributions to the Super Fund were suspended between 2009 and 2017. In December 2017 contributions resumed, with an initial payment of $500 million planned for the financial year to 2018. From around 2035/36, the Government will begin to withdraw money from the Fund to help pay for New Zealand Superannuation. The Fund will continue to grow until it peaks in size in 2070s.

The Fund is therefore a long-term, growth-oriented, global investment fund.

So for the Super Fund to invest in Auckland’s light rail projects they would have to see them as growth orientated. This would be a financial risk, unless the Government guaranteed a reasonable rate of return.

If light rail gets superceded by other more flexible and more economic forms of transport like electric buses and cars, or if less centralised work arrangements (like working from home) become more prevalanet, it could become an expensive white elephant. The Government could end up propping up light rail to protect the Super Fund investment.

How unsolicited was the Super Fund proposal? Investing in New Zealand infrastructure projects has been proposed before – by Winston Peters.

On re-establishing contributions on 18 July 2017:  Only One Party Can Be Trusted on NZ Super

“Labour, like National, has a record of flip flopping on NZ Super,” says New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters.

“No party can be trusted on NZ Super, except NZ Super’s long standing friend – New Zealand First.

“We’ll restore contributions in full to the NZ Superannuation Fund, so there will be a nest egg to cushion demand, which was the original purpose for its establishment.”

On investing in infrastructure on 28 September 2017: Cullen Fund Performs, But National Taxes It

“New Zealand First would encourage the fund’s managers to invest in infrastructure in New Zealand so it works for New Zealand’s long term interests,” says Mr Peters.

Maybe that’s where the NZ Super Fund got the idea from.

Investing in Auckland light rail will only be in New Zealand’s long term interests if it is financially viable.

Will the NZ Super Fund only consider big city projects, or will they also consider investing in regional projects?

They will need to be careful they don’t come to rely too much on local government projects. Andy investment fund should spread it’s risks.

Clinton ticket sales struggling

This doesn’t surprise me (if true) – an evening with Hillary Clinton does not appear to be a sellout.

If they have trouble giving tickets away perhaps they could package a free ticket with a free Clinton book – but that may make it harder giving them away.

An Evening With Hillary Clinton tickets are selling for $195 and $295 – see Ticketek.

If she came to Dunedin I might go to listen to her out of curiosity, but I wouldn’t pay much if anything. Same for Obama or Trump.

Auckland transport plan announced

Labour Minister Phil Twyford and mayor Phil Goff have announced a ten year transport plan for Auckland.

While it will bolster rail, cycleways and walkways, it includes major spending on new roads and motorway improvements links, and will rely in part on Public Partnerships and toll roads as well as a regional fuel tax.

RNZ: New $30b plan to tackle Auckland transport woes unveiled

The government and Auckland Council have announced the new Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) at Newmarket train station today.

Billed as New Zealand’s largest ever civil construction programme, $28 billion will be poured into light rail and roading projects at Penlink and Mill Rd.

Heavy rail and bus upgrades, safety improvements and more dedicated cycle lanes are also part of the plan.

The projects will be funded by $4.4 billion raised from the new Auckland fuel tax, increased revenue the National Land Transport Fund and Crown Infrastructure Partners contributions.

ATAP major investments include:

  • Committed projects like the City Rail Link and northern motorway improvements.
  • Light rail
  • Eastern busway (Panmure-Botany)
  • Airport-Puhinui State highway upgrade, including a high quality public transport link to an upgraded Puhinui rail station
  • Bus priority programme, to more rapidly grow Auckland’s bus lane network and support faster, more reliable and more efficient bus services
  • Albany-Silverdale bus improvements
  • Lower cost East West Link to address key freight issues in the area
  • Papakura-Drury motorway widening
  • First phase of the Mill Road corridor
  • Penlink (tolled)
  • Walking and cycling programme to expand the network and complete key connections (e.g. SkyPath)
  • Significant programme of safety improvements
  • New transport infrastructure to enable greenfield growth
  • Network optimisation and technology programme to make the best use of our existing network
  • Rail network improvements including electrification to Pukekohe, additional trains and other track upgrades

Read the full plan here

And of course there are critics (apart from National). RNZ: Transport plan ‘too little, too late’ for south Auckland

It’s been billed as New Zealand’s largest ever civil construction project – but South Aucklanders say a government transport plan doesn’t go far enough.

But Jatin Khurana, who travels from Papakura to Ellerslie every day for work, said waiting 10 years for just the first section to be upgraded wasn’t going to make much of an impact.

“The first phase – those few kilometres – that’s going to have a bottleneck effect so it will not really improve the situation,” he said.

“I think it’s too little, too late.”

Mr Khurana said the heavy congestion on the Southern Motorway and the increasing traffic on Mill Road had driven him to take the train.

Stuff: Auckland transport fix: Key facts

Trains and light rail versus roads and buses

The Government has an obvious preference for railway lines over roads, but there are concerns about the rail option in the US, where in many areas passenger numbers are static or falling.

Installing railway lines is expensive, and it is relatively inflexible, both in the short term and the long term. It’s far easier to deploy buses over a wider area, and to move buses to where they are most needed at any given time.

I suspect the preference for rail is because it can be electric, while battery run buses don’t seem to have caught on yet. And roads for buses can mean roads available for cars as well.

But what if there are big advances in battery and fast charging technologies, making electric buses more viable? That would be a great alternative energy industry to invest in, but if successful it could make newly installed  light rail infrastructure limited and expensive.

Stuff: As Government signals big light rail spend, public transport concerns grow in US

As the Government signals it wants to spend billions on light rail in Auckland and billions less on major roading projects in the decade ahead, worries about the future of public transport are growing in the US.

Those concerns were summed up by a story in The Washington Post last month, headlined Falling transit ridership poses an ’emergency’ for cities, experts fear.

Data showed 2017 was the lowest year of overall transit ridership in the US since 2005. A 5 per cent decline in bus ridership was the main problem, but some commentators suggest the figures indicate light rail is also struggling, given the heavy investment in the mode in recent years.

In the US, the debate about light rail is particularly fierce, with skeptics often suggesting buses will do the job perfectly well if organised properly, as well as being lower cost and more flexible.

In its transport policy for the 2017 election, Labour said light rail to Auckland Airport was part of a range of projects that would ease congestion. “A world-class city in the 21st century needs a rail connection from its CBD to its airport.”

But that is just one route. The population is scattered across a wide area in Auckland.

Auckland Transport said light rail would have fewer stops, but be more frequent and travel faster than buses.

Fewer stops and more frequent only for those with easy access to the rail routes.

Light rail also had much greater capacity than buses and cars.

Really? Again, the capacity is only where their are rail routes. And it depends on how many buses or cars you use. Obviously, one train has more capacity than one car, but it’s not a one to one equation.

Among the most forceful opponents of light rail in the US is Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. O’Toole blogs as The Antiplanner’ “dedicated to the sunset of government planning”. He’s a big supporter of buses over light rail.

Last October Cato published a paper of his called The Coming Transit Apocalypse. In it he said public transport use in the US had been falling since 2014, with many major systems having “catastrophic declines”.

Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, were the most serious threat “as some predict that within five years those ride-hailing services will begin using driverless cars, which will reduce their fares to rates competitive with transit, but with far more convenient service”.

He made the extreme prediction: “This makes it likely that outside of a few very dense areas, such as New York City, transit will be extinct by the year 2030.”

He did note that in 2014, transit ridership in the US reached its highest level since 1956,with 10.75 billion trips, but was not impressed. “This is hardly a great achievement, however, as increased urban populations meant that annual transit trips per urban resident declined from 98 in 1956 to 42 in 2014.”

n a similar vein is a report published last July by private Chapman University in California, called The Great Train Robbery, written by high profile urbanists Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

According to that report, many new transit lines, including light rail, built in US cities had not reduced the percentage of people who commuted alone by private car.

“The focus on new rail services rather than on buses has failed to improve basic mobility for those who need it and has been associated with a decline in transit’s share of commutes in some cities.”

n a similar vein is a report published last July by private Chapman University in California, called The Great Train Robbery, written by high profile urbanists Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

According to that report, many new transit lines, including light rail, built in US cities had not reduced the percentage of people who commuted alone by private car.

“The focus on new rail services rather than on buses has failed to improve basic mobility for those who need it and has been associated with a decline in transit’s share of commutes in some cities.”

An Auckland Transport report said more than a third of employment growth in Auckland between 2013 and 2046 – about 100,000 jobs – was expected to be within 5km of the city centre.

That’s still a lot of people outside the city centre.

What if there is a major move towards dispersal of the workforce, around the city and to cheaper areas elsewhere in the country? It’s easy to re-deploy buses, but impractical to re-deploy railway lines.

However this could all be moot. The current Government seems intent on benefiting some with better rail links, but not addressing the needs of those who live away from railway lines.

And regarding the light rail link to the airport – what if we stop using fossil fuels but solar powered long haul aircraft don’t take off?

Or more feasible, what if small capacity shuttle air travel becomes a thing – this could render railway links obsolete.

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton to speak in New Zealand

For those who are interested and have a few hundred dollars to spare Hillary Clinton is scheduled to speak in Auckland in May.

AN EVENING WITH HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

Free from the constraints of running, Secretary Clinton will share the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules.

Secretary Clinton will take audiences on a journey; What Happened and what’s next. A story of resilience, Secretary Clinton explains how she got back up after a loss, and how we can all look ahead.

An illuminating insight into Secretary Clinton’s experience as a woman in politics — she lets loose on this topic, and others, in a way she never has before.

Official media release:

Leading Australian business events provider, The Growth Faculty, has announced today, An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton, a series of three exclusive and intimate events with Secretary Clinton to take place in in Auckland (Monday 7 May 2018), Melbourne (Thursday 10 May 2018) and Sydney (Friday 11 May 2018).

First-access tickets are on sale and only available via www.thegrowthfaculty.com for a limited time, ahead of general release. Ticketing information is attached within the media release.

An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton will see Secretary Clinton provide her personal insights into the 2016 US presidential election, its aftermath and what the future holds, sharing stories from her New York Times bestseller, What Happened.

“From lawyer and activist, to first lady, senator, secretary of state and first female presidential candidate of a major American political party, Secretary Clinton’s extraordinary career and story of resilience is one that business leaders and the wider community will find both fascinating and inspiring,” says The Growth Faculty Managing Director, Karen Beattie.

It’s certainly not something I would be interested in going to if she was speaking at the local hall, let alone in Auckland.

No evidence that the Russians have influenced this event.