Keith Locke during the urgent debate on Auckland transport and the Rugby World Cup

It is tragic right now when there is 35 times more being spent on roading in the current Budget than on public transport infrastructure. That is a disgrace.



There is definitely ministerial responsibility for this debacle, and it is ministerial responsibility that goes back many years. As has come out in the reports that have been released on the debacle last Friday night, the big problem is the lack of sufficient transport infrastructure, particularly rail infrastructure.

It was that, combined with, on the day, a lack of fall-back options in terms of extra buses, communications between trains and control centres, and things like that. Of course there was a problem in underestimating the numbers. That should not have happened. As I wandered around Mount Eden last week there were all sorts of flags of different nations up on people’s houses and on cars. Everyone was getting into it, so the size of the crowd in the downtown area, particularly with the fireworks display and everything else, was to be expected and adjustments should have been made. But the real problem is the lack of transport infrastructure in Auckland. We have a city of something like 1.4 million, about the same size as Perth in Western Australia.

Yet Auckland could not handle 60,000 rail passengers when Perth manages twice that amount, 120,000, every day. There is ministerial responsibility for that, as Deputy Mayor of Auckland, Penny Hulse, pointed out on Radio New Zealand yesterday morning. She said how all the mayors had gone down to Wellington years back—4 years back—to plead for money for rail and electrification and they had been turned down. The Green Party was pushing and pushing and pushing and had petitions and everything else in 2006. We were saying we had to move ahead fast with the electrification, but there was stalling and stalling and stalling. We were saying at the time the Rugby World Cup was granted to New Zealand: “Look, this is our target—2011. We can get electrification by that stage. Let’s get the money in. Let’s do it.”

Of course, as the lack of funding continued, that had to be cut back, but at least we could have got one of the railway lines to Eden Park electrified. Mike Lee, as mentioned by the previous speaker, was pushing that as well.

The present Government has slowed up the process even more by knocking off the fuel tax that was going to pay for some of these improvements, including electrification. There has been delay and delay and delay and look where we are now. It is not a problem of Aucklanders not wanting public transport. When the North Shore busway came on stream, the patronage was much greater than expected. Everyone has liked that busway. Even on rail, despite its great inadequacies, the patronage has gone up over the last decade from 1 million journeys to 9 million journeys. So there is no problem of people not wanting public transport.

What the event last Friday showed is that if there is a bit of push to get on the rail, if people can see it is going to be useful, they will take the rail. Sixty thousand people tried to and, of course, the infrastructure did not match up. Steven Joyce has been pooh-poohing for the last couple of days—and the last few weeks—the idea of a central business district tunnel. He is saying it is too expensive, is not needed, and all the rest of it. Surely if there is one thing that silliness on Friday showed, it showed that we do need it. Anyone with a bit of common sense knows that if we had had a tunnel, and if we had had a circle as they have in Sydney, for example—and other major cities have circles and connected routes and things like that—all of the people stuck in Britomart on Friday night could have gone out on the trains two ways rather than one way as at present.

The situation in Auckland has been covered around the world now. Our public transport system and rail system is a laughing stock around the world because of the delays and delays over years. It is tragic right now when there is 35 times more being spent on roading in the current Budget than on public transport infrastructure. That is a disgrace. Then there is the extension of the party zone. It is a common sense thing to do—to have more room for people to move, and to have more toilets and other facilities down there. That is a common-sense decision. But for the Minister to just kick the mayor and the council in the face—the council that the Government, in effect, put in place with its legislation—and to say the council has failed and to declare an extension of the party zone is completely unacceptable.

There is a very interesting article in the Victoria University paper that has just come out, I think yesterday or today, by Dean Knight, a lecturer up there. He said that the Minister himself was breaching the law and that the way these urgent applications worked under the Rugby World Cup 2011 (Empowering) Act was that the authority had to receive the application and then make a recommendation to the Minister to decide. If the Minister decides in advance of that recommendation going before the authority, then the Minister should disqualify himself. I ask now that Murray McCully disqualify himself from that decision—I do not think it has, technically, been made yet—and let another Minister decide, as suggested by Dean Knight in this legal journal. It shows the problem of the Rugby World Cup 2011 (Empowering) Act and the Major Events Management Act, the two Acts that were brought in, in preparation for this World Cup. Although there is good reason for streamlining some of the consent processes for such a big occasion, what these two Acts have done, in some ways, is to make the situation worse in that Ministers and planning people have thought: “Oh well, if anything goes wrong at the last minute, we can just rush through what we like.” And there has been a dramatic failure of planning over the years. The legislation, as well as being a bit of a transgression on people’s rights, also allows Ministers like Murray McCully to strut around and say they can do what they like, even though, technically, they are going against the fine print of the legislation. That sort of concept in these all-powerful pieces of legislation is one that the Green Party has opposed in this and other cases. I think this is a good case for Parliament to be more considered in what legislation we bring in.

This whole question of the Government attacking a local body, as Murray McCully did and has done over the last couple of days, is very important. It is just not the way that democracy should work. As Brian Rudman said, there was another person with a surname beginning with “M” who tried to make—I think in this case the Italian—trains go on time. Every time we see that sort of behaviour rearing its ugly head we should be concerned. There is a lot more that can be done to look at this whole matter and, hopefully, to point the way ahead for greater public transport infrastructure: to put the money in, to speed up the process, to speed up the electrification, to speed up the central business district rail tunnel, and to speed up a railway to the airport. It would have been great to have that for our visitors to the world cup.

And there is also the connection with the North Shore. That might have helped when there is a block up on the ferries. An underground rail tunnel from the North Shore that brought people into the central city would have been great too. Obviously, people want to come downtown. They want to develop the wonderful Auckland downtown. Of course, there is a lot to do in terms of the waterfront. The Wynyard Quarter has been a big step forward, but there is a lot more to do. If we are going to develop the downtown, we have to have the transport to bring people into it. We should do more in this Parliament to discuss this issue. My colleague Gareth Hughes asked that the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, as I understand, have some sort of inquiry that fits under that select committee. That was turned down by the majority on the committee. I think we cannot run away from this. We have to take responsibility as a Parliament. We are discussing ministerial responsibility here, but as a Parliament we have to deal with this. The Green Party will be making the question of public transport in Auckland, particularly rail transport, a major issue in this election. I think the people of Auckland see that this Government and, I am sad to say, the previous Government have failed to really speed up and provide what Auckland requires.