Phil Goff and John Tamihere are into round 10 of 23 debates planned before the mayoral election in October, and they’re punching hard, not resting on the ropes or pulling each other into dull political clinches.
It may well be that Tamihere, the unorthodox challenger, is starting to bring out the mongrel in Goff, but the pair is putting on a show that is worth the price of a journey across town in a peak hour traffic jam. If you get a chance, make sure you get ringside.
They were in Mt Wellington last night, before 70 members of the Penrose Business Association and – before we get to the trash talk and the best exchanges – here’s what we learned:
Tamihere, the former cabinet minister and current chief executive of the Waipareira Trust out west, was at Ngaruawahia yesterday for the Maori King’s coronation anniversary celebrations and says he was ‘privy’ to talks on the vexed question of the occupation of land at Ihumātao. “There’s an elegant solution, if we want it” he said, citing the arrangement which sees Auckland’s volcanic cones, the Maunga, in joint Māori-city co-management. But central government, not Auckland Council or ratepayers would have to buy the land off developer Fletchers.
Goff seems to be hardening his position on the semi-autonomous organisation which has been under intense fire from Tamihere – who pledges to sack the board of AT. Goff said he now wanted legislative change for such Council Controlled Organisations to review their right to make decisions independently. “What I had not appreciated about Auckland Transport is their failure to understand the need as a public body to be accountable and responsive to what the public and elected representatives say.” But he claims AT responded “when I ripped the hell out of them” and contrasted Auckland’s bus network reorganisation with the failure in Wellington.
Tamihere will release his transport policy this morning and it’s very likely to make use of his “City of Snails, not City of Sails” line from last night. He didn’t want to break his own embargo in advance but confirmed he’ll oppose the multi-billion dollar plan for Light Rail along Dominion Rd from the city to Mt Roskill and then onto the airport. He talked up the airport alternative of improving heavy rail to the Puhinui station and busways from there to the airport as “the clincher” in the transport jigsaw. “It’s transport, stupid,” he said of the election’s major issue, mimicking the famed Bill Clinton line on the economy.
Goff said a council finance committee decision Tuesday would fast-track bus lanes down Puhinui Rd and these could be done within 18 months but light rail across the isthmus was vital. “We need both.” And he had “good news” on the city’s congestion. Research showed the worst increases in congestion had occurred in 2015 to 2017. “Since then, it’s levelled off.”
The two men faced set-piece questions and challenges from the floor, going one at a time but taking every chance to undermine the other’s capability or proposals.
Tamihere waved a rates demand notice at one point, claiming that under Goff ratepayers faced eight separate taxes on it. “This guy knows how to tax and spend but doesn’t know how to run the balance sheet.”
Goff challenged Tamihere’s attacks on the Auckland Transport board, pointing out Tamihere’s running mate, councillor Christine Fletcher, had helped appoint every director. “Make your choice about which half of the ticket you believe.”
Tamihere mocked Goff’s talk of trying to persuade central government that Auckland should have the hundreds of millions in GST which ratepayers pay on their rates bills returned to Auckland. “In 35 years in public service as an MP he never championed that, once … it must be an election.”
Goff’s claim every household’s water bills would soar if Tamihere “privatises” Watercare, because that company would have to start paying dividends as it had private shareholders, prompted a sharp exchange. “If you think it’s a great idea to privatise the basic human need for water … you’re out of your tree, John.”
“He’s telling fibs,” Tamihere told the crowd, with Goff interjecting: “I object to that Mr Chairman. I tell the truth.”
Later, the honesty issue arose again, in unlikely circumstances. Tamihere claimed Goff had advised Aucklanders, due to water storage issues, not to turn on their taps when brushing teeth. “Tell the truth, John. You make a habit of misconstruing and lying about what I say.”
Tamihere went for the health joke: “Settle down. You’ve got a ticker problem,” referring to Goff’s heart surgery in the middle of his mayoral term.
They traversed homelessness – Goff citing his chairing of the Housing First combined agencies resulting in 1000 people (“including 453 kids”) into homes in the past two years. Tamihere’s response: “I don’t care about his 1000. We’ve done 200 out in West Auckland in my little operation … This is my bread and butter. You do not solve it by using ratepayers’ money. 0800 Jacinda works for me. It’s her job to fix it.”
As they discussed Ihumātao, Tamihere described the sale of the land to the Wallace family in the 1860s. “I do not besmirch their name, nor do I besmirch the Fletchers … Christine,” he said noting his running mate. Goff shot back: “The connection’s a bit tenuous now,” and Tamihere responded: “That’s what happens with divorce.”
Everyone is fair game for a joking one-liner from the former talkback host. Even the voters in the room. “I’d like to think you would vote for me. If you don’t, you’re stupid.”
Today the travelling Tamihere-Goff roadshow debates again – in the more formal setting of a Newstalk ZB evening session. Tamihere’s transport policy will be out. He seemed to accept some of it might not be fully developed. “I haven’t got the millions he’s got downtown. But I’m coming up with all the solutions and all the ideas.”