Phil Twyford is clearly more concerned about his public image than he is about improving the transport network given the number of NZTA spin doctors has almost doubled since he became its Minister, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
Information released to National shows the number of fulltime equivalent employees (FTEs), working in media, communications, marketing, stakeholder engagement or public affairs at the New Zealand Transport Agency grew from 26.13 in July 2017 to 40.05 in July 2019.
In 2017, the agency employed 17.53 permanent and 8.60 fixed-term employees in those roles. By 2019, that had grown to 37.05 permanent and three fixed-term employees.
“It’s a slap in the face when the NZTA can find extra money to spend on spin doctors but it can’t find the cash for vital new infrastructure and safety upgrades,” Mr Bishop says.
“Instead of building the roads Kiwis are crying out for, Phil Twyford and his Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter appear more interested in finding new ways to spin their ineptitude in the media.
“The reality is, they’ve pushed New Zealand to the brink of an infrastructure crisis by cancelling, delaying or gutting a dozen major transport projects that were ready to go under National, and not starting any of their own.
“Under their watch, the pipeline of NZTA projects has dried right up as the agency has pivoted towards investing in rail over roads. The problem is, the Government can’t do either very well and the NZTA’s public perception has hit rock bottom.
“The most telling quote from Phil Twyford came after the Budget when he fronted a Select Committee, without his army of spin doctors, and said there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways ‘for decades’ in this country.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth. But even if it was, it would be a better use of taxpayer cash than this Government’s over-investment in spin doctors and fancy adverts.
“National would rather see that money spent on projects designed to relieve congestion and improve safety, like Auckland’s East-West Link and Wellington’s Melling Interchange.”
Two years on from the Prime Minister’s pledge to have light rail from Auckland’s CBD to Mt Roskill within four years, the project is on the fast track to nowhere, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“All the signs point to this being yet another broken election promise from Labour.
“Jacinda Ardern said her slow tram down Dominion Road would be a ‘game-changer’ but it has turned out to be slower than a game of Risk with the basic first step of a business case still not done at what was supposed to be the project’s halfway point.
“When she was asked last week what transport projects her Government had started, this was the only one she could name – but it hasn’t started.
“The Government’s ineptitude has been on full display throughout with Ministers unable to agree on whether the extended line to Māngere will cost $4 billion or $7 billion.
“The business case was supposed to be ready by November 2018. The delay suggests Phil Twyford is struggling to stack up an economic case for spending that much taxpayer cash.
“There’s also the looming problem of APEC and the 2021 America’s Cup. The disruption that construction would cause may mean the project can’t begin until 2022, if at all.
“The Government’s dilly-dallying on this couldn’t have come at a worse time. It has pulled the handbrake on our economy by cancelling dozens of infrastructure projects that were ready to go under National, and it hasn’t been able to get anything off the ground itself.
“This is why New Zealand is at an ‘infrastructure crisis point’ according to the Business Council. The Government has shut down this country’s infrastructure pipeline just so it can press ahead with an ideological dream it cooked up during the election campaign.
“Phil Twyford has now placed the construction sector in a precarious position. If the business case for light rail doesn’t stack up – and that is a real possibility – what will he do? Push on regardless and waste billions of taxpayer dollars, or scrap it and leave the country in a huge infrastructure hole?
“This term of Government has been littered with Labour’s broken promises: KiwiBuild, a cancer agency, free doctor’s visits, police numbers, a capital gains tax – the list goes on.
“Light rail to Mt Roskill within four years is on track to wind up on that list.”
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter has run roughshod over the rules governing Ministers by penning a secret transport letter to Phil Twyford, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“The Cabinet Manual is very clear. At 8.25, it notes: ‘Ministers should always be clear about the capacity in which they are creating or using information’.
“Julie Anne Genter’s secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter to the Transport Minister was anything but clear.
“It was written on Ministerial letterhead and signed by her as Associate Transport Minister, yet when the heat came on she claimed to be merely communicating as the Green Party transport spokesperson.
“She has answered oral and written questions in Parliament about this issue in her capacity as Associate Minister, but won’t answer questions from the media or release her secret letter.
“Phil Twyford has made things worse by telling media ‘she was writing as the Associate Minister but expressing a view on behalf of the Green Party so it’s not all that easy to separate those things out’.
“Twyford has inadvertently hit the nail on the head – Genter has confused matters horribly for all concerned and she is thumbing her nose at one of our important constitutional documents.
“The Prime Minister has already been embarrassed by Clare Curran’s rule-breaking. She now needs to bring Julie Anne Genter into line, to ensure her Government is operating to the high standards expected of it by the public.”
An official investigation has been launched into Julie Anne Genter’s refusal to release her secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter, National MPs Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis say.
“The Associate Transport Minister’s excuses for keeping her letter hidden from the public have worn thin to the point where the Chief Ombudsman is now investigating her conduct,” Mr Bishop says.
“I gave Julie Anne Genter the opportunity to come clean and read the first few paragraphs of her letter in Parliament today, but she doubled-down and thumbed her nose at the public.
“It’s extraordinary that she continues to argue her letter to Transport Minister Phil Twyford, which we believe convinced him to push back construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel for at least a decade, isn’t in the public interest.
“It took repeated questions and some stern comments from the Speaker of the House for her to even admit it was written on her ministerial letterhead. Getting openness and transparency from this Government is like getting blood out of a stone.”
Ms Willis says she is pleased the Chief Ombudsman has listened to her complaint and will investigate whether the letter can continue to be withheld under the Official Information Act.
“I’m confident the Chief Ombudsman will agree with what Chris Bishop and I have been saying for weeks now; that Wellingtonians deserve to know how much Julie Anne Genter was responsible for pushing back plans for a second Mt Victoria Tunnel to beyond 2030.
“She now claims that because she is a Green MP she isn’t subject to the public disclosure requirements normally faced by Ministers. She is wrong. Her confusion shows an appalling lack of understanding of the public accountability that comes with her Ministerial warrant.
The Ombudsman has poured cold water on the Government’s desperate attempt to stop the public from seeing Julie Anne Genter’s secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“On the back of my enquiries, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has today made public the ruling that Associate Transport Minister has been using as a shield to keep her letter secret.
“Julie Anne Genter now has no reason not to release her letter after the Ombudsman made it clear the Official Information Act only offers protection for free and frank correspondence between political parties, not between Ministers.
“She has already confirmed she wrote to Transport Minister Phil Twyford in her ministerial capacity, weeks before construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel was pushed back by at least a decade.
“We then saw a complete farce in Parliament last week as both Phil Twyford and Leader of the House Chris Hipkins tried to bamboozle the Speaker of the House by hiding behind the Ombudsman’s ruling – but the Speaker was having none of it.
“Taxpayers and ratepayers are being asked to cough up $6.4 billion to pay for Let’s Get Wellington Moving and they deserve to know how much Julie Anne Genter tinkered with the project before it was signed off.
“She needs to start being open and transparent, and release her letter now.”
The Ombudsman’s ruling can be found here
The Government needs to stop hiding behind spurious arguments for not releasing the secret letter between Ministers that dramatically altered Wellington’s transport future, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“Transport Minister Phil Twyford needs to explain his role in what is increasingly looking like a Government cover-up.
“The refusal of Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter to release the letter she sent Twyford weeks before the Government pushed back construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel for at least a decade led to farcical scenes in Parliament today.
“It has become so serious that even the Speaker of the House isn’t convinced by the Government’s justification and is seeking advice from the Chief Ombudsman.
“In answers to Parliamentary Written Questions, Julie Anne Genter confirmed both she and Phil Twyford were communicating as Ministers. That makes the letter subject to the Official Information Act and leaves her with no argument for keeping it hidden a second longer.
“As the Speaker himself noted in Parliament today, he regularly obtained letters between Ministers when he was in Opposition.
“If the Government has nothing to hide then why is it going to so much effort to keep the public from seeing how much the Greens influenced Let’s Get Wellington Moving?
“It’s a slap in the face to Wellingtonians if it thinks there’s no public interest in a document that discusses $6.4 billion in taxpayer spending and 20-plus years of transport projects.
“My colleague, Wellington-based MP Nicola Willis, has once again written to the Ombudsman requesting this letter be released in light of the significant public interest in its contents.
“It’s looking like we can add the Government’s pledge to be ‘the most open and transparent ever’ to its list of broken promises.”
Parliamentary debate on whether the letter is subject to the OIA can be found here
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter must release the letter she sent to Transport Minister Phil Twyford before he pushed construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel back a decade, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“Julie Anne Genter’s political legacy could well be as the Associate Transport Minister who stopped Wellington moving for a decade.
“She confirmed in Parliament today that the letter she sent Transport Minister Phil Twyford weeks before the Let’s Get Wellington Moving package was announced related to ‘concerns’ about the sequencing of projects, particularly the second Mt Victoria Tunnel.
“It took a Parliamentary question on notice today for Julie Anne Genter to finally acknowledge what everyone suspected – her concerns about the second Mt Victoria Tunnel saw it pushed off into the never-never of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving package.
“The tunnel may not even be allowed to take private cars if it is ever built.
“Julie Anne Genter now needs to release the full letter so Wellingtonians can see for themselves what she demanded of Twyford in exchange for her support of the package.
“This Government’s claim to be the most open and transparent ever is becoming more laughable by the day. She is deluded if she thinks there is no public interest in a letter between Ministers that discusses $6.4 billion in taxpayer spending and 20-plus years of Wellington transport projects.
Here is what we know:
- The Let’s Get Wellington Moving recommended programme of investment proposed a second Mt Victoria tunnel be built between 2024 and 2029.
- A second Mt Victoria Tunnel was the third most-popular project consulted on by the LWGM group.
- A draft Cabinet Paper on LGWM was circulated on March 25. Julie Anne Genter wrote to Phil Twyford two days later.
- Minister Twyford then requested an aide memoire on options for walking and cycling in the Mt Victoria Tunnel and on potential timing of the roading vs public transport projects.
- A further memo was requested on April 5 about “Potential downsides of removing or delaying the second Mt Victoria Tunnel”.
- When the final LGWM package was announced in May, completion of the second Mt Victoria Tunnel had been pushed back to between 2030 and 2034.
“Julie Anne Genter now needs to come clean and admit to Wellingtonians that a second Mt Victoria Tunnel is at least 10 years away because she demanded it.”
The Government must be closet fans of National’s transport policies after all, given how much pride it took today in announcing the completion of seven road safety projects that started under us, National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so to watch Jacinda Ardern and Phil Twyford stand on SH3, between Ohaupo and Te Awamutu, and claim credit for seeing National’s road safety initiatives through to the end was heart-warming.
“I was glad to hear the new safety barriers have prevented deaths and serious injuries, because that’s exactly what Transport Minister Simon Bridges predicted would happen in December 2016 when he announced $4.8 million for the project.
“My concern is that once the Government is done putting the finishing touches on National’s good ideas it won’t have much to do, given it is ideologically opposed to building roads.
“Safety upgrades are vitally important to combat our rising road toll, which is why councils across the country are crying out for the Government to spend money on new roads, only to be told there’s no money left because it has all been funnelled into Auckland’s light rail.
“Today’s announcement contained no more money for road safety above what was announced last year – just a heads-up that the budget will be spread thinner.
“But if Transport Minister Phil Twyford and his associate Julie Anne Genter are short of a few good ideas about what to do in transport, I’m happy to help them out.
“A couple of tips to start would be to get over their aversion to road building, stop taxing motorists so heavily, and stop turning a blind eye to regional roads in desperate need of repair, like SH58 from Pauatahanui to Upper Hutt.”
Note: The seven completed projects in the greater Waikato, started under National:
Hutt Valley residents have sent a strong message to the Government that it needs to wake up, see sense, and build the Melling Interchange, Hutt South MP Chris Bishop says.
“It’s ridiculous, quite frankly, that the Government has delayed construction of this important State Highway 2 project until at least 2028 despite it being crucial for the Hutt’s prosperity and Transport Minister Phil Twyford admitting it ‘ticks all the boxes’ for funding.
“The project had NZTA approval until Phil Twyford came along. His delay is a slap in the face to the Hutt Valley. The 500 or so people who showed up to my Rally for Melling today made that clear. They can’t wait a decade for this project to go ahead.
“Not only is the Melling Interchange critical for easing SH2 congestion, improving road safety and upgrading the local railway station, it’s also needed to pave the way for the Riverlink project, which will increase Lower Hutt’s flood protection and revitalise its CBD.
“Hutt residents are now in the unbelievable situation of having to stump up $4 million from their own pockets to fund planning and consents for a major state highway project because the Government is too cheap.
“Phil Twyford has said there’s no money left. That’s preposterous. He’s got billions sitting in the Land Transport Fund and the $120m or so needed for Melling is a drop in the bucket.
“Hutt Valley residents deserve better. They got almost nothing out of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport package, which is throwing $6.4 billion at Wellington’s CBD, yet they’re being told to cover almost half the cost of that and wait a decade for any meaningful transport improvements of their own.
“The anger over this is red hot. My petition calling for action received 7000 signatures. Sods would be turning on the Melling Interchange right now if National was in Government.
“If elected in 2020, National will start construction of the Melling Interchange in our first term rather than lead people on with empty promises of funding that may never come.
“The Hutt Valley isn’t going to prosper under a Transport Minister who has short arms and deep pockets.”
Rally for Melling photos can be found here
The unwillingness of Wellington’s regional councillors to show accountability for the region’s bumbling bus network means it’s time for a Crown Observer to step in, National MPs Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis say.
“The briefing Greater Wellington Regional Council gave to the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee today did nothing to quell concerns about continuing network failures,” Mr Bishop says.
“It is time for Transport Minister Phil Tywford to reconsider appointing a Crown Observer to oversee the network repairs and get the level of service back to where it needs to be.
“Acting regional council chairperson Barbara Donaldson appeared blind to what is going on around her, telling the committee that ‘Wellington’s bus service is in pretty good shape’.
“This is despite the council’s own data showing 37 bus services are being cancelled each day and more than 10 per cent of Wellington buses are running late. Buses in outer suburbs are also failing to meet on-time targets.
Ms Willis says a Crown Observer would have the power to help the council resolve these problems, to monitor progress and to make recommendations to the Government about further action that may be needed.
“I regularly hear stories from people waiting in the rain for buses that are delayed, overcrowded, or just haven’t shown up. I have had Wellingtonians tell me they have purchased cars for the first time in their lives due to the current unreliability problems.
“The continued buck-passing between regional councillors and city councillors is growing tiresome, with Cr Donaldson saying ‘bureaucracy moves slowly’. That’s not good enough.
“The regional council continues to show it is unable to solve these problems itself. Mr Twyford cannot continue to look the other way while bus users are left in the lurch.
“If this Government wants New Zealanders to become more reliant on public transport then it needs to ensure services are up to scratch. So far, it is failing to do this in Wellington.”