Housing Minister Phil Twyford’s excuses that a “clerical error” was to blame for a meeting not being recorded in his Ministerial diary ring hollow given he refused to release details of the meeting under the Official Information Act weeks ago, National MP Denise Lee says.
“Today, my office has lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman over the Minister’s response to my request for information relating to his meeting with Environment Minister David Parker and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff on March 2.
“Mr Twyford refused my request on the grounds the information does not exist, but this has been proven false. Documents released by Mr Parker show the information does exist, and in fact originated from Mr Twyford’s office.
“If his failure to disclose this meeting was simply an administrative error that was corrected yesterday, as Mr Twyford claimed, then was he trying to keep the information out of the public domain in May?
“The Minister told media he was ‘not aware’ his office refused to release the information. But if that is true, then why is his signature at the bottom of the letter to me saying no information about the meeting existed?
“These repeated missteps and inconsistencies suggest the Minister is either grossly incompetent or has been deliberately trying to keep this meeting out of the public eye.”
Phil Twyford’s omission of a high-powered meeting from his Ministerial diary shows he subscribes to the Clare Curran theory of openness and transparency, National’s spokesperson for Local Government (Auckland) Denise Lee says.
“The Housing and Urban Development Minister met with Environment Minister David Parker and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff on March 2, 2019. This meeting was included in Minister Parker’s diary release but not Phil Twyford’s.
“In response to an Official Information Act request for documents relating to the meeting, Mr Twyford claimed the alleged documents did not exist.
“But a response to a similar request from Minister Parker’s office showed it was in fact Phil Twyford who called this meeting to discuss Auckland’s rural-urban boundary. Furthermore, it was stated this was to be a ‘political meeting with no officials’.
“It appears Mr Twyford deliberately omitted a meeting from his Ministerial diary release to hide a potentially controversial work programme. It also begs the question: what criteria does the Minister use to decide whether the meeting is ‘political’ or not.
“No sensible person could argue this was not a meeting of extreme relevance to his Ministerial responsibilities. Mr Twyford should have been upfront about it and included it in his diary release.
“The fact he wanted no officials to attend – and claims his office holds no official information relating to a meeting he initiated – shows he clearly wanted to keep this meeting out of the limelight.
“How many other meetings relevant to his Ministerial responsibilities has he left out of an information release due to them being ‘political’ meetings?
“During Question Time in Parliament today, Mr Twyford claimed his omission was an error that had been corrected. Yet after Question Time there still appeared to be no mention of the meeting in his Ministerial diary available online.
“This Government declared it would be the most open and transparent New Zealand had ever seen. Mr Twyford’s actions are further proof it is anything but.”
Today’s decision by NZTA to close the Old Māngere Bridge is necessary for safety reasons, but Phil Twyford must front up with his plans for other nearby transport projects before any steps are taken to replace it, Maungakiekie MP Denise Lee says.
“Closing the bridge because of safety concerns is the right thing to do, but there are still so many unanswered questions about other nearby transport projects. The Minister needs to give certainty that the replacement will fit into the wider plan for Onehunga.
“How will the new bridge fit into an alternative version of the East-West Link or the Government’s plan for light-rail through Onehunga to the airport? How many bridges will we end up having over the harbour?
“It’s time for the Minister to get off the slow track and answer these critical, billion dollar questions.
“These decisions cannot be made in isolation. If a replacement bridge does not fit into the plans for these other major projects it will just end up causing more trouble down the line.
“Onehunga deserves to know that it is getting the transport infrastructure it deserves. It is a transforming suburb and the Minister needs to give certainty that all the cogs are working together.”
The Government needs to reconsider its decision to can a key strategic transport network in Auckland, the East-West Link, as congestion in the city continues to worsen, MPs for Pakuranga and Maungakiekie Simeon Brown and Denise Lee say.
“Despite the business case for the East-West Link stacking up, the project was left out of the Government’s transport plan. Commuters are facing rising petrol costs due to the regional fuel tax, but aren’t seeing the investment in significant roads like the East-West Link,” Mr Brown says.
“The East-West Link would have had an enormous benefit for local and national economies. By cancelling the route, the Government has clearly signalled it does not take congestion in Auckland seriously.
“The new route would have improved safety and accessibility for cycling and walking and provide transport choices for people in our communities.
“Transport continues to be one of the most important issues for residents in my electorate of Pakuranga, with many working at or owning businesses in the area that would have benefitted from this project.”
“East-West Link would provide a new transport connection, making it easier for local business owners, freight and customers to get in and out of the Onehunga – Penrose area, supporting the movement of goods, services and people for Auckland,” Ms Lee says.
“There are over 6000 daily freight movements on Church Street alone. We need to get these trucks off our suburban roads for the sake of local residents and businesses.
“The area targeted by the East West Link employs over 130,000 people and contributes roughly $10 billion a year to Auckland’s economy. The key aspect of the project was to create a further connection between SH1 and SH20, and improve connections to rail and freight hubs in the area.
“Commuters are under pressure from rising petrol costs and increasing congestion. It simply isn’t right for them to pay that price without the Government reinvesting it into the roads they’re using. Transport Minister Phil Twyford has been asleep at the wheel in finding an alternative solution.”
The escalating transparency issues at Auckland Council are a sign that the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act is broken, and central Government must take steps towards reform by supporting National MP Denise Lee’s Member’s Bill that would strengthen Councillors ability to access Official Information.
Ms Lee, who is National’s Local Government (Auckland) Spokesperson, says the current system is not sustainable.
“We want our local government bodies to be effective and for the public to have confidence that their Councillors can do their job. But the current system makes it difficult for Councillors to access the information they need, which has caused tensions to rise to boiling point and put Auckland Council in the news for all the wrong reasons,” she says.
“With the Chief Ombudsman launching an investigation into the handling of the waterfront stadium report, we may see a resolution to this particular case. But that won’t solve the bigger problem and unless there are changes, we’ll see situations like this again.
“My Member’s Bill currently in the ballot offers an easy solution to this problem by removing many of the barriers faced by Councillors when requesting information.
“Earlier this week, at the height of the tensions, I tried to introduce my Bill to Parliament, but it was blocked by the Government.
“That’s disappointing. The issues at Auckland Council are a distraction and undermining ratepayers’ confidence – the Government should have made resolving the issues a priority.
“We have not seen any other proposed solutions, so I wonder how bad it has to get before the Government decides to act.
“Recent events have made this a high-profile issue, so I call on them to support my Bill and take the opportunity to make changes that would provide a long-term solution.”
Maungakiekie MP Denise Lee has introduced a private members bill that would enable elected members of local authorities to perform their duties more effectively by providing them greater access to official information.
Ms Lee, who is also the National Party spokesperson for Local Government (Auckland) says the bill creates a system that will bridge the information gap between Mayors and other elected councillors.
“My bill, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings (Rights of Members) Amendment Bill, removes many of the barriers faced by members of a local authority when requesting information,” Ms Lee says.
“It reduces the required response time and limits the reasons that can be used to withhold information, while also introducing safeguards around the use of that information.
“Under the current system, councillors are treated like any other member of the public when trying to access official information. The flow of information is often very tightly controlled from the Mayor’s office - and the recent report on a new stadium from Auckland Council is just one example of how Councillors are often kept in the dark about important decisions.
“When Councillors are forced to go to the Ombudsman in order to access information it is clear the system is broken, and this bill will fix it. Councillors are responsible for making the big decisions on behalf of their constituents, but they can’t do that without having access to all the relevant information.
“My bill is about empowering Councillors to better perform their duties, which will lead to better outcomes for the public,” Ms Lee says.
Auckland Council and the Government must prioritise Auckland’s sporting infrastructure to ensure that community sport is not put at risk, National’s Sport and Recreation Spokesperson Nikki Kaye and Local Government (Auckland) Spokesperson Denise Lee say.
“Auckland Council’s draft long-term plan for youth sport and recreation infrastructure is inadequate. The current plan contains a capital shortfall of at least $500 million over the next ten years and does not sufficiently satisfy local demand,” Ms Kaye says.
“There are between 90 and 150 sports fields and courts needed in Auckland right now. These sports facilities are vital to the survival of organisations that provide sport and recreational opportunities and employ more than 25,000 Aucklanders.
“This deficiency is exacerbated by the Government moving to scrap Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). PPPs are an innovative way to spend taxpayer money efficiently, and are crucial to ensuring sport and recreation remains accessible for all Aucklanders.
“Scrapping PPPs will hold Auckland and other parts of New Zealand back in terms of sporting infrastructure. Even if the Government doesn’t support PPPs then it could consider partnerships that harness central, local and community funding.
“With intensification there will be a growing need to utilise space better. With over $4.85 billion allocated to school infrastructure by the last Government, a large amount of which was destined for Auckland, there are huge opportunities for greater partnerships.”
Ms Lee says National will be holding a series of meetings over the next six months with the community and sporting organisations to help progress projects across Auckland to ensure more young people and their families have access to sport and recreation facilities.
“We know there are councillors and local board representatives who feel strongly about this so we plan to work closely with them.
“While we are focusing on Auckland, we will also be working with local MPs to identify other areas of New Zealand where projects can be progressed.
“The economic ramifications of poor sporting infrastructure are huge, with the sector contributing at least $1.9 billion to Auckland’s economy each year.
“Physical inactivity cost New Zealand’s health care system over $200 million in 2013 and some research indicates that around 20 per cent of young Auckland children are overweight.
“The Education Minister needs to continue the Auckland Education Growth Plan which was being worked on by the previous Government and was due to be considered by Cabinet last November. It is important to look at the work done so far to factor in potential opportunities around sport and recreational infrastructure.
“We must prioritise sport and recreation in our communities and Auckland Council and the Government must front up with more funding to support Auckland’s sporting infrastructure.”
The Government has hoodwinked Auckland ratepayers by keeping them in the dark on a second fuel tax hike while public consultation was being carried out on the first, National’s Local Government (Auckland) spokesperson Denise Lee says.
“The Government let Auckland Council go to the public to build support for an 11.5 cent per litre regional fuel tax – but kept its intention to slap them with a second increase within weeks quiet.
“That’s an appalling breach of faith.
“Aucklanders were told they would be paying up to 11.5 cents more per litre on fuel and given the chance to have their say.
“Now, the Government has proposed a nationwide increase, meaning Aucklanders could actually be paying up to 25 cents per litre more. That’s a huge additional cost on Auckland motorists meaning drivers could pay an extra $10 to $15 every time they fill up.
“It’s clear that Auckland Council was kept in the dark and as result they inadvertently mislead Auckland ratepayers on how much more they will be paying at the pump.
“The Government now faces serious questions about its openness and integrity throughout this process and the value it places on public consultation.
“How can we have confidence in this coalition Government when it does not give the public the full context when making such an important decision?
“Council and Government must work closely together to find a solution to Auckland’s transport issues, and this withholding of information undermines the trust in this important relationship.
“Aucklanders are now being asked to double down on these new taxes. They should have been given the full picture before being asked to submit on these changes.”
Progress towards closing the gender pay gap has once again been delayed after the Government refused to support Denise Lee’s private Members’ Bill on pay equity during its first reading debate in Parliament last night.
“By voting against my Members’ Bill, the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill, the coalition Government is telling women in New Zealand that pay equity is not a priority on their agenda. It also delays giving women the ability to lodge pay equity claims by months, if not years,” Ms Lee says.
“The Government has opposed every step to supporting women to achieve pay equity for the past nine months, but in that time, they have not put forward a single alternative proposal.
“It is beyond belief that this Government would claim to recognise the urgency of this issue but block its progress at every opportunity.
“Given this most recent obstruction, they have an obligation to the women of New Zealand to at least produce a timeline of when they plan to introduce their own legislation - women deserve to know when they will be recognised for their true value.
“The argument that we should wait for them to introduce ‘better’ legislation simply does not stack up.
“They have the numbers to make improvements or amend this Bill as they see fit. Why should women be forced to wait before the Government can introduce their own version of what I expect will be a very similar bill.
“The hard work has already been done in preparing this bill, but this Government wants to go back to the drawing board for political point-scoring.”
Yesterday’s announcement from the Government that Aucklanders are about to be slapped with a fuel tax show just how little value both it and the Auckland Council place on consulting ratepayers, National’s Local Government (Auckland) Denise Lee says.
“Auckland ratepayers have been asked to submit on a Budget that proposed a number of new rates, including a regional fuel tax, without knowing what this tax system would look like.
“Now, with five days of public consultation still remaining, the Labour Government has introduced a Bill giving Council the ability to introduce this tax. It is clear that this was always going to be the end result.
“Given a Ministry of Transport impact report says a cost benefit analysis has not been done and that ‘fuel companies have not had time to accurately quantify the costs of collection of the regional fuel tax’, the consultation process has been an absolute sham.
“To add insult to injury, the Council’s Budget is dependent on this tax being implemented by mid-2018, meaning that this Bill will likely have to be rushed through Parliament without the full investigation of a Select Committee.
“Both the Labour Government and Auckland Council are yet to release their priorities for transport.
“Auckland residents should not have to shoulder the burdened of new taxes, without being told where their money will be spent,” Ms Lee says.