Jessica Mutch interviews Gerry Brownlee
Minister, good morning, and thank you for your time this morning.
GERRY BROWNLEE - Transport and Earthquake Recovery Minister
JESSICA $10 billion. Where's that money coming from?
GERRY Well, you've got to see it in the context of a $60 billion plan for Auckland over a longer period of years and that being part of what is a gap in already committed funding, and therefore that being a challenge for not only Auckland but also for the government. But when you're looking at these things, you have to make those commitments because of the other aspects that you see. So, Auckland is a growing city. You can look at the demographics that are projected, and I think you can take a fair bet that they'll be on the light side. So trying to future-proof is what this is all about.
JESSICA So is this about future-proofing and making commitments?
GERRY Yes, it is.
JESSICA But you've got to also allocate where the money's coming from. How much of that will come from the asset sales fund?
GERRY There are two National Land Transport Fund programmes that will be in the intervening time before, say, the rail link. What we have said, of course, is that those other five, we think, very significant roading projects that we want to bring forward. We'll talk to Auckland Transport about the optimal time for those, then we would look to fund those either from general taxation. Some of the future fund money may be required for that. But in the end, as a government, we've made a commitment to finding that money, because we see it as so very important for a developing and dynamic Auckland.
JESSICA The government's also made a commitment to be back in surplus by 2014/15. That will obviously give you some more money to play with. Are you reliant on that to then go on to fund these projects?
GERRY I think the programme that Bill English has got us on is going to deliver that. And you could sort of say, well, that gives you some more optionality, but the reality is that it has to fit into all of the government's programmes, and our commitments here are more about acknowledging that Auckland is a big growth hub for the country and that we do have to have a properly fully connected transport network across Auckland, and I think that's the difference.
JESSICA It has to be properly funded as well, though. Have you written down and worked out exactly where this money will come from?
GERRY Well, I've just told you what our options are. I noticed that David Shearer just announced they're going to do the rail link in 2016 if he's prime minister by some chance, and you never asked him a question about the money. The reality is-
JESSICA But it's just a long way out. What I'm asking you, though, is that it's a long way out, and it seems as though you're just making commitments, but you're not giving us a whole lot in terms of specifics of exactly where that money will come from.
GERRY Well, I've just told you that we have a $60 billion spend in front of us. That's understood between our transport ministry, our transport agency and transport Auckland. And if we do all of this just inside the National Land Transport Fund, then we have funding gap that we've got to work our way through over that period of years. And I think when you are looking that far out, you'd be kind of crazy to say, 'Well, this is exactly how it's going to be funded' right now. We have options. We've made that clear, and the mixed-ownership model with the Future Investment Fund is part of that, no question.
JESSICA I want to ask you specifically is the rail link a good idea?
GERRY Well, I think when you look at the population expansion-
JESSICA Very simple question, Minister. Is the rail link a good idea?
GERRY Well, you can't ask a simple question that doesn't have some qualification to it.
JESSICA So do you think it's a good idea?
GERRY Well, we have said that we think it is a good idea, and we've said more than that. That we think the projections that the Auckland plan has - 46 per cent growth in employment in the CBD, plus, you know, a significantly increased rail patronage - are too tough, and we want to-
JESSICA And we know that, Minister. In terms of when you have said in the past-
GERRY Why do you ask questions if you don't want answers?
JESSICA I'm asking you very specific questions, though, to be fair. In terms of in the past, you've been quite honest that you haven't backed the rail link. Has this been hard to suck it up?
GERRY No, no, that's not true. No, I think that's not true. I think that's a characterisation that our opponents want to put on it. I've had some things to say about the rail link in the context of it being part of a network, and I think one of the interesting things is that our opponents don't agree with any of the roading projects that are part of this big plan. So, there are five roading projects in there that are part of the network to keep Auckland moving. Rail is one aspect of that and quite apart from that is the second crossing of the harbour, and they're just silent on all that stuff. You can't just say-
JESSICA But with this rail link, though - have you had to suck it up?
GERRY Hang on a minute. Hang on a minute. You can't just say, and this has been my point all the way through. You can't just say, 'Look, build that rail link, and it'll fix the congestion problems.' That is just putting your head in the sand. It is a factor and a part of what will be improving access to the CBD and then, of course, transport out into the suburbs where people live.
JESSICA You've also announced a big funding spend-up in Christchurch as well this week. $2.9 billion for the Crown. What are the most important projects that that will buy? The top two or three, let's say.
GERRY Well, I think the infrastructure programme is the key one, which is the three waters - wastewater, fresh water and sewerage - and then the road carriage over the top of that. That is the vast bulk of that funding. $1.8 billion. The second thing would be the eastern frame, which will delineate a smaller and tighter CBD. And then I think I would personally pick the convention centre, because it is a place that creates activity inside the CBD and brings people in. What I think sits parallel to that-
JESSICA Is this just a big vote-buying exercise for Christchurch and Auckland?
GERRY Uh, no. All of these things have been out there for some time. Can I just finish on the Christchurch thing? We've also got the property centre inside government looking at some 20 tenancies inside the CBD to try and encourage more private sector development as well. And there's now quite a clamour for land in the CBD. So if you think from a NZ Inc. economic perspective, having Christchurch go into a pretty bad, deep recession as a result of this disaster hasn't happened. We've actually got the reverse happening. So from that point of view, these are very sound and, I think, well thought-through investments. As for vote gathering-
JESSICA We'll have to leave it there, I'm sorry, Minister. We'll have to leave it there, but thank you very much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.
GERRY No problem. Thanks, Jess.