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Len Brown interview transcript

Published: 11:46AM Sunday September 18, 2011 Source: Q+A

Thank you, Len Brown, for turning up here this morning. We appreciate that.  Last night was a success, but was that really only because of the vastly reduced numbers and the fact that people had lost confidence in the public transport system and took the car or made their way on foot?

LEN BROWN - Auckland Mayor
Actually, we had the same numbers using public transport last night to get to the game as the week before, so, for a start, confidence continues to be in place for the public transport system.

GUYON So the same number of people used the public transport last night to go to the game, but not during the course of the day, obviously.

LEN No, of course not, and, I mean, the crowd was significantly down. Quite a different event, of course. No great opening ceremony. And so, by and large, in terms of the ground itself, same numbers going, and that was great to see. A few more on the Fan Trail, and that was good to see.

GUYON When you look at last Friday, though - the opening ceremony of the World Cup - did the transport operator, Veolia, provide everything that they were contracted to provide?

LEN So, we had some failures last week, and I think the most important thing that I want to acknowledge here today, uh, was - and is - a continuing apology to those who were the butt of those failures, um, who were subject to them. Secondly, we took those failures, and we addressed them as a council, as a community and all the agencies.

GUYON I appreciate your candour there, but can you answer that question? Did Veolia provide what they were contracted to do?

LEN Uh, as much as their understanding and their projections and the information they had to hand, yes. You need to recognise that in terms of, uh, last Friday night, every train, every bus, every ferry, but certainly every train that should have been available was available. Secondly, in terms of Veolia, we know that there were shortcomings in terms of one) communication, two) security arrangements that were on the train-

GUYON Because hadn't they actually assured you that there would be a guard or security person on every train?

LEN Yeah, we had assurances-

GUYON And that didn't happen?

LEN Not to the extent that we expected.

GUYON So that's a breach of contract in that sense?

LEN No. In terms of how we deal with those challenges that became evident on Friday night, we will go through a process of final review in terms of the Rugby World Cup. The one thing we want to do right now is deliver the Cup. Make sure that we get the delivery of the Cup and, particularly through public transport, as a community, continue to use it, uh, at a competent level, a level at which our community expects.

GUYON Where I'm angling there is that in the Auckland Transport report on this, um, you've instructed Meredith Connell the law firm to look at this and to take a, quote, 'inquisitorial approach'. Now, I'm just wondering whether you're planning on suing Veolia.

LEN I don't want to carry out any discussion relating to that on this date. We have got five weeks to go through, and it's critical that we actually keep focused on that.

GUYON And we will talk about that, with respect. But are you saying that that legal option is a potential?

LEN I'm not going to get into that discussion.

GUYON Are you ruling it out?

LEN I'm not getting into that discussion.

GUYON So you won't rule out legal action, though?

LEN I'm not getting into that discussion today.

GUYON Well, can I put it this way? They've got the contract till March 2014. Is that assured still?

LEN  And that will be a part of the normal process of review of the contract. Last night they did really well. Their drivers did well. All of those around the train system did well. Good start. We want to make sure they do well right to the end of the tournament.

GUYON Do you have confidence in Veolia?

LEN Certainly a confidence in what they delivered last night. There were some real learnings from the previous Friday night. They showed an appreciation of those learnings. They delivered on them. Good start last night. We need to make sure that happens all the way through the Cup.

GUYON I've been told that on the night, there was no one from Veolia who was specifically in charge. Is that true?

LEN Look, they have a chief executive officer, Graham Sibery, and Graham has always been the preeminent contact, the leader on the ground and the leader in the office, and responsibility lies with him. He has stepped up to the plate through this week, as he needed to, as all of our people needed to do, and I also want to acknowledge here the role of the chief executive of the Auckland Council. Doug McKay did a great job through this week in marshalling the forces and getting the challenges addressed.

GUYON Can we look at the overcrowding issue? Um, your council-controlled organisation, the Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development Organisation, apparently did no proper forecasting as to how many people would turn up. I mean, that sounds unbelievable.

LEN Look, from the information that was had and from the advice that I received in terms of ATEED, uh, the view was that they had gone through an appropriate assessment. We're continuing to review those assessments.

GUYON But apparently it was based on - what - nothing. They just made it up.

LEN No. Look, there is-

GUYON Well, how do they come to their-?

LEN There is a process of assessing international events and localised events. I mean, during the year we have events like Pasifika, for example, like Coca-Cola in the Park, which can attract up to 250,000 people. So they went through analysis of our localised events and international events of similar-

GUYON And assumed that 50,000 would turn up. This is the biggest public event in New Zealand. The third biggest tournament in the world.

LEN We had a capacity of 70,000 to 80,000 in terms of the figures, the assessments we'd received, Guyon. And so the reasonable assessment was 100,000 to 150,000. That was where my thinking was. That was where the advice that I had was and that we would be well capable of delivering that. Aucklanders turned up in unprecedented numbers - 200,000+. And, look, it was a great party. Um, overwhelming response over the last week was, 'What a brilliant event. Thank you very much, Mr Mayor, and to the council and the government. It was superb.' Uh, but the numbers were unprecedented. Could we have had a better assessment? I wish we had, but we did not.

GUYON Do you feel let down by that organisation, by ATEED?

LEN I don't want to get into that, because we have to be so forward-focused. We have got to continue to deliver the Rugby World Cup for our city and our nation, uh, to a high level of confidence. The bar has now been set. We are at the bar. We want to continue to reach and get beyond that bar.

GUYON The TV screens broke down, which might not be such a big deal on some occasions, but it caused a real problem.

LEN It caused a real problem on Quay.

GUYON I've heard a couple of things about that - one) that they weren't working in the afternoon, earlier in the day, and perhaps that would have been a fairly big warning sign. The other was that they were the cheapest ones that were available and were of poor quality.

LEN Everyone's got to do their job, Guyon, to make these things work, and the review, the final review, will in fact make some assessments about whether or not there was appropriate testing, for example.

GUYON Was there?

LEN There could have been better testing, Guyon, because to have those screens break down - two of them - with the type of investment that goes into that and the importance of them. Uh, they should not have broken down.

GUYON Whose job was it to test them?

LEN Well, obviously those that were the providers of the screens, and also it would have been appropriate for our organisation. But, again, that's a part of an overarching review. Last night worked well. We're going to make sure the next seven weeks work outstandingly well.

GUYON Let's move on and talk about the next seven weeks. The impression from the media reporting and the public discussion around this is that the government has taken control of the waterfront. Is that how you see it?

LEN No. Auckland is in charge of the delivery of its share of the hosting of the Rugby World Cup. We have put an organisation together. Post-Friday, that is more focused, sharper and clearer in its delivery. I stood up as the mayor and said, 'Great opening night. Real challenges relating to it, and we will deliver on those challenges.'

GUYON Ok. Let's break that down, then. Is there any degree to which the government is in more control now?

LEN Well, the government has certainly a clear control in and around the Fan Zone. They have legislation that they can reach back into if they feel there are shortcomings or shortfalls. The minister, to his credit, certainly stood and took what he felt was a responsibility in terms of some of the actions in and around the Fan Zone. But, look, we shut Quay St down. We dealt with the issue of corralling people and marshalling them. We have firmly focused on the issue of transportation, which was the major challenge, and we are delivering out against those challenges.

GUYON Those extra areas that have opened up, like Captain Cook's Wharf, were those applications already in train anyway?

LEN Yes. Look, a lot of those discussions started from 10.30pm and earlier on Friday night when it became evident that they bar was higher, and we had to reach that bar. And so the organisation was set up. Chief executive officer Doug McKay stepped straight in there, took ownership, along with all of the agencies.

GUYON So this was a collaborative process until the point where Murray McCully unilaterally announced it without telling you.

LEN It continues to be a highly collaborative process.

GUYON Not terribly collaborative when you're not told it was going to be announced.

LEN Well, that aside, Guyon, that aside. And Murray made apologies, and I accept that.

GUYON What did he apologise for?

LEN Uh, I mean, my view to him was that it would have been a much better position - considering six years of collaboration - to deliver this Rugby World Cup on a key issue where we needed to address, and we're jointly working towards addressing some of the issues in and around Quay St, the waterfront, uh, that Murray and I be seen together. And that subsequently has been the case.

GUYON And he hung you out to dry for political reasons.

LEN I'm not going to get into that debate at all. I am firmly focused on making sure that Auckland's pride is well and truly maintained and we deliver this Cup.

GUYON Well, doesn't it look like Wellington has just overridden you, and you've essentially been played here?

LEN The first thing I'll say, Guyon, is Parliament is sovereign, and local government is a product of legislation, and that has always been the case. I'm in local government, and I recognise that. But, secondly, Auckland as a city, as a council, has taken its responsibility from Friday night and has delivered together what it needed to. And we've worked with the government from go to whoa, and we will continue to do so out of respect and regard for the fact that this is a national tournament.

GUYON Is the relationship, though, repairable with the government? It's a pretty big chasm that's opened up-

LEN However it may look to those in the media and others, the relationship that I have with the Prime Minister, all of the key government ministers, has always been collaborative -except for this occasion - and convivial, and so we continue to do that.

GUYON We saw the clip. You saw the clip before. McCully said you dropped the ball.

LEN As I say, I'm not going to get into that.

GUYON Well, he did. What's your response to that?

LEN All of us came out of Friday night with challenges.

GUYON Do you accept that you dropped the ball, as the minister says?

LEN I accept that there were challenges on Friday night, and I accept and have made my apologies that as the mayor of Auckland and as the mayor of the first supercity council that we needed to deliver. There were failings there and that we needed to deliver and make sure those failings were fixed, and we are in the process of appropriately fixing them.

GUYON I just wonder how much damage this has done to the public perception of trains. You're a mayor who wants to build and $2.4 billion inner-city rail loop.

LEN Well, it should have been in place last Friday night. It would have been one of the key parts of delivering a seamless public transport experience, and I am even more committed now to ensure that Auckland gets that. We've got a complete upgrade of our rail system. So, we've got electric rail coming through in two and half years. I wish that had been in place too.

GUYON You don't think this has damaged the perception of that?

LEN Not at all. It makes the case totally crystal clear. It's a game changer for Auckland to be a true international city and put on international events. We've got to have that type of suburban rail network.

GUYON Well, let's look at the next couple of big events. You've got All Blacks vs France, and then obviously the finals, the semi-finals are going to be big, big events. What's your advice to Aucklanders on those days? Is it your advice on Friday September 9th to take the train?

LEN Our advice, and certainly the advice following, is not only take the train - take the train, the bus, the ferry, walk. Fan Zone walk-up last night was 2000 more than the previous Friday, so that's great. So, all the options, and also if you think it is appropriate and you can get there early enough, take your car and then walk or bus or train. Uh, I mean, all of the options are there. We had a really good cross section of option-taking last night. That's what we'll be looking for from our community. Public transport is one of the options, and, for most, the primary option. As I said, for the game last night, pretty much the same numbers used public transport as for the game against Tonga.

GUYON Some of the media have reported that Murray McCully has offered to resign if things go poorly again. Is that something you would do if the transport system falls over?

LEN I'm not going to get into that debate. I'm just so firmly and completely focused and enmeshed in Auckland to delivering what they need to for this Rugby World Cup.

GUYON All right. We'll leave it there, but thank you very much for your time. We appreciate your time this morning.

LEN It's my pleasure. Thank you.


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