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Q+A: Interview with Len Brown

Published: 2:49PM Sunday October 10, 2010 Source: Q+A

LEN BROWN interviewed by GUYON ESPINER

PAUL HOLMES

So, here we are with you this morning in difficult lighting conditions, if I may say so. I mean, we can see, but we can't see what we need to see. But Eden Park looks spectacular. This is a big opening day in Auckland for Eden Park. And so it's a big day really for Auckland, because Auckland has a new mayor. So we're here this morning, this sparkling stadium opens to the public in just under an hour. Standing on the balcony outside the fourth floor lounge of the new South Stand, 50,000 seat stadium, it's a new symbol of Auckland and Auckland's determination to become a world-class city. Auckland, of course, could have had a waterfront stadium, but that's my particular bitch, and there's no point talking about it. Auckland has a new mayor whose job it is to turn the aspirations Auckland has into a new reality. What once looked like a tight race became a Len-slide yesterday with the Manukau mayor, and now mayor of Auckland, with 95% of the vote counted he's got 220,000 votes to John Banks' 161,000. A 60,000 vote majority. As we say, a Len-slide. It was a drubbing. And Len Brown celebrated with friends and family yesterday, staying on message even in victory.

(Tape)

LEN BROWN

(Auckland Supercity Mayor)

I'm so proud to be able to stand in front of you today and say that I'm the mayor for all of Auckland.

(Live)

PAUL It was a message that worked, a very successful message. And Len Brown, the new mayor of Supercity Auckland joins us this morning on the balcony here at Eden Park with our political editor, Guyon Espiner.

GUYON Thanks, Paul. And thank you, Len Brown, for joining us and congratulations.

LEN BROWN

Thank you, Guyon.

GUYON Welcome to day one on the job.

LEN BROWN

Oh, I love it. And what a place to be on the job. It's fabulous.

GUYON What is your top priority as you set about this monumental task of leading the city?

LEN BROWN

I think the top priority has always been transport, in terms of policy priority. Really, from day one, the major challenge will be to bring the structure together, and particularly to reach out to the community and bring those together. So that is gonna be the primary work in the first days and weeks and months of this council.

GUYON I wonder whether politically reaching out, would that include appointing a deputy perhaps from the right side of the fence, if you like? Have you considered doing that?

LEN BROWN

Guyon, we've got an amazingly diverse council, and I'm really appreciative of Auckland for delivering up this type of council. There's a lot of people in there with good community heart and many with credentials for deputy. And so I'll be considering that over the next few days, and there'll be a lot of discussion.

GUYON You haven't made your mind up on a deputy yet?

LEN BROWN

No, not as yet.

GUYON You haven't approached anyone yet?

LEN BROWN

No.

GUYON When will you make that decision and announce that?

LEN BROWN

It'll be soon, soon.

GUYON No hints this morning?

LEN BROWN

No.

GUYON Let's talk about transport. You mentioned it as your top priority, and you've got big big plans there, including a rail link to the airport. Do you expect to make solid progress on that in this term?

LEN BROWN

Certainly on the planning side. And I've really run this campaign off the issue of transport being a number-one priority for Auckland, to really enable Auckland to step up and deliver on the hopes of this nation economically, we've really got to perform as a powerhouse of the country. And so transport is a key part of that. And yes, we will have significant progress most certainly on the planning in terms of getting rail through to the airport, but in particular on completing the inner-city loop.

GUYON But in terms of a rail link to the airport, this term will all be about planning?

LEN BROWN

No. I've put a ten-year time frame around that. All of these projects are significant projects.

GUYON Should it take that long?

LEN BROWN

Well, yes, it should.

GUYON You look at countries like China where they go ahead with projects-

LEN BROWN

I'd like to do it tomorrow, but we're not gonna be able to. We're gonna need to go through an appropriate process as we do, because we're going through existing communities, and there are significant funding issues and so we need to ensure that the funding is right, that all the ducks are lined up, but we will get it through, and I've set that appropriate time frame. I believe it's sustainable and I believe it's doable. And we are ready to do it in Auckland, I can assure you of that.

GUYON When you look at all your transport plans, including the tunnels and the rail link to the airport, you're looking at the thick end of $7 billion. Where's the money gonna come from?

LEN BROWN

That's right, over 15 years. We have budget in our own council of $3.5 million per annum. We've already got government and council commitments to three significant roading projects of around $3 billion to $4 billion. So this is about adjusting and ensuring that we have a fully integrated transport system with integrated ticketing that will be in place over 15 years' time to complement our roading system.

GUYON And is it affordable?

LEN BROWN

Absolutely, and I want to tell you how, and I've been telling people for the last 13 months. Surprised you haven't heard this, Guyon. So the last 13 months I've been telling the people of Auckland there are two other alternatives. One is infrastructure bonds, and we've already got three-quarters of a billion dollars-

GUYON That's a flash way of borrowing, though, isn't it.

LEN BROWN

No, it's an opportunity-Yes, it is, but it's also an opportunity for our community to invest in our infrastructure. Fourthly, a newer area for New Zealand, and that's public-private partnerships. I want to look at those. I'll be discussing those options with our community over the next year. So there are four separate options for doing what we need to do, Guyon, and we're going to.

GUYON Okay, so big plans for transport. Another idea that caught people's imagination, and something you did in Manukau, was have free swimming pool visits for families. Is that something you're going to roll out right across the city?

LEN BROWN

It's something that I put to the community through the course of this debate. I haven't made a commitment to roll it out. I'm gonna offer them that as an option through the first round of our annual planning programme over the next 12 to 18 months. But it's certainly been popular across the region, particularly in the west, further south. On the Shore they're not quite sure. But very popular policy.

GUYON Do you know how much that would cost?

LEN BROWN

Look, it costs Manukau about $5.4 million per annum by way of subsidy. But when you look at the number of kids who are using our pools, it's fabulous. And when Auckland city put in place a user charge for their pools they dropped their usage in the pools by 60% overnight. And so, you know, we've got a major challenge with our young people to ensure they're all active and involved in sport and recreation - we sit here today at Eden Park - and so this is about weighing priorities and determining where you want your kids to be.

GUYON Are you going to be able to do all this without raising rates?

LEN BROWN

I've been very prudent as the manager of our rating system and finance structure in Manukau. Rate increases in around the rate of inflation, sort of zero rate increases around water, waste water over the last two years, so people know I've got a strong prudent streak in me - it's my Scottish side. So, Guyon, I have made a commitment: rate increases in and around the rate of inflation. I'll be standing by that.

GUYON As we sit here at Eden Park today, great venue, as you say. Do you have any worries about Auckland being able to deliver a world-class Rugby World Cup?

LEN BROWN

It's going to be fabulous. I am absolutely ready for this, Guyon. No, I've talked to Martin Snedden, I've been fully briefed. I understand it as an existing mayor of Manukau. We've all been a part of the programme. The infrastructure is well in place, the community is ready to welcome the world, and we are going to, on behalf of this country, as a key provider of the base for the Rugby World Cup, we are going to do you proud.

GUYON One of the controversial parts of the structure of the new city was the lack of Maori seats. You spoke in favour of having Maori seats on the council. Is there a provision that you are going to try to use to try to get specific seats for Maori in this council?

LEN BROWN

I've made this clear also in the last 13 months of the campaign, and that is that for all local councils, every three years you've gotta go through a review of your representation. And we'll be doing that, and through the review of that representation we'll address the issues of appropriate Maori representation on the council. And so that will be a full process that will include our community, and it may well include the issue of, for example, a referendum. So we'll see about that, and we'll run that through during the first term.

GUYON Is it your preference to have a referendum on that issue?

LEN BROWN

I think it's one of the options. I just want to get a clear understanding from those in our council. It's certainly my option, but I want us to have a full debate across the community, and I want to find out the best way of including the whole community in that. But no, I've declared my preference, and I want to see Maori representation, particularly mana whenua representation on that council.

GUYON So potentially, in three years' time, at the next local council election, you may see and put it to the people on that issue?

LEN BROWN

Yes. That's one of the possibilities, absolutely.

GUYON You won handsomely last night. Who paid for what was a pretty slick and pretty professional campaign?

LEN BROWN

People from all around Auckland. We had, um, people who sent me cards and texts saying 'I've got no money but you've got my love.'

GUYON So was it all on the foot soldiers, or-

LEN BROWN

$1, $2, significant contributions from the business community, although I stay well clear of that. And you'll see that through the disclosures.

GUYON Any big backers?

LEN BROWN

Um, I hope so.

GUYON You weren't out putting a hat around yourself?

LEN BROWN

No. No, I mean, I've had an amazing team, and I wanna thank my team here, the close-knit circle that were around me, and then the thousands of people who were out on the streets for me, and to the people of Auckland, I just want to express my absolute appreciation and humble gratitude.

GUYON What about the integrity of the election itself? I mean, we did see some irregularities. Are you satisfied that it was credible and that we don't need to move to a system where you actually turn up to the polls again, and the postal ballot has to go?

LEN BROWN

First of all, the credibility of the election - I just want to acknowledge that I think that was a small, designated local issue. I want to acknowledge the Counties Manukau police who jumped on that straight away, the Electoral Office, who acted promptly, and the fact that charges were laid very quickly. I think we just do not do electoral fraud in this country, will not have it. And so I want to acknowledge them here today. Secondly, as to whether there is another way of doing it, we debate this every three years. I certainly want us to look at the technology and see whether or not we can do online voting, for a start. And I think we can still be better. The discussion debate as to whether or not we go back to the single-day voting. But yesterday in Auckland, record turnouts, really, about 50%, 55% in the end. That's pretty good, that's getting up there. We can just build on that, Guyon.

GUYON Just in the last minute or so, a big question: Can you work with what is a centre right government? Can you work with John Key and Rodney Hide?

LEN BROWN

I've been working with John and Rodney and this government for the last two years as the mayor of Manukau. Very successful relationship, good personal relationship with the prime minister, very professional relationship. He and I will be great.

GUYON Final question. I guess one of the election promises that perhaps even your most strident supporters hope you don't keep was to, uh, sing at the Rugby World Cup. Are you gonna deliver on that one?

LEN BROWN

Well, I've lost my singing partner from Dunedin! Look, I do love singing and I enjoy fun in the community, and Manukau's seen that, and Auckland will absolutely see it. So look, I better not try their patience and make too much in the way of further promises this morning. But boy, great acoustics here, Guyon.

GUYON Good place to leave it. Thank you very much, and congratulations on your result.

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