I have been amazed at how bad Wellington traffic has become in the last 5 years or so. Just this week, there were 2 major traffic incidents that caused tailbacks for literally miles. This is happening far too often, and while something desperately needs to be done, the current council is simply not up to it. They are far more interested in rainbow crossings than in getting Wellington moving. By and large, their answer to the traffic congestion is to put in another cycle lane.

So it comes as no surprise to find that the council has caved into Julie Anne Genter’s demands to increase public transport as a way to reduce congestion. The ideology on these issues is strong, but none of it is helping Wellingtonians to get to work, or their kids to get to school.

If Genter really thinks that public transport is the only way forward, then she should say so. Instead, she has insisted on keeping her letter to the Minister of Transport a secret. We all know what that means. So, instead of being ‘open and transparent’, which is something that the Greens have always campaigned on, she is dying in a ditch to keep that letter secret. It really must be bad.

Matthew Hooton isn’t having a bar of it.

This is a story about the allocation of $6.4 billion of public money and a Green Party that wants to cover up why particular decisions were made. It underlines that the Official Information Act (OIA) is broken.

Contradicting the Wellington City Council, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the NZ Transport Agency that had worked together on the plan for some years, Twyford’s package delayed a new Mt Victoria tunnel until the 2030s.
Instead, the money would be allocated in the 2020s to — you guessed it — a billion-dollar-plus tram from the railway station to the airport. The tram would be slower than the airport bus, which currently takes only 25 minutes to the CBD yet is underused.

In 2016, council and mayoral candidates campaigned on ‘4 Lanes to the Planes’. Now, it seems, we could get there faster by pony and cart.

Inquiries by Opposition transport spokesperson Chris Bishop have revealed that the background to the changed spending priorities included a letter from the Associate Transport Minister, the Greens’ Julie Anne Genter, to her senior minister, Labour’s Twyford.

The letter was written on ministerial letterhead and signed by Genter as Associate Minister.

A billion-dollar airport tram in a hilly city with a population of just 220,000 and only another 300,000 in its wider region would be globally unusual. We should expect to see detailed consideration of arguments and counterarguments as the two ministers debate whether the tunnel or tram should have priority.

It will never work. People will have to travel to the CBD to get to the tram… almost certainly by car. Then, where exactly do they park? It is madness.

It has even been reported that Genter and another Green MP threatened to resign if the tunnel went ahead before the tram.

Well, that would hardly have been a loss, would it? Go ahead and resign. Make my day.

Under the OIA, the public has a legal right to see this to-ing and fro-ing about why their taxes will be spent on one thing instead of another. The Genter letter seems to have been pivotal.

The Act specifies that its purpose is to progressively increase the availability of official information to enable New Zealanders to more effectively participate in public affairs and promote the accountability of ministers and bureaucrats.

After all, the whole thing is being funded by taxpayer’s money, so yes… the taxpayer does have a right to know why and how decisions were made.

Its principle of availability demands all information be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it. Information must be released as soon as reasonably practicable, and in no case later than 20 working days after a request is received, or reasons given why it should be kept secret.

As the only reason seems to be to save Julie Ann Genter’s skin, I don’t believe that counts as an acceptable reason for failure to disclose.

An eternal rule of politics is that, when it comes to ethical questions such as complying with the OIA, each Government is worse than the one before.

They adopt all the dirty tricks of their predecessors and invent new ones of their own.

Ardern, though, promised to break this cycle.

Her confidence and supply agreement with the Greens’ James Shaw promised to “strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”.

So Genter is in breach of the confidence and supply agreement too? So where is James Shaw on this? Or Jacinda, for that matter?

Genter now demands to keep secret her letter about the $6.4b funding package on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest for anyone else to see it.

It is most definitely in the interests of Wellingtonians to see it, particularly when the tunnels they so badly want and need seem to have disappeared into the never-never.

The Official Information Act is now a joke. In spite of promises of transparency, this is the least open government for decades.

An intervention by the courts seems required, but that would require someone with the means to commit a decade to litigation. 

In the meantime, Genter is a disgrace to her party and herself and should either release her letter in full or resign.

A NEWSPAPER


Neither will happen. It will simply be brushed under the carpet, like sex scandals, employment matters, Czech kickboxers, and anything else that might make the government look bad… although the lack of transparency is making them look bad anyway.

It seems we just reel from scandal to scandal with this government, but the Greens really are the worst part of it. We should never have anyone who is driven entirely by ideology anywhere near transport. In the meantime, Wellingtonians are resigned to decades of traffic congestion and disruption. So, remember this, guys, in the local elections this year, and the general election next year. Neither the government or the council cares about you. They just play to the climate gods… whoever they are.