Local ElectionsOctober 15, 2019

10 questions with Auckland’s re-elected mayor Phil Goff


Phil Goff was returned to office by a huge margin on Saturday. How will he put that mandate to use this term? Hayden Donnell asks the questions.

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Phil Goff is once again Auckland’s mayor. Preliminary local election results show him with a lead of nearly 100,000 votes over his nearest challenger, John Tamihere. That should give him a decisive mandate, but if anything, his job is only going to get more difficult. Goff’s council is probably a little more unfriendly than last term. He’s lost a key ally and backroom negotiator in Waitakere councillor Penny Hulse. And there’s speculation a councillor could be fomenting a more organised opposition to his leadership. I spoke to him about the challenges ahead.

How are you going to end the so-called ‘A’ and ‘B’ team stuff on council this time round?

I know a lot more than I did three years ago, and I know a lot more about the individual councillors. I didn’t know many of them at all when I went in, now I do know them and I’m confident that I can work productively with them.

This is what Penny Hulse banged on about on her way out the door – some people have been seemingly determined to oppose you – can you offer them an olive branch?

There are people who are politically committed to being oppositional. I can’t do anything about that. But what I can say to every councillor is: “I want to work with you, and I want to work constructively with you for things that will deliver for Auckland.” That’s my mindset and that’s how I’m going into it. And I’m not making any exception to that rule. I will set out to work with everybody that’s been elected.

What was the biggest thing at stake this election? 

I think what John Tamihere was saying was that he wanted to reassert the car as king. It was the alleged war on motor vehicles – which is not a war on motor vehicles, it’s simply an acknowledgement of the fact that to decongest our city, we’ve got to make alternative modes of transport available to people … This term is about investments in infrastructure, the change in mindset towards greater public transport, active modes of transportation, building houses at a rate that meets demand, and cleaning up the beaches and harbours. 

Was this the worst campaign that you have participated in?

Not the hardest one.

What was the hardest?

Being leader of the opposition, after you’ve been in government for nine years.

Second hardest?

It had a dimension that most other campaigns didn’t. Normally as an MP fighting in your electorate, you have a way of working with your opponent which is respectful and you never set out personally to attack your opponent. I’ve never done that. This was a different flavour and it did have that element of alternative facts and personal attacks. 


Some of the aggressive local campaigns opposing things like the division of Chamberlain Park in Mt Albert and the town square development at the Anzac St carpark in Takapuna, they seem to have succeeded at the local board level at least. Are you going to have to stop those projects?

I think you’ll see the Anzac Square in Takapuna go ahead. The two incumbent councillors have been re-elected on the Shore, and they are two excellent councillors and I welcome the fact that they’re there.

I haven’t analysed it yet, but if the local board in Albert Eden don’t want to go ahead with dividing Chamberlain Park, then that probably determines the outcome. And I know exactly why the local board wanted to do that. It wasn’t about losing public open space, it was about catering for a wider cross-section of people to be able to enjoy it recreationally. And there were some pretty nasty tactics that went into that, and went into the Shore, and that’s always regrettable. 

Voter turnout was down again (from 38.5% in 2016 to 34.6%). What do you blame that on?

I think the low turnout is partly because all the people I know, they’d ring up and say, “look, we don’t know anything about the District Health Board, what do they do? Who are the people? Who do I vote for as a local councillor? We haven’t heard of them.”

So will you support STV for council elections? Will you support getting the DHB elections off the ballot?

I am utterly unconvinced that electing the District Health Boards is a meaningful exercise. And I say that because I’m really well informed, but have I ever read anything in the paper about a decision made by the District Health Board? Do I know who the people are in most instances? No. And I’m the ultimate political junkie.

What would be the one project that you would hang your hat on this term? The one thing you’d like to point to as your biggest achievement?

I don’t know if it’s a “one thing”, but it would be to further advance giving this city a world class infrastructure. 

I think it’s upgrading the provision of public transport generally. Because it’s busways, it’s light rail, it’s heavy rail, and it’s active modes of transportation. So I’ll make it a one thing – it’s further progressing the development of world class infrastructure in this city and starting in a meaningful way to tackle the problems of climate change. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length

The Spinoff local election coverage is made possible thanks to The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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