COMMENT: by Georgina Campbell

The biggest issue with Julie Anne Genter’s Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter is not that she wanted mass rapid transit built ahead of a second tunnel, it’s the secrecy around it.

It should come as no surprise the Green MP and Associate Transport Minister wanted public transport to be prioritised over roads.

National says this revelation shows the Greens are pulling the strings on Wellington transport.

But let’s not forget the Greens are a part of a coalition government.

The party has been campaigning for light rail in the capital since the 1990s, so it’s understandable why they decided to pick this fight.

In fact, it would be strange if they didn’t.

It’s true that building mass rapid transit ahead of a second Mt Victoria tunnel goes against some advice that construction on the two projects should start at the same time.

That’s prompted some to speculate mass rapid transit has been prioritised based on ideology rather than the facts.

But at the end of the day the package is indicative, meaning it’s not completely set in stone.

Whether the Government will entertain the idea of resequencing the project after detailed business cases have been completed remains to be seen.

That’s when we’ll find out the true influence the Greens have over Wellington’s transport as well as just how far the party is prepared to go over mass rapid transit.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter have been ordered to issue a statement over the secret letter. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter have been ordered to issue a statement over the secret letter. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

So we come back to the letter and why it ended up gaining traction.

As soon as there’s a whiff of secrecy, sparks tend to fly, and that’s exactly how the letter saga started.

In a written parliamentary question Genter was asked what correspondence she’d had with her ministerial colleagues about transport plans for the Wellington region. She replied there was none.

In another question, Twyford was asked what correspondence he’d received from Genter about transport plans in the region. He replied there was none.

But an Official Information Act response revealed that actually there was one piece of correspondence, the infamous letter, which Genter refused to release.

The pair had to correct their responses to the questions to acknowledge the letter’s existence.

That gave Wellington based National list MP Nicola Willis ammunition for the line- “at best it’s sloppy and at worst it’s evasive”.

The Herald asked both Genter and Twyford for comment about what influence the Greens had in putting roading projects off the table or on the backburner in LGWM.

They were asked about the parliamentary question errors and Genter was asked about her decision to withhold the letter.

Both came back with responses that didn’t directly address those questions.

Instead they talked about how the Government had managed to “land” a package that would reduce congestion and create a more “liveable” city by making it pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and improving public transport.

The plot thickened when the letter saga landed in the House.

Genter made statements that she wrote the letter in her capacity as a Green Party transport spokesperson, but subsequently confirmed she wrote it on Ministerial letterhead and signed by her as the Associate Minister.

The Chief Ombudsman had some pretty stern words to say about that.

“The statements in the House generated significant public and parliamentary debate, as well as confusion, public disquiet and speculation.”

The Ombudsman ruled Genter was entitled to withhold a copy of the letter to maintain the ability to have free and frank discussion between Ministers, and between Ministers and political parties.

But she was still made to issue a statement, along with Twyford, to provide clarity to the situation.

The statement revealed that in exchange for her support, Genter did in fact ask for mass rapid transit to be prioritised ahead of a second tunnel.

After all the hoo-ha, that’s fuelled months of speculation, it seems it really would have been a lot easier to just be more up front in the first place.

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