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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Goff flays Nats over Rugby World Cup chaos

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Phil Goff. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Phil Goff. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The usual peal of interjections from National's side of the House soon petered out. The dozen or so Government MPs present in Parliament instead shuffled in their seats pretending they were not listening to what they were hearing.

And they would not have liked what they were hearing because they knew there was more than a grain of truth in what was being said.

He may be leaving his run rather late, but Phil Goff yesterday delivered his best speech in a long time.

Short as it was, it mercilessly tore strips off the Government for its handling of the fallout from last Friday's chaos on Auckland's rail network and on the city's waterfront. The speech was more effective for being more measured than the standard Goff vent-spleener.

Goff has to be careful. Labour cannot afford to be seen to be putting a downer on the Rugby World Cup.

But Goff was primed. The Rugby World Cup has given Labour an opportunity to go after National that it never expected.

Goff's theme - one echoed by following Labour speakers - was that John Key and his ministers had failed to front up and take their share of responsibility for what had happened. They were instead consumed with laying the blame on everyone else.

First, Goff told the House, it was the Auckland Super City's fault. "Well, that Government created it." Then it was all Auckland Transport's fault. "Well, that Government set up the council-controlled organisation and they appointed most of the board."

Then it was the fault of Veolia, the company contracted to run Auckland's rail network. Then it was the fault of someone who had pushed the emergency button on their train. "Well, they pushed the button because kids were fainting, old people were ill, they had sat there for an hour. The transport system had failed."

It had failed despite assurances from Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully and Transport Minister Steven Joyce. "I accepted their assurances everything was fine. I believed John Key when he said everything was in place. It was not in place ... Why was it we we were told by Steven Joyce that there were contingency plans in place for the transport system? There were no contingency plans."

This all added up to one thing in Goff's view: an absolute failure of ministerial oversight.

Worse, National had then played politics in deliberately humiliating Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

It fell on Paula Bennett as National's next speaker in the debate to fight back. She referred to Labour's "relentless negativity". While Labour might want to paint it black, she wanted to Paint it Black - as in All Blacks.

Bennett's accusation was misplaced. Goff had been relentlessly positive about the rugby, using the adjective "fantastic' four times to describe the country's mood. The only disappointment was that the country had been let down by its Government.

Goff's colleagues applauded as he sat down - this time because they wanted to do so, rather than feeling obliged to do so.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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