John Tamihere has thrown down the gauntlet to Phil Goff - fix Auckland's housing crisis or he will run for mayor and do it himself.

The prominent Waipareira Trust chief executive is setting himself up to challenge Goff for Auckland's top job at next year's local government elections.

He has described Goff as running a "dictatorship" which is doing nothing to help house those earning $80,000 a year or less and attacked Auckland Council as "arrogant".

On Goff, Tamihere said: "He is enforcing inequality and it is the tale of two cities and he is building it."


Tamihere is a high-profile - and often controversial - figure. A lawyer by training, he led Waipareira Trust from 1994, then served as a Labour MP from 1999 with a role as a Cabinet minister after the 2002 election.

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He lost his seat in 2005 in the wake of publicity about inflammatory comments he made about colleagues then unsuccessfully challenged Sir Bob Harvey for the Waitākere mayoralty in 2007 before heading into further controversy as a talkback radio host.

In recent years, Tamihere's focus has been unwavering in developing Waipareira Trust and as chief executive of Te Pou Matakana, the North Island Whānau Ora commissioning agency.

Tamihere's threat to challenge for the mayoralty comes out of a relationship meltdown with Panuku Development Auckland, the council-controlled body currently selling off public land to balance the Queen City's books.

The catalyst for Tamihere's frustration was disagreement over the level of social housing in developments planned by Waipareira Trust on land sold by Panuku.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff. Photo / Greg Bowker
Auckland mayor Phil Goff. Photo / Greg Bowker

He said the way Panuku was restricting social housing levels meant the city was locked into market rule driving up property prices and rental costs.

"They're just an arrogant bunch of bastards. There's a culture and a monopoly that is they're used to telling people to bugger off or do it my way or forget it".


Panuku was approached for comment on its social housing plan at midday on Thursday.

Yesterday communications and marketing manager Joanne Perry said no one was available to speak.

Tamihere is speaking at a full meeting of Auckland Council next week in a bid to convince councillors and Goff to change Panuku's mind.

If it doesn't, he said the National Urban Maori Authority would seek caveats - legal blocks - over Panuku land. It would then seek a High Court ruling Panuku breached the Human Rights Act by excluding large groups of Aucklanders from owning homes built on land it was selling.

A legal opinion for Waipareira Trust provided to the Weekend Herald stated council had a case to answer in relation to a specific development.

Tamihere said the people excluded included those aged 65+ and others who retired without their own home or large savings, those earning $80,000 or less and those receiving benefits.

"The divide between rich folk and poor folk has become extraordinarily stark. This social engineering policy will drive poorer people out into the margins or into really decrepit housing situations."

John Tamihere in 2012, celebrating after being welcomed back into the Labour Party. Photo / Doug Sherring
John Tamihere in 2012, celebrating after being welcomed back into the Labour Party. Photo / Doug Sherring

Tamihere said he would go after Goff's job if nothing changed.

"Well you can't keep crying wolf. Sometimes you just have to step up.

"If this advocacy doesn't work, well then you've got to do a Penny Bright," he said, referring to the terminally ill veteran activist who has challenged Auckland Council.

"You have to back your convictions. If this thing plays out wrongly, then odds on, I will give it a go. You can't just be a bleater."

Tamihere said council was bloated, unapproachable and unwieldy. Beyond his frustrations with Panuku, there were issues with other bodies including Watercare.

"My point is that the culture of service owed to ratepayers is non-existent. We're seen as a pain in the arse.

"And that is because the culture permeates from the top. I think you've got to change the culture straightaway.

"I think they're overpopulated. I think they do business in a very poor way. There's a lot of fat there that needs to be trimmed."

John Tamihere and long-time partner Awerangi Durie married in 2007. Photo / Anthony Phelps
John Tamihere and long-time partner Awerangi Durie married in 2007. Photo / Anthony Phelps

The Mayor's office was approached with a request to interview Goff about a serious contender, without naming Tamihere.

Goff would not be interviewed, sending a statement which said: "We live in a democracy and anyone who wishes to stand is welcome to do so."

Political maven Michelle Boag - former president of the National Party - said Tamihere could "split the race wide open".

The local government election next year is set for October. Previous campaigns have suggested a year's planning and $1 million is needed to win.

She said Tamihere had quizzed her about his interest in running for mayor because of her knowledge around previous campaigns.

In the 2015 election, Goff won the mayoralty with 187,622 votes. His nearest challenger Vic Crone got 111,731 votes.

Boag said she believed there were 100,000 votes for any strong candidate running in opposition to Goff and that 140,000 would be enough to win.

"It gets down to how the vote is split." Other challengers could divide voters, she said.

John Tamihere on appointment to Cabinet in 2002. Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Tamihere on appointment to Cabinet in 2002. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She said those who would normally consider putting forward a right-wing candidate would have to consider if Tamihere could meet their interests. If so, it could clear the field.

Auckland councillor Chris Darby said Panuku was not being asked to "maximise financial return" to the council.

He said some land released for housing developments reflected council supporting projects which made allowance for affordable or social housing.

Darby said Panuku had approached him in recent weeks to discuss its "housing mix policy", which would help it set levels around how land was used.

He said he had told Panuku - with the backing of the mayor - the levels should be set by Auckland Council as Panuku's governing body.

Darby said the planning committee, of which he was chairman, was preparing to address again the question of supporting affordable housing in Auckland.

For those earning $80,000 a year, he said "even going to the fringes of Auckland is not going to get you in".

"You might have a price point but you'd have a motoring mortgage forever. People are resigned to not owning. But it's not just not owning - it's the price of rent.

"There's heightened resignation. We've got a generation of people not seeing a future in Auckland."

Social housing organiser Terry Foster - who worked on social and retirement housing programmes - said the cost of land was a major hurdle to providing affordable housing.

He said Panuku as a holder of public land that was being sold "do it at market rates" and "they are still out for making a profit".

The contender: John Tamihere
Age: 59
Profession: Lawyer
Māori Television Service board member
Ngāti Porou ki Hauraki chairman
Ngāti Porou ki Hauraki lead negotiator
Whānau Ora's North Island Te Pou Matakana chief executive
National Urban Māori Authority chief executive
Former Labour government Cabinet minister
Former member of the Auckland Council Independent Māori Statutory Board