Incoming Minister for Auckland Michael Wood said his arrival in the newly re-created portfolio signals a renewed linked-up focus on the city.
He also took a dig at his rival Simeon Brown, for whom National created the Auckland shadow portfolio earlier this month.
“I look better with a shovel in my hand than he does and I actually know how to use one,” Wood said, joking about images of Brown assisting with the Auckland clean-up over the weekend.
Brown replied to Wood’s jibe saying the minister was “well known for being the chief proponent of a wasteful cycle bridge over the Auckland Harbour bridge, rather than a minister who gets things done for Auckland”.
There has not been an Auckland-specific minster since Judith Tizard held the “Auckland Issues” portfolio for most of the Clark Government.
The role was disestablished but both National and Labour have re-established it this month.
Wood said he understood some of the grumpiness felt by those in the city following a tough couple of years that began with multiple Covid-19 lockdowns and continued to the floods this weekend.
”I was here the whole time [during lockdown]. This is my city. This is where my family lives. I was here throughout that period. I know that Auckland had to bear a lot on their shoulders throughout that period.
“There were definitely times when people felt frustrated. That feeling doesn’t always go away quickly,” Wood said.
He said that Aucklanders “understandably feel under the pump”.
Wood will have to find a way to work with Auckland’s cantankerous mayor, Wayne Brown, who has not shied away from criticising the Government, particularly policies like light rail.
Wood said he believed Mayor Brown respected him and the Government.
“Auckland will do well when central government and local government respect each other, listen to each other, and work together,” Wood said.
“We’re the elected government of the day, he’s the elected mayor of the day. When we work well together we can get good outcomes for the city”
He said he has had “straight up discussions about a range of issues” with Mayor Brown.
“Does that mean we agree on everything? Of course not,” he said.
Mayor Brown congratulated Wood on “winning the best job in Cabinet”.
“Michael has been great to work with as Transport Minister, & I’m looking forward to getting cracking after the current emergency on the single, integrated transport plan covering all modes & taking into account changes to the use of our prime waterfront land. Michael & I agree on most things, & we also know & respect our differences, which we’ll resolve over the next couple of months. The Prime Minister has made an excellent choice,” Mayor Brown wrote in a Tweet.
Wood said that the Government’s hallmark transport policy, Auckland light rail, was still his policy as minister.
However, he acknowledged that like all government policies, it was on the table as the Government looked to trim down its work programme.
There is no guarantee that it will not get cut from the agenda, although Wood’s comments suggest it is likely to stay.
“For me as Minister of Transport, I remain totally committed to making sure Aucklanders have a well-functioning, connected public transport network,” Wood said.
“The PM said we are going to have a board stocktake across a range of portfolios. We are in that process. We are in that period. That [light rail] is the policy at the moment. It is one that strongly connects to the need for Aucklanders to have a linked-up network,” Wood said.