How Banks Went Off Track


In a rather dull Auckland mayoral campaign played safe by leading candidates, airport rail was the under-the-surface hot button with voters.

Manukau’s Len Brown, physically closer to the airport and consistently making transport his big issue, got it.

John Banks, who originally made noises about the possibility, cuddled up to transport minister Steven Joyce (who told him & the world it wouldn’t happen) instead of Banks cleverly cuddling up to voters, whom he only had to promise he would do his best to persuade his perceived political masters.

The National government-friendly conservative National Business Review, in its Friday newspaper editorial, acknowledged that it was airport rail that was the issue that had most appealed to popularist voters, although the paper insists it’s not an economically feasible idea and won’t be happening.

The paper’s editorial also acknowledged that the TV3 Nation programme which saw Brown and Banks go head to head was a turning point.

That weekend morning current affairs programme is said to be watched by only about 56,000 viewers so could not by itself change an election but the fallout and wider exposure it got certainly did and it became a symbolic difference between how the candidates would treat their public post-election if elected.

It was on that show that Brown said he would work for getting airport rail while Banks said he definitely wouldn’t and made the definitive statement no airport rail in the world was making money.

As this blog pointed out soon afterwards, the statement is not true. Brisbane’s AirTrain airport rail service makes millions and has nearly 2m commuters using it a year, including Kiwis enjoying their favourite holiday destination.

That blog post was by far the most read of any post in this site’s 2 year history and was sighted by both campaign teams. Banks’ team said the information Banks used had come from their policy team but made no attempt to publicly correct it. The post was still being read until the final voting day and being referenced.

Banks crossly saying no to the notion of Aucklanders having airport rail now, soon or in the next few decades, was a sign of how Banks went off message half way through the campaign.

He sounded like a grumpy old father telling his teenager he couldn’t borrow the car to take out his girlfriend without providing any decent argument for the decision. No, you can’t, my decision, bugger off.

Banks by now had morphed from the calm inclusive transformed person who loved his new about-to-be extended whanau. He was displaying the grumpy intolerant side some had seen in past mayoral years or feared was always still lingering under the surface.

Airport rail was a hot button even among those who never used rail at the moment because for Aucklanders:

  • Many of us have been caught short while trying to drive to the airport to catch a domestic flight especially because of a traffic holdup or mis-judging the travelling time
  • The outrageous taxi fares and disgusting hassling that goes on among dodgy taxi cab drivers trying to get your business when you exit the airport
  • Some worry about their car being broken into or stolen as it’s obvious if you park at the airport, you won’t be back to the car in a hurry giving thieves enough time to steal
  • Many of us have travelled overseas and  catching a train to and from a city’s airport is what you can do in most modern cities  -even in neighbouring Sydney and Brisbane
  • Tourists love airport rail rather than taxis especially young people watching their budget.
  • The cost of parking at the airport especially for more than a day, despite recent competition in that space.

It became a symbol of the differences between a grumpy oldtimer and a smiling politician who kept reminding us he wanted to work for the better of Auckland.

The pressure from the polls suggesting that despite Brown’s early credit card wobbles, he was making gains was starting to show on Banks’ public behaviour - and one can only sympathise for the personal torment he was facing after discovering his son was involved in the fatal Kings College student’s drinking session, a case that led to Banks having to tearfully front the Coroners Court in the last week of campaigning.
That must have been a nightmarish distraction.

His media advisers, including top professionals who had worked at TVNZ and TV3 news, had performed miracles early on but as the pressure grew, Banks threw away his script and looked increasingly unpleasant. By the time he came to do a final TVNZ Close Up debate, he was saying things about how dreadful South Auckland was that only bigoted Paul Henry could top.

If he thought that shored up the white middle and upperclass votes in conservative areas of the inner city and North Shore, he might have been right but he had forgotten that he was now campaigning for the whole of Auckland, including thousands of people who live in the area he had put down. So if elected, would he recommend bulldozing South Auckland, the area he now represented but loathed?

Banks had also forgotten that he could no longer rely on the conservative C&R majority for getting his policies through the council as voters were also eyeing an MMP-type selection of independents and a mix of parties for their choice of council.
Key said before the results he could work with either candidate as mayor but there will definitely be some in Cabinet disappointed that their local body reform they steamrolled through parliament has ended up giving a platform for Labour and liberal candidates rather than being a mirror of national politics.

Voters who haven’t bought into parts of or all of the local body reform certainly had associated the former National minister Banks with it which also didn’t help.

Thank goodness we have Len Brown as an advocate for it.

But let’s never forget that former mayor and light rail advocate Robbie couldn’t deliver his rail vision for Auckland because a National government blocked it and said it wouldn’t allow it to happen that way. (corrected government from earlier version)
Len Brown Videos - How I’ll work with the Government and I will deliver rail
Video: Len Brown- why i won
Council lineup
Len Brown wins mayoralty - how other candidates did

Photos - Len Brown celebration party




  1. Ian says:

    Len now has to deliver on his promises or at least some of them. You can be damned sure Mr S. Joyce wont be going out of his way to help.

  2. Manny M says:

    Re airport rail - build a link from the airport to Puhinui Station. Simple.

  3. Matt L says:

    Manny - that would be a sure way for the line to be a failure, going from Onehunga is more expensive but opens up the rail network to far more users

  4. Commuter says:

    “Robbie couldn’t deliver his rail vision for Auckland because the Labour government at the time blocked it”.
    Small error of fact there. The Labour administration agreed to the Auckland Rapid Transit Project proposal (1974). Its approval was overturned by an incoming National party government in 1976. Not the first time National had aborted plans to improve the rail network in Auckland (1932, 1956) and the current regime hasn’t exactly been forthcoming either other than not cancelling the current projects.

  5. karl says:

    “Small error of fact there.”

    Not so small, methinks. Please correct, Jon. Otherwise, I strongly agree with your post. How can you expect to govern a city of which you just declared your opinion that a good part of it is a shithole?

  6. Andrew says:

    Excellent news. Airport rail will from Onehunga, through Mangere, Airport Oaks to the Airport will open up PT for that whole region. Plus, if also looped through to Manukau/Puhinui then the Overlander could travel from Britomart via the airport south picking up large numbers of tourists and bringing in much needed cash.

  7. Kurt says:

    I can only hope this trucking industry backed motorway loving government sits up and takes notice.

    Change is in the wind and no amount of pointless grinning from the PM will stop it.

  8. Jon C says:

    My bad. Thanks for pointing it out

  9. Sam says:

    Airport rail to Melb (Tulla) was acc to what I heard blocked by legislation e.g so monopoly Skybus can remain in place.

    In Sydney there is a rail service but it’s privatised & expensive so ppl just take conventional bus routes which go past the airport. Various travel guides recommend avoiding Sydney airport rail due to cost.

    Plus, the private, expensive part is underground so how many backpackers & tourists want to spend $$ on that? Take the cheaper bus and see some sights!

  10. Paul Q says:

    @karl - I personally know a number of people who were going to vote for Banks until he made that TV gaffe about “south Auckland”.

  11. Manny M says:

    Sorry Matty L, but I disagree. A line from Puhinui to the airport will not be a failure, in fact it will be the perfect starting point to build from.

  12. Matt L says:

    Manny - The Puhinui link would only cater for people going to or from the Airport and would also make the rest of the network less efficient as we would then have 3 branch lines coming off the main line which makes it hard to put high frequencies on.

    Going from Onehunga would give 3-4 additional which would help to boost patronage on the network even further and would also allow more services to go through Onehunga which would help that line as well.


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