The government’s handling of the RWC opening and the resulting chaos has been both incompetent and insulting to Auckland. Incompetent because they were warned. They were warned about the likely transport issues two years ago:
Auckland World Cup warning two years ago
The Government was told more than two years ago that Auckland’s infrastructure was not up to scratch for the Rugby World Cup. Yesterday Labour slammed what it called an “embarrassing shambles” that left thousands stranded on Auckland trains ahead of the world cup opening ceremony, but Prime Minister John Key refused to accept responsibility. …
But Labour says the Government must accept at least some of the blame, because it had received a report from the Auckland Regional Transport Authority on Rugby World Cup transport planning in July 2009.
The report, obtained by Stuff, said at that time there was “an attitude of `this is a small increase in business as usual’.” “The impression is that the level of public transport required for RWC2011 is a little above normal. The levels of patron movement and operational standard [needed for the RWC] are in reality significantly above what is currently delivered.”
The Queens Wharf fan zone would “create a number of transport challenges given its close proximity to the Ferry Terminal, Queen Street and Britomart”, the report said.
The Nats were also warned that Party Central was in the wrong place, but they bulldozed it through anyway. As a Herald editorial in July 2010 put it:
At last … the wrong decision
The drawn-out saga of Queens Wharf has become such an embarrassment that it is tempting to greet Friday’s compromise with a sigh of relief. … With the Rugby World Cup barely a year away, decision is better than indecision, but … Queens Wharf was always going to be – and remains – the wrong place to do it.
The very name “Party Central” should have served as a warning that a disaster was in the making. … And imagine the private reaction of police – from the top brass to the lowliest constable – at the news that the Prime Minister was wanting all the rugby fans in Auckland to gather in one place at the same time and start drinking. …
But the Government’s paternalistic, not to say bullying, determination that it would tell Auckland what was best for the city suggested that it had learned nothing from the stadium debacle.
So now it’s decided … But it will remain the wrong plans in the wrong place at the wrong time. … In a country already borrowing $250 million a week, it is madness to pursue the Queens Wharf option when the Viaduct Events centre is being built anyway; is scheduled for completion well before the Rugby World Cup; and is far better sited, close to an entertainment precinct rather than tucked behind a commuter ferry terminal. As our informal poll today suggests, most Aucklanders think a Viaduct location makes more sense.
But Wellington politicians knew better and pushed ahead, with John Key cheer leading and Murray McCully micromanaging:
In particular, he [McCully] was keen to micro-manage the Cloud and to broadcast the attractions of Party Central. While the Queens Wharf area was largely trouble-free, its ability to hold only 12,000 people was the source of many of the problems.
As late as Friday morning McCully was giving us his personal assurances:
RWC won’t break down Auckland’s transport – McCully
Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully has assured Aucklanders their city won’t grind to a halt during massive opening night celebrations. …
Sceptical Aucklanders have voiced concerns the train service will break down and roads will clog up with so much traffic that cars will be brought to a standstill. Mr McCully said he had faith transport would run smoothly.
“Logistically, we’ve done our best to make sure we’ve got those contingencies covered,” he said. “We’ve got all of the people that have a role to play talking to each other over many months now so I think we’re as well prepared as we can be.”
Then when the shit hit the fan, suddenly, not a Nat to be seen. Brian Rudman summed up:
Buck stops nowhere for Cup night chaos
For months, Prime Minister John Key and his Rugby World Cup party planner Murray McCully have been tweeting the world, inviting all and sundry to cruise down to Party Central on September 9 and have a ball. …
Now, like teenagers cleaning up the mess at their parents’ house after that gathering for a few mates went feral, Muzza doesn’t want to know. The minister who’s been driving every one involved batty with his micro-managing of the project, says he was out of the room at the time. It’s everyone else’s fault. …
If only someone had thought of the Domain, a natural amphitheatre where crowds can expand to fill the space available, and where more than 2000 people could view the live stage. Did no one remember the Christmas in the Park successes?
On Saturday night’s television, Mr McCully refused to apologise to the fans whose night was ruined by the rail chaos. It was a churlish, ungracious response.
I could go on for a bit about insulting too, but this post is already long enough. I’ll leave it to Brian Rudman again:
The Auckland Council is less than a year old. It was the Government’s prize creation. In one eccentric move [“seizing control”], Mr McCully and Mr Key have not just demonstrated their contempt for the city’s leadership, they have deliberately humiliated the mayor and shown how hollow their talk of partnership was.
No one would argue that Auckland Council has to share responsibility for Friday’s failings. But so does the micro-managing minister and his team of bureaucrats who have been overseeing every step in the preparations. With an election looming, such contemptuous arrogance should have every Aucklander wondering, what is next?
Key and McCully hope that “seizing control” will be good public theatre. It gives the impression that the government wasn’t in control before, and are now stepping up to the rescue. Given that the biggest event of the RWC is now behind us, and given that plenty of fans won’t want to have anything to do with Party Central ever again, it’s likely that things will run more smoothly from now on. Key will claim a “victory” for the government, and plenty of people will believe him. It’s very clever politics. Which seems, after this dangerous fiasco, to be just about all that this government is good at.