Below The Belt


Let’s give the new Auckland Transport body a fair go.

It’s easy to jump in a few months out from its start of operation and slam the word fail across it but that just plays into the hands of those who, for political reasons, need it to fail.

On Friday, an interim chief of Auckland Transport was appointed after an apparent fruitless search to find a global transport expert prepared to move to New Zealand for New Zealand wages.

He’s 60-year-old Dr David Warburton, currently the chief executive for Australia and New Zealand of infrastructure and consulting company CPG, part of Downer EDI.

No-one seems to know a lot about him and Google searches don’t throw up anything he has said about transport.

But it’s below the belt for Labour MP Phil Twyford to issue a statement associating him with controversial mayor and potential NZ First leader Michael Laws (not relevant) and question his degree.

Says Twyford’s statement:

“David Warburton did not appear to have any significant experience in urban transport. I understand Mr Warburton did his PhD on dairy shed effluent at Massey. He was Wanganui District Council’s CEO under Michael Laws, and then led a Melbourne-based engineering firm that does very little urban transport work. Mr Warburton may well be a good manager, but I would have thought leadership in big city transport systems would have been a prerequisite for this vitally challenging role.”

If the MP really knows something we should all know about the man’s qualifications then by means go to the proper authorities.  But many of us have dabbled with degrees that seemed interesting at the time but don’t have any real direct bearing on what we end up doing as a career other than they showed our ability to engage and succeed in academic thought and research.

The backbench opposition MP who is Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman,also seems to be trying to suggest public transport won’t figure as a priority in the new agency.

“There are approximately 1000 jobs in the new transport agency. They have specialists on urban design, stormwater, cycling and walking, and several parking meter specialists. But no bus system development specialists as such.”

The new CCO is charged with all things transport of which public transport is a major part and it will be impossible for it to ignore it.

His office will be at the present Waitakere council HQ which is adjacent to  the Henderson train station so he will see public transport working outside his window.

Let’s welcome Mr Warburton to the job and instead of badmouthing him before day one, let’s be positive and helpful and instead suggest the things we would like him to prioritise.




  1. Jeremy says:

    I welcome the info on David Warburton, I’m glad there are people doing checks on his background, I don’t think he would have expected anything less.

  2. joust says:

    and we wonder why the high-fliers from London and Perth dropped out of the running. These people get such a hard time. So his PhD didn’t look at the intricacies of population densities in australasian cities and how transport affects them or some meaningless rubbish like that, big deal. The fact that he’s got one to start with admirable. He’s also willing to stick his neck out for this kind of ridiculous political point-scoring makes me want to support him based on nothing else. Totally agree Jon C, give the guy a break and lets see how things go. The new model is new for everyone and is going to have major teething problems, if he and his colleagues at the agency can smooth over some of those they’ll be doing well.

  3. Jon C says:

    @Jeremy The MP’s comments about Michael Laws and his thesis are completely irrelevant to any background checks on the guy.
    They are just bitchy and nasty and full of innuendo.
    I know someone who works with Michael Laws and is far from a fan but what would Laws and what he gets up to have to do with any job she applies for?

  4. Joshua says:

    Agree 100%, my fear is he will get criticised during the first year of operation, although this is the year which will be the hardest. I hope him well and look forward to see the impact he could have on transport in Auckland.

  5. karl says:

    “and we wonder why the high-fliers from London and Perth dropped out of the running. These people get such a hard time.”

    They get it everywhere in the world. Fact of life - everyone’s a traffic engineer, and everyone’s a breakroom politician.

  6. joust says:

    @karl I’m not sure that opposition MPs would be publicly questioning someone’s qualifications mere days after being appointed “elsewhere”

  7. karl says:

    @Joust - not sure what you are saying? Are you missing a “National” in your sentence? Or should the “would” in your sentence be a “should”? Not quite sure what you are trying to say?

    All I am saying is that a post as high as boss of Auckland Transport is at least 50% politics. And politics is always played a bit (and sometimes a bit more) dirty. Was the same way in Ancient Greece as in Churchill’s Great Britain and today’s New Zealand. And as personal attacks go, questioning whether somebody’s professional qualifications are suitable for a professional job is pretty tame stuff, in my mind. You could even argue that it is quite relevant - even if not done in a friendly spirit.

  8. karl says:

    Oh, and if you want to know why people are just a WEE bit sceptic of all things Auckland Transport, here’s a good summary of one major reason:

  9. jarbury says:

    I think if there are rumours that Auckland Transport CCO’s structure, as is being set up, isn’t properly considering public transport then we absolutely need that pointed out. The CCO will have immense control over our transport future, and relatively little political oversight. Therefore its senior staff and its structure will be really important in determining the quality of our future transport outcomes.

    In terms of the guy’s background, I think it’s worthwhile noting that he has no urban transport experience. That may not be a bad thing, but I think it’s worth knowing.

  10. Commuter says:

    Twyford’s press release mentions Warburton’s qualifications and experience only in passing and I think the comments are, under the circumstances, fair and reasonable. If the positive outcomes anticipated for Auckland by the Royal Commission come about then Auckland Transport needs to succeed and the CEO position is key (absolutely no pun intended) to this success. Twyford’s informed agitation has been critical in ameliorating some of the more loony proposals emanating from Hide and Joyce and I’d suggest his concerns can be accorded a degree of credibility. In actual fact we know so little about Warburton that it’s good to hear a bit more; and the fact that he has no apparent experience of urban transportation is a major concern. For example, I’ve a PhD in history with a thesis looking at the formation of semi-governmental bodies but that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to run Fonterra notwithstanding the fact that I’ve also worked on a farm.

  11. Carl says:

    It could be worse - he could be an Auckland traffic engineer ;-)

  12. DanC says:

    I wish him all the best. A fresh pair of eye’s. I do hope he gets around on public transport.

  13. Joshua says:

    Commuter - You will find that you don’t need to be a farmer to run Fonterra, you will also note you don’t need to be a electrical or communicational engineer to run telecom, these would not really help you from a CCO’s position that significantly, you do however need managemental and certain business skills to take up these positions, same with this position.

    Allot of CCO’s may have experience in those fields purely because of the route they took to get to that position, however many don’t as they changed paths while in management positions.

    Left sitting MPs at the moment are just picking on anything National does and criticising them, as this is their plan while in Opposition, I feel National and Hide have been very fair in setting up the Super city including the Auckland Council, we could have much worse, the Voting has even been set-up to give the Left the advantage from the start, even though National and Hide are actually on the right.

  14. Doloras says:

    The important thing is that Phil Twyford has been unremittingly negative about everything in the new supercity set up from day one. That was the Labour Party’s decision - to deliberately pander to NIMBYism, parochialism and kneejerk grumpiness, because that garnered more votes than constructively suggesting better, more democratic SuperCity alternatives. (Eg Penny Bright talking about “the corporate takeover of Auckland” - because the existing eight councils are great models of grassroots democracy and social justice!) And I’m not surprised they haven’t stopped now.


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