The 2020 New Zealand Trucking Association Industry summit took place on Saturday 21 November at Riccarton Racecourse, Christchurch.

This was the second time Kane Patena, general manager, regulatory services, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), presented at the New Zealand Trucking Association Industry Summit. The first was in 2019 when he was just a couple of weeks into the job. At the time, the agency was in the middle of a period of independent reviews into its regulatory failures – one carried out by Kristy McDonald QC and the second by Martin Jenkins for the Ministry of Transport. Both reviews pointed to a systemic failure within the agency. Patena‘s presentation, therefore, focussed on what had happened at the agency in the roughly 18 months since the reviews.

A “wicked journey”, as he described it. Step one was to clear the backlog of cases facing the agency – which was done – before delivering on a “back to basics” plan. “There are instances where we just haven‘t been regulating at all. So, our focus was to say, ‘Look, we know there are gaps in the system. We need to start plugging those.‘ “We‘ve had to be pretty careful picking the areas that we are going to focus on and improve. My summation is that I think we‘re in the right direction. I think we‘ve made progress.” Patena spent the rest of his presentation talking about the NZTA‘s subsequent regulatory strategy, signed off by the board in April 2020. The strategy focussed on how the agency delivers on its role and a) improves safety across the network, and b) ensures there is equity for equal access and use of the land transport system. “We called our strategy Tu Ake, Tu Maia.

What it does is set out our regulatory purpose. It‘s grounded in statute and legislation, and it puts that beyond any doubt. The agency had lost its way; we were almost ashamed of the fact we were a land transport regulator,” Patena said. “It also sets out what kind of regulator we want to be. We do want to be best practice and we do need to look at how others do it, whether that‘s in other areas within New Zealand or overseas, and benchmark ourselves against their performance. Equally, we know we need to continue to improve and invest in certain areas we know will be critical to our success.” Patena said the most significant investment involved the agency‘s people. “You can have the best information and systems in the world, but ultimately you‘re relying on relationships and people exercising good judgement and discretion, assuming they have the right information. “Fundamentally, our strategy is about how we go from failure to best practice. We know it‘s going to take time to get there, it‘ll take a sustained effort.” How should regulatory best practice look?

Four underpinning pillars in the strategy suggest the agency is:
1. A systems leader with oversight of all users.
2. Risk-based and focused on harm prevention.
3. Responsive and forwardthinking.
4. Informed by evidence and intelligence.

Patena described how these pillars have already come into practice. “One of the really important things reflected in our strategy is we recognise that even though we have a role to play as the regulator, we don‘t control the system. If we want to improve safety across the system, we cannot do it alone; it needs to be a collaborative effort.” He commented that evidence of this could be seen through and after the lockdown period. Then, complicated issues – such as WoFs, CoFs, licencing and movement in and out of Auckland – needed to be worked through with the transport industry and the Ministry of Transport. “Was it perfect? Maybe, maybe not. But at least we were able to solve it,” he said. “I know that had a profound impact on our people – that we don‘t need to do this on our own, but work collaboratively with others to solve areas of common interest. That‘s exactly what a regulator should be doing.”

Finally, Patena discussed the five key capability shift areas upon which the agency must focus for continued improvement.
1. Strong governance and accountability.
2. Trusted and valued relationships.
3. Robust and consistent decision-making.
4. Thriving regulatory culture and courageous people.
5. Innovative technology and intelligence.

These shifts provide a “flavour of where we‘ll be directing our efforts to improve our regulatory performance over the next five years”, he said. “They bring a focus to good regulatory practice so that we can target our effort for the greatest impact. They are all interconnected and cover the full scope of our regulatory role.” Again, Patena made a few comments, starting with governance and accountability. “It‘s a positive move that the board is actively engaging in our regulatory performance. This follows recommendations from the 2019 reviews.” Here Patena also spoke about the re-establishment of the role of director of land transport that came out of the legislative change.

“Before we [the NZTA] were established, there used to be a director of land transport, effectively a chief regulator. That‘s what‘s in place for Maritime New Zealand, for civil aviation, so we‘ve put it back in place for land transport. The appointment takes effect from 1 April 2021 and the director will have independent statutory responsibilities to regulate. The board or minister can‘t interfere, which helps protect the objective, integrity and independence of the regulatory function.” Patena also highlighted capability shift area No2 – trusted and valued relationships – reiterating the need to work across various sectors. “Expect a shift in the way we view and engage with stakeholders, in how we continue to improve the system as a whole,” he said.

“I think NZTA and the director of land transport have a really important advocacy role to play. We are the delivery agency, not the policy agency, but what we can do is use data evidence and insights about the performance of the system in conjunction with the ministry and the sector. If there are issues of safety that we think might require a shift in policy, there‘s a genuine role we have to play in helping to shape some of that policy in the future. “That‘s really important because we know the way the land transport system operates today will be different in a few years‘ time. There is a lot coming down the pipeline that could disrupt the way the land transport system operates that will require us having good policy. I don‘t see NZTA as the one just delivering the regulatory services,” he concluded.