Livestock transporters need to be treated fairly

In News10 MinutesBy Dom KalasihDecember 15, 2023

Last week I joined livestock transport operators and Federated Farmers via phone to speak with new Associate Spokesperson for Agriculture Joseph Mooney in Invercargill.

It was good to have the opportunity to discuss the current issues facing the sector and Transporting New Zealand is following up to make sure the new coalition government takes our members’ concerns on board.

It’s been a tough time for livestock operators, particularly those who are facing increasing pressures of compliance. We don’t think that’s fair, which is why we are calling on the government to act.

There is important background context that needs to be taken into consideration when managing the transport of livestock. In mid-2021, Transporting New Zealand led an Issues Workshop that involved the Ministry of Primary Industries, Waka Kotahi, and WorkSafe.

A key finding was that many of the issues that were identified are largely due to influencers in the supply chain other than the transport operator.

For example, the vast majority of the volatility and uncertainty faced by transport operators is largely a result of the business practices of farmers, livestock agents, and meat processing plants. Exacerbating the journey management challenges for transport operators are other issues such as the increasing lack of resilience of the road network, unplanned delays from road works, and disruptions to ferry services.

As a consequence, the sanctions being faced by truck drivers and operators are often underpinned by factors outside of their control.

In acknowledgement of that finding, we led the establishment of the Livestock Supply Chain Charter group which is a collective of representatives across the supply chain. That group seeks to improve the obligations, responsibilities, and expectations of the respective parties in the supply chain and it has various initiatives underway.

A particular area of concern was the recognition that the current land transport worktime legislation does not provide the appropriate level of flexibility that transport operators need to manage the uncertainty and volatility they face nowadays. This is even more so in livestock transport where the needs of animal welfare add an additional layer of dynamic complexity.

In acknowledgement of that, alongside a few operators and Waka Kotahi, we’ve been working as hard and as fast as we can on a trial to find alternative means of enabling greater flexibility with driver worktime.

Given the background and the work that our sector currently has underway to find remedies, we are urging the various ministers – Transport Minister Simeon Brown, Agriculture Minister Todd McLay, and Police Minister Mark Mitchell – to work together on these issues.

The risks to road users and livestock transport need to be regulated and managed in a way that is fair and appropriate. Currently, thatdoes not appear to be happening.

It’s clear there are abundant challenges facing the new government in the transport sector; among them, roading, speed limits, and overhauling regulation. So far, Transporting New Zealand has been very pleased with the direction and action by the new coalition government. We’ve lobbied hard over the last two years for the removal of the legislative obligations on road controlling authorities to impose blanket speed reductions. This week, Minister Brown confirmed in the house that this change is underway.

A shift back to a more risk-based approach and getting the regulators and policymakers to take into consideration other important aspects like productivity and climate is a very welcome change for us. It’s great to see the coalition getting some early runs on the board.

We have outlined our main priorities in our briefing to the incoming minister:

Transporting New Zealand’s Immediate Priorities

  1. Rewrite GPS24 to prioritise road maintenance, network resilience, and strategic roading investments.
  2. Confirm the commencement date and funding sources of the Government’s 13 new Roads of National Significance and four major public transport upgrades.
  3. Commence an urgent review of the heavy vehicle permitting system to identify and remove barriers to uptake of more productive trucks.
  4. Urgently progress amendments to Land Transport Act 1998 to fix the stalled roadside drug testing regime.
  5. Accelerate Ministry of Transport’s policy work removing regulatory barriers to Zero Emission Heavy Vehicles, currently scheduled for completion in 2025.
  6. Repealing or substantially amending the Land Transport Rule: Street Layouts 2023 “Reshaping Streets” regulatory changes that currently allow vehicle traffic to be unduly impeded.

Transport and State-Owned Enterprises

  1. Provide an industry briefing on KiwiRail’s Interislander ferry service and the steps necessary to provide Cook Strait services that are reliable and safe.

Immigration and workforce

  1. Immediately amend immigration settings to allow transport companies to fill critical workforce gaps across all sectors and licence classes, while continuing to support domestic workforce development and competency assessment.

You can read the briefing in full on our website here.

Government makes radical course change

The announcement that the government will not provide $1.47 billion to continue KiwiRail’s plan for two new ferries and terminals is a good call, but substantial service improvements are still required.

Infrastructure projects are going over budget all the time and it is good that KiwiRail is being held to account.

It appears the blowout is primarily due to the development of the port facilities in Picton and Wellington, rather than the two ships that are being built in Korea for delivery in 2026. But the fact that information on the blowout is so sketchy is symptomatic of what I see is the bigger problem, which is cost management on major infrastructure projects.

The Cook Strait ferry service is a continuation of State Highway 1 and it is essential for freight, passengers, and the wider New Zealand economy that we have a safe and reliable service. Substantial improvements are essential – our current aging ferries cannot operate reliably. There have been too many breakdowns and disruptions to services which are enormously damaging to the freight sector.

However there is no need to panic. The new ferries weren’t due until 2026, and that gives KiwiRail and the Government time to agree a reasonable alternative. KiwiRail’s initial business case suggests this could include newer second-hand ships which could be supported by smaller new vessels capable of being lengthened at a later date. Transporting New Zealand will keep a watching brief on any developments.

Which is why in our Briefing to the Incoming Minister, number seven of the eight priorities for immediate action was our request for an industry briefing to be provided on KiwiRail’s Interislander ferry service and the steps necessary to provide Cook Strait services that are reliable and safe.

Between $15-20 billion in freight travels across Cook Strait each year, so it’s important to put the cost increase in that context. With freight predicted to grow 1.4 per cent per year, it’s not an issue that can be put off.

Improving the resilience and capacity of the ferry service is important, but we also believe that there is a lot of scope for all the stakeholders affected, including freight operators, to work with KiwiRail to find a workable, more affordable alternative.

All indications are that there will be increasing demand for crossing that water so I envisage even if that wasn’t to be KiwiRail, the market will step up and provide a service.

– By Dom Kalasih, interim chief executive Transporting NZ