Simeon Brown

National’s Transport Spokesperson

“Thank you for the role you have played in keeping New Zealand moving in the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thank you for keeping our goods moving, our supply chains operating, and making sure we have had food on our shelves, and the pharmaceuticals in our pharmacies, and for making sure that those people, particularly in Auckland where I’m from, have been able to stay connected despite having one of the longest lock-downs in the entire world.”

That was National’s transport spokesperson Simeon Brown’s salutation to the summit. He also acknowledged the cost pressures the industry was under, saying National supported the government’s reduction in road-user charges. He said that while it had positively impacted cost pressures, it did not address the underlying issues.

Cost pressures and inflation

“The government needs to tackle the underlying causes of domestic inflation and not continue to pour fuel on the fire with its wasteful spending and budget giveaway,” he said. “The government needs to stop adding costs to businesses – they need to remove bottlenecks in the economy and get government spending back under control. They need to ensure there is tax relief for hard-working Kiwis, and they need to ensure the Reserve Bank has a sole focus on inflation. And also, they need to make sure we have an immigration policy and organisation that actually supports businesses rather than putting red tape in the way.”

Brown said that under Michael Wood, Waka Kotahi NZTA has spent $25 million on an office refurbishment during a cost-of-living crisis, and that sent all the wrong messages. Continuing to spend thousands of dollars on the giant red zeros campaign was a waste of money, he said. Michael Wood and the government needed to take control of the agency, refocusing on core purposes rather than an ever-growing remit of things.

He said the country needed its potholes fixed and for the government to stop wasting our petrol taxes and road user charges. In Labour’s time in office, Brown said the Waka Kotahi NZTA had taken on 1000 additional staff and a growing backroom bureaucracy.

Perception and actuality

“The trucking industry is often criticised for many things – whether it’s people who think there are too many trucks on the road, or the people who say they simply want everything to go on the trains. However, the reality is, 93% of freight in New Zealand is moved by trucks on the road, and that statistic is not going to change any time soon, regardless of how much money the government decides to spend on railways.”

He said trucks were the lifeblood of logistics in New Zealand – and National understood that. “We will be 100% focused on supporting your industry and helping it tackle the challenges ahead,” he said, acknowledging there were big challenges that wouldn’t be solved by spending millions on cancelled cycle bridges, or a $29 billion light- rail system in Auckland that might never get built. Brown emphasised the challenges would be solved by infrastructure that made a difference, citing Transmission Gully and the Waikato Expressway, roads he attributed to the National governments of the past, as examples. National would get back to building infrastructure that made a difference, he said.

“National is listening, engaging, and preparing policy for the 2023 election.

We want to make sure our policies have a vision of taking New Zealand forward, growing our economy and finding practical solutions to the problems we are facing as a country.”

He said he was engaging with councils, representative bodies, and operators to understand what was important. Although not in a position to state particular policies at present, he highlighted three key areas.

The National Land Transport Fund should focus on the best and most efficient infrastructure rather than meeting political goals, and ensure roading receives due maintenance.

Brown said while rail was important, it was not the purpose of the NLTF. It should be funded appropriately via a system that delivered high-quality rail projects, rather than rail receiving a $150 million cheque from the Waka Kotahi NZTA each year. He added that to date, rail had contributed only $7.2 million in track-user charges – the system established late last year.

He said the sector needed to ensure the focus was on the delivery of maintenance and renewals, not just funding, adding Minister Wood had admitted maintenance spend with reduced outcomes.

Resilient regional connections. Brown said the following RNS (Roads of National Significance) projects had been cancelled under Labour; Whangarei to Port Marsden, Mill Road in South Auckland, the East-West Link in Auckland, Tauranga Northern Link, Otaki to Levin, and Christchurch to Ashburton. “What Labour did was not only short-sighted, but they’ve left a massive infrastructure hole for New Zealand.”

He said lockdowns, ballooning construction costs, and shortages as skilled labour left the country meant Labour’s “Backfill”, New Zealand upgrade programme was also falling significantly short on promised outcomes.

Brown emphasised the importance of the sector in moving freight around the country and to ports, adding that congestion and inefficiency had a direct impact on economic productivity, also implicating the government’s speed reduction programme. “We will have an ambitious policy focused on improving New Zealand’s productivity creating better regional connections with a particular focus on improving regional freight connections around our country.

“While we all agree that we need to be focused on reducing emissions from the transport sector, we can’t let an ideological approach drive our policy.”

He said National and Labour both agreed on reducing emissions and the net-zero 2050 target. But National’s pathway there was significantly different, relying less on ideology and more on practicality. Brown said Labour’s emissions reduction plan required a 20% reduction in kilometres travelled by 2035, and that it would soon be sending bureaucrats out to the regions to establish regional plans. “While we have to reduce emissions, that is primarily driven by the industry and technology, rather than simply by driving less.

“National is fully supportive of measures being taken by the transport sector to invest in new green hydrogen, electrification, and other measures to reduce emissions.”

He said Labour’s ERP contained higher thresholds for new roading infrastructure, requiring them to be consistent with emissions-reduction objectives. “The minister himself has said New Zealanders can expect fewer new roads to be built under this plan.

“Cutting emissions will happen through technology improvements, sensible investments, and industry making the big decisions, not the government.”

Brown said policies must incentivise without making it difficult to continue in business.

In his closing comments, he said: “We are working with the transport sector to ensure we are finding the solutions we need for our country to move forward, to have a world-class transport connection, and to ensure we have a funding model that supports it.”