The bridge to nowhere

In News6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 6, 2021

It’s amazing how a bad poll can cause a government to furiously back-pedal on its policies. This week’s Newshub-Reid Research poll was not good for the Labour Government, with a drop in support of 9.7 points.

Two key issues we have addressed, and the public agrees with us on, were the folly of a $785 million walking and cycling bridge across the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, and the freeze on residency applications and immigration settings both keeping needed workers out of the country, and forcing those settled here to leave.

The cycle lobby is small, but very vocal, being made up of the sorts of people that have the Government’s ear. So, it was with much fanfare in June that the Government announced a separate structure for walking and cycling alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

You didn’t have to know much about infrastructure builds in the current climate to figure that the $785 million price tag would inevitably blow out to make it the billion-dollar bike bridge.

The allergic reaction from the public was instant. The Government hadn’t read the tea leaves and appeared out of touch with New Zealanders who wanted that large chunk of change spent on what they believed to be more important things. People are really struggling in New Zealand and those people aren’t part of the cycle lobby.

In the Newshub-Reid Research poll the question was asked: Do you think the Government should spend $785 million on a cycle bridge?

 A whopping 81.7% said no; 11.9% said yes; and 6.4% said they didn’t know. Labour didn’t even have the support of its own voters – to that question 75.5% of Labour voters said no; 17.4% said yes; and 7.1% didn’t know.

You would have to be tone deaf to not listen to that, so it was no surprise to see Finance Minister Grant Robertson, in the wake of the poll, saying the bike bridge may not go ahead and the focus would be on a second harbour crossing for vehicles.

As we advocated against that money being spent on a vanity project and instead being put to better use fixing New Zealand roads that are vital, but in an appalling state of repair, we are happy to hear this. The basics that make our economy work have to be right before such trimmings can be added.

On the immigration front, every day brings another sad story of a hard-working immigrant who has been separated from their family for two years or more, is unsure of their status in this country, or the status of their family, and may have to leave. Many of those leaving are in jobs where we have skills shortages.

Businesses are struggling to survive with a chronic shortage of workers. This is hitting our industry too and with an unemployment rate of four percent announced this week – the biggest quarterly fall in 35 years – there is just nowhere to go to fill the gaps. We have spoken to the Education and Workforce Select Committee at Parliament about the immigration settings in relation to Covid-19, and advocated for individuals caught up in the mess that is immigration right now with, seemingly, no work being done on applications.

We have also written to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to outline the concerns many transport operators shared with us around delays in getting visa renewals for their workers. We asked to meet with him to convey the general and real issues our industry has with worker shortages. While we know operators are making every effort to employ local, we know that some need to supplement their workforce from overseas. Sadly, we haven’t yet heard back from the Minister, but I will keep you posted.

With residency applications frozen, New Zealand’s approach to immigration is looking decidedly cruel and unnecessary, even in the time of Covid. Fortress New Zealand is looking out of touch with the rest of the world.

The public agrees. In the Newshub-Reid Research poll respondents were asked: Does the Government need to create more exemptions to help these people? A resounding 61.3% said yes; while 24% said no.

That’s good to see when it feels like there is a very anti-immigration climate in this country. That perception was what the Government were banking on, but it turns out not to be the reality. Maybe New Zealanders are kind.

Advocating for our industry has much more power when you know the public hear what you say and are in agreement. It’s important that we continue to convey our contribution not only to the economy, but to the fabric of New Zealand that has made us the envy of the world.

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum