The need to prioritise freight

The world has been living with Covid-19 since February 2020, we’re going to have to find permanent ways to deal with the disruptions it will continue to cause.

The disrupted supply of goods from overseas is having a huge impact on New Zealand businesses, as is closing the border to all but the lucky few who winthe MIQ lottery. Shortages are only going to get worse – raw materials, parts and assembled products, foods we don’t produce here, and there is a scarcity of workers and the skills and knowledge needed to grow our economy.

As if all this wasn’t enough, our industry was hit with the two of the three Inter islander action in September.

The Kaiarahi was diagnosed with gearbox problems and was put out of service, and Sydney for drydock work, at least a fortnight.

KiwiRail had a load- Blueridge’s Strait Shipping to manage capacity, and we were assured freight would continue to flow, but this was industry needed during a lockdown.

New Zealand’s supply chains are already under strain due to a combination of domestic and international factors.

I recently met with Minister of Transport Michael Wood and KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller to discuss how removing two ships from the freight system at a time of national stress would compound our supply chain problem.

Unfortunately, I did not receive a satisfactory explanation from Miller.

I only wish KiwiRail and the government had done a bit more forward planning into the operations of Inter islander because the consequence of having these two ferries out of action was to slow down the economy further. After all, Inter island and KiwiRail are owned by the government.

Supply chain issues were further compounded when Dr Ashley Bloomfield decreed that essential workers, including truck drivers, crossing the level-4 Auckland border needed to have had a Covid-19 test within the previous seven days.

This came as a complete surprise as there had been no consultation with the industry before the go-ahead was given to implement it.

We have no issue with Covid-19 testing per se, but we weren’t happy with being blindsided by law changes on the fly with no explanation of how they are supposed to work.

Understandably, there was a lot of stress among drivers and operators – a new testing regime was coming into force, with spot-testing to begin, but absolutely no word from the government on how this would work on the ground.

There was also no information on how to prove testing had taken place. Even the police were left scratching their heads about how they would enforce this and how they would actually deal with having to turn trucks around if a driver could not prove a recent test.

If we had been consulted on this testing requirement, we could have developed a plan that provided what the government was asking for in a way that resulted in the least possible disruption to the supply chain. Unfortunately, the current government seems determined to ignore the very industry that enables the country to keep running.

Covid-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, which means we need a government that listens to the needs of the private sector and is willing to work with us to help solve the problems associated with the virus and its impacts.