We must deliver

In Newsletter Editorial5 MinutesBy Dave McCoidAugust 6, 2021

We had the good fortune to spend a few days in and around Gisborne this week. The upbeat, welcoming atmosphere of the city and wider region’s folk flies in the face of what they must deal with daily regarding road access. I guess history is not short of examples where the habitually oppressed are often remarkably upbeat about their lot, especially when there’s little hope in sight.

On the lead-up to the trip, Gisborne had been occupying a lot of thought time for me. No prime minister in our recent history has been more opposed to road transport than Ardern, yet she chooses an entirely truck-dependant city in which to wed. Every aspect of the big day’s fanfare will arrive by truck. Yes, there are family connections, I get that. But there’s still an element of choosing that location that sticks in the craw – a flip of the bird almost – when her administration intentionally delivers such appalling roading infrastructure to a region that delivers so much to the country’s bottom line.

The trip brought home the stark reality of just how bad the roading situation is in New Zealand. Locations throughout the country just poured into my thought process.

“Is it worse than the Tākaka Hill?” I thought. “I mean, at least Gisborne has two lanes in and out in all directions? Is it worse than Warkworth to Ruakākā? All of Northland? Napier to Taupõ? Lewis Pass? What about SH3 Hamilton to New Plymouth?”

Because of the people, level of activity, and utter dependence on the roads for their economic survival, I determined Gisborne and the rural economy of the North-East Cape probably fared worse.

Gisborne is serviced from the outside via SH2 and 35, and both are well beyond woefully inadequate. To be frank, they’re bordering on derelict. The potholes that we determined were killers, the locations of subsidence, and the surface degradation bode an ominous warning.

Then there’s the time, cost, and Kiwis’ ability to rectify the current state of the roads. It’s more than a cause of great concern.

Anyone who has read Rebecca Macfie’s account of the Pike River tragedy will know  the myriad of contributing factors to that disastrous event. One of huge significance was the behaviour of the government and the restructuring of the mines inspectorate in the years leading to that terrible day, such that resourcing was inadequate to detect and rectify what was going on.

In the wake of that event, the sudden rebirth of the Health and Safety at Work Act double-downed on employer-facing compliance. Today’s regulators invariably start any presentation with a “we’re here today because of Pike”, inferring it was an entirely employer-driven event, which is an ongoing deflection from any admission of culpability on their part.

The goings-on at the transport regulator in the years since Pike would indicate one party in the whole thing has learned nothing from history. Firstly, there’s the ongoing state of engineering compliance, and now the roads would warn of an even more alarming catastrophe in the wings. As a workplace, WorkSafe’s absolute inaction on the roading issue severely weakens its credibility on any level.

What makes it worse is this catastrophe is chronic and must be addressed while the workplace is functioning. There’s no shutting the road network while it’s being fixed. Ironically, the roads are the single most important component of the mechanism that will earn the money to affect their own revival.

As both employers and representatives of our scarce and precious workforce, the road transport industry must make a stand and demand better, now!

All the best

Dave McCoid