Hold politicians’ feet to the flame on promises

It’s election season and the promises are rolling in. Whoever the public of New Zealand vote in to lead us for the next three years, they must demand delivery on those promises.

We are facing the most difficult three years ahead in many of our lifetimes – except those who have lived through wars. Covid-19 continues to baffle experts on how to live with it, or vaccinate against it. Meanwhile, countries such as New Zealand become increasingly isolated with closed borders, unemployment levels will leave scars for years to come, those who are hanging onto employment are stressed to the max, and money without interest is becoming increasingly worthless.

These are tough times and they have exposed a number of cracks. Our biggest city Auckland, responsible for the lion’s share of our GDP (nearly 40 percent) has been battered in the past two months. First there was the debacle of cutting it off from the rest of New Zealand at Level 3 and then late last week, a weather event took out much of the capacity of the Auckland harbour bridge. A permanent fix is likely to be months away.

Given New Zealand’s high-risk profile due to its susceptibility to numerous natural disasters, as well as biosecurity incursions, weather events, and now a pandemic (which has always been planned for), it has been extraordinary to watch the scrambling round by Government to respond appropriately.

This week, Treasury asked us for our views about the Covid-19 experience so far and they seemed surprised when we listed the government departments that were missing in action from our perspective. Yet the Government and the public of New Zealand expect there to be food in the supermarkets and things for them to buy as if the supply chain works by magic, regardless of the disaster.

The only agencies that seem to have a grasp of the exports-imports nature of New Zealand’s ability to survive economically – and therefore, an understanding of the supply chain – are the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Rule number one of preparedness for disaster is having a good network of stakeholders in advance. Yet as key stakeholders on the supply chain front, we have had to bash down doors to get the government to understand how goods get from A to B and why it’s important. Oxygen for that hospital treating Covid-19 patients anyone? This Government seems to have an aversion to advice from the business community.

When people sit for hours in traffic – as they did at the Auckland road borders in Level 3 and they have trying to get from the North half of Auckland to the other half this week – you lose productivity. Costs go up, as freight is delayed. Time is money. Not everyone can ‘work from home’, certainly not those in the supply chain.

The vulnerability of Auckland has made some things crystal clear. You can’t have your major city put under the pressure it has been in the past couple of months. That’s before we even get onto the lack of water for the summer months ahead.

There needs to be investment in infrastructure that is holistic and coordinated to give the best economic outcomes for the country as a whole.

Auckland needs to be a big focus of that investment – the rest of the country will benefit from that.

There needs to be an alternative harbour crossing and moving the country’s main port for its largest city more than one hundred kilometres away to Whangarei is a ridiculous folly that needs to be axed now. Imagine how that would have played out with a broken harbour bridge.

It’s time for whoever is in Government to get real about the state of our economy and the link between infrastructure and our recovery from Covid-19. We want to see evidence that the promised ‘shovel ready’ projects have a shovel, in the ground, with someone on the end of it, starting now. There also needs to be evidence of how many jobs were created and what was the return on investment for the economy.

We cannot waste money on the pet projects of politicians. There needs to be a solid plan. You could be forgiven for thinking right now that money grows on trees, but it doesn’t. It’s borrowed and one way or another, it has to be paid back.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

* Find out what the five main parties are offering the road freight transport industry on our dedicated General Election 2020 page here.