Friday, February 12, 2021

New Zealand Trucking editor Dave McCoid had a one-to-one Q&A session with the new Minister of Transport, Michael Wood.

Photo: Michael Wood

It’s high time the post of transport minister was held by someone who understands and is ready and willing to engage with the industry. With Wood’s recent appointment as Minister of Transport (as well as Minister of Workplace Relations & Safety), we felt it was an opportune time to understand early on where he sits philosophically with regards to the road transport industry. In opposition Wood was Labour’s spokesperson for Transport, Revenue, and Consumer Affairs – so he has at least some familiarity with the portfolio. Given the former minister of transport was borderline apathetic, and the associate minister was outwardly not a fan of the industry, will it be smoother roads ahead this term?

Let’s kick off with a really basic question – as a citizen of New Zealand, what’s your impression of the road transport industry?
Trucking plays a really important part in the economic and social structure in New Zealand; more than 90% of goods transported in New Zealand do come through trucks and our broader freight system. It’s absolutely essential to how we go about and live our lives. Like any sector, it faces some challenges and opportunities as well in a changing world. We’ve seen in Covid how important that connectivity is. We know there are challenges around making sure we’ve got an adequate supply of drivers, some of the standards within the industry; that big looming challenge not just for trucking but pretty much for everyone around the drive for decarbonisation. So, an incredibly important sector and lots of issues for us to work on in the next few years.

The transport portfolio, was it something you put your hand up for or something you were given?
It was something I really wanted to have. I’m an Aucklander born and bred, so I can see as well as anyone how the issues of transport policy and whether we get it right or not affects people’s lives. One of the things I’ve learnt quickly in this portfolio is everyone has a view on transport because everyone is affected by transport one way or another. It’s one of the ways we can improve New Zealand’s economic performance, the ways in which our cities and our regions work, and our environmental outcomes if we get the policy right and work together. It’s just a hugely interesting space. If you look at the core things we’re trying to achieve, they’re things most people would sign up to – making our cities and regions work better, moving freight around more effectively, saving lives, and that big challenge of decarbonisation. If we can agree on those goals, it’s a very exciting challenge to work out how we get from A to B. That attracts me, that kind of problem solving, and I’m sure we can do it.

More than 93% of freight is moved by road, at a time where the infrastructure in the regional state highway network routes is detonating faster than ever witnessed. How do you plan to address that in the context of road freight being an absolutely key component of our climb out of the Covid economic situation?
What we’ve inherited is a pretty long period of neglect across many of our regional roads. In the last term of government we started to put additional funding into the GPS in the category of road maintenance; that pretty much flatlined under the previous National Government. We’ve increased it significantly; we’re renewing 60% more of those regional roads that were being renewed by the previous government. We’ve started making progress there, but there are a hang of a lot of roads in new Zealand, so we’ve just got to keep that up and that’s one of the things I’m committed to as transport minister: as we add new projects into the mix – and that’s a part of what we’re doing – that we don’t forget about looking after what we’ve got. In my inbox every single day I get alerted to every single state highway where there are these issues, and I’m going to keep working with the NZTA to make sure we keep on top of that maintenance programme.

As a transport minister, how do you see your role in educating the public of the importance of road transport and helping to defeat the somewhat of a pariah status we often have in the community?
I think it’s a real shame and wrongheaded if people are thinking of the trucking industry in that way. As we’ve discussed, a huge number of our goods get to market and to customers because of this industry and that needs to be acknowledged. One of the areas maybe we need to talk through with people a bit more is the way in which transport does work together. I am a minister who believes you don’t just look at one part of a transport system, you look at the whole chain from A to B. I want to build up a system in which we have all the modes – be it trucking, rail, coastal shipping – working together really effectively. We haven’t always done that well in the past and I think as we transition to doing that, we need to make sure people understand what it’s all about; it’s not about running down any one sector, it’s about getting things to work together well.