Comment: Misrepresenting our industry

By: Nick Leggett, Photography by: Supplied

Transporting NZ CEO Nick Leggett says the industry has been misrepresented by Waka Kotahi in order to support a highly politicised ideology

Poorly maintained for so long, the Napier-Taupo Road has seen a reduction in serious incidents since improvements were made

New Zealand has traditionally been the envy of the world when it comes to the professionalism and integrity of our public service. As other western democracies wrestled with how to get the best out of their public officials while either struggling to maintain political neutrality or creating space for political partisanship, it seemed as though New Zealand had long had the formula right.

Unfortunately, the past few years have, at least in my view, seen our public service step over the line when it comes to satisfying and publicly advocating for Government policy.

Although outside of my mandate as chief executive of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, it has been hard to ignore the Three Waters television ad campaign being run by the Department of Internal Affairs.

These cartoonish ads depicting poor water quality have been heavily criticised as misinformation, misleading and taxpayer-funded propaganda with a number of complaints made to, but not upheld by, the Advertising Standards Authority.

Far more relevant to our industry is a series of TV and radio advertisements from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency as part of the ‘Safe Limits’ campaign intended to convince the public that the widespread reduction of speeds across our roading network are all in our best interests.

Most galling for the road freight industry is a specific 30-second radio ad pretending to convey the thoughts of a truck driver on why speed limits need reducing. Apart from the almost offensive practice of using a paid actor reading a script to play a truck driver, with all the usual hackneyed stereotyping that involves, the ad is particularly intolerable because it intends to shift public opinion by misrepresenting the position of our industry.

The view being represented, which is that the current speed limits are too fast, is completely out of line with the reality of the roading situation and the views of the industry.

Our industry, and particularly our drivers, more than any other users of the road, understand safety. They have the biggest stake in it, spending the majority of their working life exposed to the dangers inherent within our roading network as well as the poor practices of other drivers.

I am extremely unhappy that the industry has been misrepresented by Waka Kotahi in order to support a highly politicised ideology. Not only is that disingenuous but it deflects attention from the actual concerns the industry, and professional drivers, have around safety.

The issue of road safety in New Zealand is down to a number of factors, only one of which is speed. Probably the most significant factor, and one that truck drivers are extremely familiar with, is the poor design and maintenance of the roads themselves.

A great example is the Napier-Taupo Road that recorded seven deaths within a span of six months last year. Following a lot of lobbying from Transporting New Zealand and our associations, as well as other road user groups, extensive improvements were made to the road surface and combined with a greater police presence, the safety record of the road significantly improved.

The same pattern is illustrated by the new expressways built over the past 10 years – despite some construction issues, the safety record of these routes is outstanding and compares extremely favourably with much safer roading networks overseas.

I have no problem with the Government going out and defending its political position on issues important to it, but that used to be the domain and responsibility of Government ministers. Instead, we now have taxpayer-funded (and in Waka Kotahi’s case, road-user funded) public service agencies doing the dirty work for them and misrepresenting the views of our industry in the process. To my mind, that’s not on. 

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