The Government will inject the New Zealand Transport Agency with an extra $45 million after an independent report concluded it had failed in one of its major responsibilities.
But the Government blames National for the failures in the transport sector that led to Transport Minister Phil Twyford commissioning an independent report investigating NZTA.
The review, undertaken by agency Martin Jenkins, found that previous transport ministers had directed NZTA to “focus on building roads” at the expense of keeping people safe.
The report also found that NZTA had failed to properly regulate the transport sector under the previous Government.
In response to the review, the Government has confirmed it will adopt all of its recommendations and plans to implement them as soon as possible.
The recommendations include:
• Injecting NZTA with an extra $45 million to help bolster its regulatory obligations • Create a statutory Director of Land Transport who is responsible for carrying out NZTA’s regulatory functions and powers • Getting NZTA’s board to develop a new regulatory strategy • Instructing the Ministry of Transport to update the NZTA’s regulatory objectives
Twyford said these changes would help to equip NZTA for the massive transformation the agency will undergo in the coming years.
Ministry of Transport chief executive Peter Mersi welcomed the report and its findings this morning.
“As [the] monitor of transport Crown agencies, we share responsibility for the regulatory failure.”
He said the report was a “wake-up call” for the ministry.
In November last year, Twyford directed the Ministry of Transport to review the performance NZTA’s regulatory functions.
The review comes on the back of a number of concerns which emerged around NZTA’s regulatory function and a backlog of compliance cases that have not been properly managed.
“When this issue was brought to my attention I was seriously concerned about the scope and seriousness of the failures that have occurred,” Twyford said at the time.
A trucking survey is pointing to low pay, long hours and driver monitoring as reasons why some drivers are leaving the industry.
First Union has carried out its In It For The Long-Haul survey involving 384 truck drivers, union and non-union employees and contractors.
The survey was conducted by person-to-person interviews at locations throughout New Zealand. Results reveal an ageing workforce and a number of drivers who say the job isn’t attractive as it once was.
The survey reveals that 2.9% of drivers are younger than 25 and 73.5% are 45 or older. This is consistent with international trends pointing towards a growing shortage of truck drivers.
First Union divisional secretary Jared Abbott says the results confirm pay, hours and the intensification of driver scrutiny are the reasons people are leaving the industry.
“So many of our sectors rely on truck drivers to keep businesses running, so many of the products and services we use and consume everyday have been delivered by a truck, this needs to be a wakeup call.
When asked why they were leaving the industry, pay, long hours and driver monitoring were the most mentioned reasons (pay 80.4%, long hours, 51.7%, driver monitoring, 41.9%).
Abbott says that truck driving is becoming less appealing and the reasons for this need to be addressed.
“More importantly, we have been warning about the industry becoming less appealing due to pay packets that seem to be stuck in neutral and invasive in cab cameras.
“Pay is not what it used to be and drivers are under more pressure to work even longer hours to make up for the inadequate pay.
“Further, we really need to ask whether driver facing cameras are having a positive effect on health and safety at all. With increased anxiety amongst drivers adding to fatigue and experienced drivers leaving the industry, how can this be positive?”
The NZ Transport Agency has released new performance based standards (PBS) for non-standard heavy vehicles to meet the safety performance requirements equivalent to standard vehicles.
The safety performance requirements for a standard heavy vehicle are contained in the Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule 2016 (VDAM).
However, alternative heavy vehicle combinations such as high productivity motor vehicles have to be carefully designed to make sure they meet the principle set by the VDAM rule – that they are as safe as a standard vehicle.
PBS are used to assess whether a non-standard heavy vehicle will be safe to operate on the road.
Safety is primarily determined by how the vehicle fits on the road and its ability to take avoidance manoeuvres at speed without losing control.
Previously, PBS were largely based on standards developed overseas. The new PBS are better suited to New Zealand’s more frequently narrow and winding roads.
NZTA regulatory general manager Kane Patena says the new PBS encourage better design and safer performance on the network.
“In particular they’ll exhibit improved tracking within a lane on tight curves and allow productivity improvements such as being able to simultaneously cart a 20 and 40-foot ISO container. The new PBS will enhance safety while maintaining, or even improving, productivity.
“The new PBS provide a transparent and consistent process for assessing non-standard heavy vehicles. They’ll provide certainty to the industry on what truck configurations they can put on the road, particularly for the new high productivity motor vehicle fleet.”
The new PBS were developed in consultation with industry representatives. The standards were internationally peer reviewed and extensive computer modelling was undertaken, which was then validated by practical on-road trials.
In public, Shane Jones plays the role of a populist, repeatedly railing against the use of migrant labour.
But it has emerged that in 2018, Jones privately lobbied a Cabinet colleague on behalf of an associate who was seeking accredited employer status from Immigration New Zealand.
The high profile NZ First MP appears to have done so after he had been briefed that the company, owned by former Whangārei Mayor Stan Semenoff, faced investigation by the safety regulator which could see it ordered off the road. Jones has also become involved in that case, raising accusations of interfering with a government prosecution.
Conferred by Immigration New Zealand, accredited employer statuswould have streamlined the process of hiring migrants for Stan Semenoff Logging, a large Northland log truck company, such as bypassing the need to check if Kiwi workers are available when hiring.
In written Parliamentary questions, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said Jones visited him in his Beehive office on August 20 to raise Semenoff’s application for accredited employer status.
It appears the meeting was unscheduled.
If the status had been granted, Semenoff could have hired foreign truck drivers “without first having to check if any New Zealanders can do the work”, according to Immigration New Zealand’s website.
In return, accredited employers “must take direct responsibility for the workers you employ” and pay a base salary of at least $55,000.
It does not appear that Jones’ efforts to assist Semenoff were – or even could have been – successful.
Lees-Galloway checked with Immigration New Zealand and was told the application had been turned down four days before Jones met him.
“This decision was an operational one …[which] is not subject to Ministerial Discretion or other override.”
After an official from Jones’ office wrote seeking an update, Lees-Galloway’s office later called Jones “to explain that I had no ability to override the decision”.
Days earlier, Jones and some of his ministerial colleagues had been briefed on NZTA’s possible action against Semenoff, which came to a head earlier this year.
Jones and Semenoff have both spoken publicly about the fact that they are related in the past, although Jones has recently downplayed how close the link is as he faced questions about becoming involved in the case of the transport regulator against Semenoff’s company.
Jones did not respond to requests for an interview or provide answers to written questions.
In a statement, Lees-Galloway said Jones’ approach was “not out of the ordinary”. MPs often approached him about immigration cases “because of the availability of Ministerial discretion” however no such discretion existed in the area Jones raised.
Jones raised the case directly with the chief executive of NZTA, while in a media interview, Jones warned of the potential economic ramifications if Semenoff is not able to operate. The company accounts for around half of all logging transport in the province.
National’s regional economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the meeting with Lees-Galloway was another example of Jones attempting to help Semenoff and should be explained in greater detail.
“It seems to be part of a pattern of inexplicable extra attention to this particular firm from Jones and I do think he needs to explain it a bit more,” Goldsmith said.
“There is a pattern now emerging of numerous attempts by the Minister [Jones] to lobby on their behalf, knowing that there was a pending investigation by NZTA,” Goldsmith said.
The Mayor and the Minister
Jones and Semenoff have talked about each other repeatedly.
Back in 2009, Jones explained away a $2000 donation from Semenoff, then the mayor of Whangārei, as a koha from “my mother’s cousin”.
Within weeks of becoming a junior minister in the Helen Clark Government in 2008 (during his first term as an MP), Jones issued an official statement as Building and Construction Minister, shooting down Semenoff’s reported claims that extractor fans were compulsory in new homes.
In 2010, at around the same time as Jones was mired in an embarrassing expense scandal, Semenoff was “thrown out” (his words) as mayor of New Zealand’s northernmost city.
Three years later, he talked big words as he bid to get his job back, insisting his removal had delayed the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway.
He also talked up his friends in Wellington.
“This is why I talk about, we’ve got to get closer to the government of the day,” he said.
“If my cuzzie Shane [Jones], which we are cousins, should make the mark, we’ll certainly cuddle up to him.”
When Jones was asked about his relationship with Semenoff this year, his office briefly denied he had received a donation. It then played down the closeness of the relationship.
Semenoff’s “great, great grandmother is my mother’s great, great, great grandmother”, Jones said in Parliament. The pair shared a common ancestor in Victorian times, he said later.
“The Upper North Island Supply Chain Study has focussed solely on rail and this does Northland no favours,” says Annabel Young, Executive Director of the NZ Shipping Federation, talking about the Interim Progress Report of the study group. “Their rail-centric view has blinded them to the opportunities available to Northport that are not dependent on rail.”
A dry dock in Whangarei would be a win-win for both the city and New Zealand as a whole; but in the interim report it gets a scant one-line mention. The lack of a dry dock is hurting this country due to the environmental and financial costs that have to be incurred when our coastal shipping operators are required to dry dock their vessels off-shore in Singapore or Australia. There are already cases where overseas ships are avoiding New Zealand due to the toxic combination of high biosecurity cleanliness requirements for a vessels hull and secondly, the inability to clean a ship in a dock that does not fit in the Devonport dry dock.
We note that the interim study assumes that cargo landed in Northport would need to be moved by rail which ignores the obvious possibility of movement by sea, as is done now in many other parts of the world using smaller domestic coastal ships and barges.
This first report sets up a paradigm where rail is deemed to be the only answer. The Federation believes it may be asking the wrong questions.
The New Zealand Shipping Federation began in 1906 and is the key representative body for New Zealand’s coastal ship operators.
An inland port in west Auckland and a vehicle importing and servicing centre at Northport are among a dozen potential transport investments a working group is considering to improve freight handling in the upper North Island.
The group, formed last year, has spent the past eight months talking with users and imagining how the existing ports at Auckland, Marsden Point and Tauranga – and the road and rail links between them – could be reconfigured to provide the best options for long-term growth.
It plans to report back to the government in June with options and complete more detailed costings and recommendations in September.
“There are a large number of infrastructure options that may have a part or full place to play in changes to the upper North Island supply chain which will be considered,” chair Wayne Brown says in a progress report filed with Cabinet’s Economic Development Committee earlier this month.
“For example, in evaluating one of our options that involves moving some of Ports of Auckland’s freight task to Northport, we will consider potential infrastructure that may be required to support this,” the group says.
They include: “a spur to Northport, which we understand the current government is investigating; upgrades to the existing North Auckland Line; potential short-term operational changes, such as moving freight through Auckland on the commuter network at night; potential long-term new infrastructure requirements such as a new rail line out west of Auckland to avoid congestion in the Auckland public transport rail network and connect through to the current inland freight terminals; and the potential establishment of new inland freight terminals.”
The Upper North Island Supply Chain study was the result of a pre-election pledge by NZ First to move container operation from Ports of Auckland to Northport by 2027.
While there is broad consensus that Auckland’s port will be increasingly constrained by the city’s development around it, there is no agreement as to how soon change is needed, how much freight could be redirected through Tauranga or Northport, and how that would be achieved.
As recently as 2016 a study group recommended work start assessing Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames as long-term replacement options for Auckland. Last August, Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said there wasn’t yet sufficient freight volume in Northland to warrant the relocation north. Port of Tauranga owns half of Northport.
Auckland and Tauranga are the country’s two largest container ports. With Northport, they handle about half the country’s exports and two-thirds of its import volumes.
Tauranga and Auckland, controlled by Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Auckland Council respectively, compete for freight. They considered a merger in 2006 but talks collapsed the following year. Ports of Auckland has a 20 percent stake in Northland Regional Council-controlled Marsden Maritime Holdings, Tauranga’s partner in Northport.
The working group noted submitters’ views that the “interwoven” nature of the three ports’ ownership had prevented them being developed in New Zealand’s best interests and had resulted in some inefficiencies and “duplication” of resources.
“We will be considering the current ownership structure of ports and whether a change may be needed to ensure interests are aligned to deliver the best outcome for New Zealand,” the group says.
“Councils were somewhat open to a change in port ownership as long as they preserved their income and value of the port to their community.”
Ports are long-term businesses. The working group is canvassing issues in 10-, 25- and 50-year timeframes.
Scope is also important. Freight operators argue Northport, west of the Marsden Point oil refinery, could meet growth on Auckland’s North Shore, rather than replacing Ports of Auckland entirely.
Short-term options could include establishing a distribution centre at Silverdale or Orewa; imports and Northland products could be trucked there overnight – avoiding congestion on SH1 – for day-time delivery into Auckland.
Northport already plays a similar role. Structural components for some major Auckland building projects are stored there for just-in-time delivery to avoid congestion in the CBD.
Car imports have already been identified as a potential early change. Ten hectares of new space at Northport could provide storage for 10,000 cars. Auckland currently receives about 300,000 cars annually, each of which spends close to three days on its wharves.
Northport started operating in 2002 and is largely a blank canvas. Its 49-hectare footprint can be expanded to 75 ha, while its berth length can be more than doubled to 1,390 metres. The port lies next to 180 ha of commercial and industrial land controlled by shareholder Marsden Maritime.
But it has limited capital for development and no rail link. KiwiRail and the Ministry of Transport are investigating a $200 million, 20-kilometre spur line, but that is probably more than six years away even if there was a prompt decision to proceed.
The existing line from Swanson to Fonterra’s Kauri dairy plant north of Whangarei also needs upgrading at a cost of another $500 million to carry larger and heavier container traffic. KiwiRail has previously estimated the total bill – including upgrading rail capacity from South Auckland – at about $2 billion.
The working group noted its “fundamental” belief that there is “no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”
Interislander ferry operator KiwiRail is officially on the hunt for two new vessels that will dwarf its existing fleet.
The vessels, expected to be brought into service by 2024, will need to accommodate 40 rail wagons, about 3000 lane metres for vehicles, and room for about 1800 passengers each, according to tender documents.
The two new ships would be able to transport 1100 more passengers a day than the three currently traversing the Cook Strait, which have the capacity for 2500 travellers.
The Aratere can hold 600 passengers, the Kaiarahi has room for 550, and the Kaitaki can carry 1350 passengers.
The project, referred to as the Inter-Island Resilient Connection Project, or iReX, would also see port services upgraded to “align with the design of the new ships”.
KiwiRail said the ships would need to be designed to ensure high levels of reliability and allow for “a one-hour turnaround time during peak periods”.
The company said its target was to select a preferred ship supplier by the end of 2020.
Walter Rushbrooke, general manager of Strategic Projects at KiwiRail, said the ships would be built overseas as New Zealand did not have the capability to build large ferry vessels.
“The new ships also mean changes to the terminals at both ends of Cook Strait and we are already working with the Port Companies in Wellington and Picton on designs and delivery pathways.”
OPINION: The first instalment of the Government’s trio of reports on re-shaping how the Upper North Island ports work, suggests that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy will look like a snapshot compared with what lies ahead.
A 2017 New Zealand First policy to shift the vehicle import trade from Auckland to Northport by this year, as a prelude to re-locating the city’s port, begat – thanks to co-alition politics – the more cautious “Working Group undertaking the review of Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy”.
Shifting the balance of work between the ports, and building major new transport links would be the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure undertaking – possibly five or more times the current champ, Auckland’s $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
Taken at face value, the picture painted of the current state of the Ports of Auckland, Port of Tauranga, and Northport at Marsden Point, shows a flawed regionally-owned port sector with duplication and competition possibly at the expense of the national interest.
Auckland dominates imports, Tauranga exports, both have 40 per cent of their container traffic empty in one direction, while Northport is a distant minnow, with limited access and 70 per cent owned by the other two.
What began as a plan to free Auckland’s waterfront from an ugly industrial port, to the benefit of Northport, is now as much, if not more, about the transport links between the ports and centres in the upper North Island.
A line highlighted in bold print in the 21-page report, points to the scale of making any change.
“We fundamentally believe that there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”
Call that billions of dollars, who knows how many, 2 or 5? The report doesn’t say.
Done properly it involves a crosstown section through southern Auckland, a third freight line through the commuter rail-dominated suburbs, electrification and double or triple tracking from West Auckland to Marsden Point with new tunnels along the way and presumably fleets of car-carrying wagons and handling facilities.
Future instalments of the trilogy will explore changing the ownership structure of ports, looking at the low-tax status enjoyed only by Auckland, and getting a clearer picture of future trade patterns.
Who knows what the future of the private motor car will look like in 20 years’ time, when the multi-billion investment needed to relocate the vehicle import trade, is ready to deliver.
The three-part study is an important piece of work, taking a long-term view on making possibly major structural change in transport links in the upper North Island, and its ports.
Part two outlining some options is said to be due as early as June, and part three – recommendations – in September, perhaps unhelpfully a month before the local body politicians who own Auckland’s port, and most of Tauranga’s and Northland’s, face re-election.
The interim report already casts doubt on the idea of building a new super-port either in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames, hinting better use of the three ports may be the answer.
“We consider the issues not insurmountable,” concluded the working group’s interim report optimistically.
What it did not say was, nor are they likely to be simple, anything less than eye-wateringly expensive, and hugely complex.
An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour
New Zealand First appears as closed-minded on the Ports of Auckland as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives.However dysfunctional those charged with providing vital transport infrastructure can be, they somehow always manage an instant massed-wagon-circling at the very mention of reform.
The Government is about to receive reports on both the future location of the Ports of Auckland and the feasibility of upgrading Northland’s rail. Labour’s support partner, New Zealand First, is fervently committed to moving some of Auckland’s port business to Northland, saying it will relieve our biggest city of congestion and bring much-needed growth to the north. For the coalition, this could become a make-or-break issue.
Unfortunately, NZ First appears as closed-minded on the issues as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives, such as Tauranga, the Firth of Thames or Manukau Harbour.
Because of the complex governance and ownership issues of Ports of Auckland and other potentially affected ports and public entities, any Government changes will be extremely hard to negotiate. The choices available will also be sandbagged by the virtual impossibility of getting any case for new or restored rail to stack up financially.
However, the biggest hurdle will be patch protection – not just from commercial interests, but also from public agencies who too quickly forget the wider obligation that their state-conferred monopoly status puts on them.
Chief interested party is Auckland Council, which owns 100% of the Ports of Auckland. It has consistently defended its right to the port’s undiminished annual dividend of more than $50 million – to the point of vowing to build a multistorey waterfront car park for more revenue.
Mayor Phil Goff is adamant the port is essential to Auckland’s future. However, this assertion is debatable, given that a city such as Sydney survives very well with its harbour reserved for cruise ships and cargo sent to Port Botany, Wollongong or Newcastle.
Loss of port revenue would, however, doubtless force Aucklanders to pay for the loss with even higher rates, for benefits mostly accruing outside its boundaries. This would be unfair, especially to those on low incomes, and so politically dangerous that no sane administration would cause it to happen.
Perhaps a better starting point would be to regularise, even centralise, the haphazard patchwork of ports ownership. This would inevitably land the Government with a fat compensation bill, but the existing potpourri of local body, port-specific and private shareholders is a barrier to efficiency. Intra-agency competition and multiple interests – Auckland part-owns Tauranga’s and Northland’s port as well – further occlude the picture.
The National Party’s policy of treating the ports as discrete commercial entities immune from state interference is recklessly hands-off. But, by the same token, Aucklanders may be incensed at seeing their port asset commandeered, especially with NZ First so blatantly using Northland as its electoral base.
Yet, Auckland’s port must somehow be restored to being part of the national ports network. Aucklanders, used to the city’s infamous congestion, would be the first to agree it remains an international embarrassment that a prime waterfront site is used to store second-hand cars. Moving the port would unlock 77ha of superb shore land.
Northland’s Marsden Point tempts as an existing deep-water port, which, with a suitable rail spur from the Auckland line, could handle the business. Tourist and even commuter growth could ensue. Yet, there are other considerations, including the likelihood that moving the port to Northland would hugely increase congestion in Auckland, since most goods exported out of it are produced south of the city and would have to pass through it. Even if some of the goods went by train – and the expense of building rail tracks could itself prove prohibitive – the trains would be more frequent and longer, causing frustrating delays at level crossings. There are also the climate-change considerations, with increased emissions from transporting freight over longer distances.
In New Zealand, 99.7% of all imports and exports travel by sea, so the ports issue is not trivial. Any changes to these assets will affect, for better or worse, numerous other sectors and projects, not least the still-uncosted light rail to Auckland Airport. The sheer complexity and political risk may simply end in inertia. But everyone concerned has a duty to approach this debate with the country’s best interests at heart.
Tauranga’s port will continue to “flourish” regardless of whether Auckland’s port moves, city leaders say.
But some warned infrastructure investment was needed to make that happen.
The comments come as the Government is poised to make a big call on whether or not to shift Auckland’s port to the economically-deprived region of Northland.
It followed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters vowing to move Ports of Auckland up north in 2017 and a Labour-led coalition Government leading a study into the three Upper North Island ports with a focus on moving Ports of Auckland to Northport at Marsden Point.
An interim report on that study by a working group headed by Wayne Brown, a former Far North mayor, had been provided to ministers and was due to go to Cabinet shortly.
Ports of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said nobody had seen the recommendations yet, but he believed Tauranga’s port would continue to perform well whatever the outcome was.
He believed the port’s strong growth would continue due to Tauranga’s location as the origin of a majority of the goods exported out of the port are located south of Auckland, not north.
The port owned a half share of Northport, he said.
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said if the shift happened, it would not happen for some time.
Tauranga’s port would become busier if it did, due to its good reputation throughout Australasia, he said.
He did not think any increase in activity at the port would be short-lived as it had the capacity for double the number of containers currently moved there.
Congestion caused by inadequate roading would become an issue if Tauranga’s port did get busier, so investment into the city’s state highway, roading and rail network would be vital to cater for any increased freight activity around the city, he said.
He said the port would need to ensure the benefit would be shared with the community.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council regional transport committee chairman Stuart Crosby said it was too early guess what the impact would be, but he was confident Tauranga’s port would continue to operate successfully regardless of what happened up north.
“We have the best operating port in Australasia and it will continue to flourish in the future.”
The Government, however, did need to invest “billions of dollars” in infrastructure to keep up with the port’s development.