Roading the wrong focus for New Zealand infrastructure

New Zealand’s two leading transport unions say that pouring public money only into roading and ignoring other transport infrastructure is a mistake.

The Maritime Union of New Zealand, representing seafarers and waterfront workers,and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, representing rail and port workers, are concerned that economic stimulus plans focus transport investment exclusively on roading.

The transport unions say that while the Government is correct in investing in infrastructure as a stimulus for the economy, it’s sole focus on investing in roads is wrong.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union General Secretary Wayne Butson says that Government announcements on infrastructure investment since the election have been focussed on roading and this is a major concern for all New Zealanders.

He says in a time when we need to lower our reliance on fossil fuel powered vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, leaving out urgent rail and ports infrastructure investment is a mistake.

“We need to get goods and passengers out of gas guzzling, congestion creating road transport, and use high quality, low impact transport options like rail and coastal shipping.”

Mr Butson says rail was privatised by the last National Government and it appears that this ideological anti-rail approach is still around.

“Around the world, Government is investing in upgrading their rail industry, and we are noticing we are losing our skilled New Zealand workers overseas as rail operators expand their operations to meet the demand of growing business opportunities.”

He says the previous Government gave strong support to rail, retaining vital skills in New Zealand, but the negative message now was that rail was not part of the picture for the new Government.

“The Rudd Government in Australia has shown strong support for rail in its economic rejuvenation package, and that is an example we should be following.”

Mr Butson says that yet more roading projects created more problems down the track, as it was obvious the world was facing an energy crisis and an environmental crisis.

“The Government seems to be stuck in a George W. Bush type reality, where peak oil and climate change don’t exist.”

Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says as an island nation and a maritime nation, New Zealand should be developing a coastal fleet for domestic shipping, but had struggled for any recognition from Government.

“The cash for roading is the opposite of what the Government should be investing in. The vast majority of goods in and out of New Zealand are carried by shipping, but coastal shipping seems to be ignored.”

“We lack an integrated plan in New Zealand around ports and shipping, which is remarkable given that we are dependent on our ports for trade. Changes in ports will probably lead to hub ports and feeder ports that require shipping links, but where is the New Zealand owned shipping to service these new developments?”

He says shipping was the most environmentally friendly transport mode and would reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

“The SeaChange strategy announced in 2007 showed how coastal shipping will be an increasingly important part of New Zealand’s transport system.”

SeaChange identified a goal of moving 30 per cent of domestic freight by coastal shipping by 2040.

Mr Hanson says overseas flag of convenience shipping enjoyed unfair advantages over New Zealand shipping under current maritime transport legislation.

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