Michael Cullen reckons Tony Friedlander, Road Transport Forum chief executive, organised the truckers’ protest for political reasons.
“There may well have been [a misunderstanding] but I think there’s a great deal of politics about this as well. It’s not an entire coincidence, I’m sure, that the head of the Road Transport [Forum] is a former National Party cabinet minister.”
The Government has denied it misled truckers by agreeing to a month’s notice on RUC increases before raising them overnight earlier this week. Dr Cullen did not accept that truckies were more aggrieved with what they saw as a betrayal by the Government than with the RUC increases themselves.
“Clearly, there’s going to be a great deal of resentment around [the RUC increase], that’s absolutely understandable, but the fact that people have chosen to take a particular form of protest . . . I don’t think is entirely unrelated and I don’t think it was entirely unplanned at the senior levels of the Road Transport [Forum] either.
“I’m sure they would have had some expectation there could have been a RUC increase on 1 July, I’m sure they would’ve known it was under consideration by Cabinet.”
Perhaps they should have been mind readers?
Mr Friedlander, a National MP for 12 years up until 1987, hit back at Dr Cullen last night, saying his former political ties were no secret.
“But I’ve been in this role and in this industry for 15 years,” Mr Friedlander said. “I’ve worked for Labour ministers during that time, both in Government and when they were in opposition and I believe I’ve done that totally impartially.
“Dr Cullen really ought to recognise this protest action was spontaneous – it was organised in two and a half days. I’m pleased that he has such a high opinion of me that he thinks I’m capable of getting approximately 4,500 protesting truck drivers out across New Zealand and that I’m capable of swinging public opinion behind our industry in the way that has been demonstrated.
Mr Friedlander denied the trucking industry knew the Government was considering increasing the charges, saying it “came out of left field”.
Literally – but in spite of what Cullen thinks the truckers’ protest didn’t come out of right field; and the public support certainly didn’t have any party-political origins either. The protest merely provided that mythical silent majority with an opportunity to express itself.
Adam Smith gives his view on Cullen’s tactics here.