Cullen shoots messenger

July 6, 2008

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.


Govt Buys Rail – Road User Charges Rise

July 2, 2008

Is it just a conincidence that road user charges  went up on the day the Government is congratulating itself on buying back the railways and putting Jim Bolger, the man who presided over the “failed policies of the 90s” in charge of it?

Trucking companies are furious after the increase was announced on Monday night and came into effect yesterday.

Road Transport Forum New Zealand chief executive Tony Friedlander said the group, which represents about 80% of the country’s commercial road transport operators, last year sought assurances from Transport Minister Annette King that operators would be notified of increased charges.

The forum received written confirmation members would be informed of changes.

“It is not just the increase. It’s that it came without notice having received assurances. On top of the highest fuel prices in history, increases to the accident compensation levy and wage interest costs, it will do extreme damage to industry.

“Members have said they will have to pass costs as soon as they can.

Producers, processors and consumers are already suffering from steep rises in fuel prices. The increased tax on diesel powered vheicles and others weighing more than 3.5 tonnes  increases the cost of business and living.

The increase was announced in a statement posted on the Government’s website on Monday night. No media statements were issued.

“The timing of this increase and the way it has been done mean the minister could not have done more damage to our industry if she had deliberately tried,” Mr Friedlander said.

“She should not underestimate how angry our members and the industry are.”

Mr Friedlander said the increase would inevitably mean higher costs for businesses and higher prices in supermarkets.

However, Ms King said the impact would be “relatively insignificant” and she did not expect any noticeable effect on consumer prices.

Is Labour trying to self-destruct or are Ministers so out of touch they don’t understand the financial strain businesses and households are facing? When your budget is already overstretched you notice every cent.

Ms King said the increases were introduced to defray costs of the national land transport programme. Under the programme, $2.7 billion was allocated for transport activities in 2008-09. This included about $791 million for state highway construction, $325 million for passenger transport services and infrastructure and $273 million for road policing.

“Without all road users paying their fair share, this level of investment cannot continue to be sustained,” she said.

Does any of that passenger transport component include the trains and ferries her Government just bought? Does it matter that in the provinces we don’t have passenger trains and only cities have buses?

Charges for a 44-tonne truck and trailer unit which travelled 100,000km a year would increase to about $56,000, about $4000 more for operators, Mr Friedlander said.

Road user charges for transport operators in New Zealand were already 200% higher than those paid by Australian businesses using comparable trucks, he said.

Another day, another tax increase, another reason why living or doing business in Australia becomes more attractive.

Bus and Coach Association chief executive Raewyn Bleakley said members were “shocked and angry”. The “highest level of feedback” about the charges had been from tourism operators, she said. “Tourist operators negotiate rates for services months in advance, and this increase will leave them screaming. This will be noticeable in places like Queenstown.”

You can’t take a train or ferry to Queenstown. But this wouldn’t have anything at all to do with the fact that the Government spent $690m buying the railways, would it?

[Update: have just found a comment on Keeping Stock from getstaffed raising this issue]


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