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The Nation: Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter

On Newshub Nation: Emma Jolliff interviews Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter

Emma Jolliff: This month saw the worst week on our roads in 16 years with 26 dead. In an attempt to fix our shocking road toll, the government has allocated $1.4 billion for road safety over the next three years. So why isn’t it working? Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter joins me now. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Julie Anne Genter: Good morning.

First up, I want to ask you about the NZTA. We’ve seen the resignation overnight of the NZTA Chair Michael Stiassny. It’s the latest in a succession of resignations from the NZTA. What’s going on there?

It’s an organisation in a period of change. I think, when it comes to Michael Stiassny, he was instrumental over the last year in uncovering very serious regulatory failure for that organisation for a long time. As he said in his statement, his work there is complete. And now we’ve got quite a big job to carry on with the paradigm shift in transport that this government is committed to, which will ensure that there’s more choice for New Zealanders and that we have safer roads.

One year into a three-year contract though. That doesn’t look good, does it?

Really, Mr Twyford is responsible for that, so I can’t comment much further.

Okay. On to the death toll, 125 deaths on our roads so far this year. We’re on track, if you multiply that by three, for a similar road toll to last year when 377 people died. Road safety is a key priority for your government, so why aren’t things improving?

This is something that is going to take time. It’s incredibly important. You know, for decades, New Zealand accepted that road deaths were inevitable. It was just seen as part of getting around. But we’ve seen other countries, like Norway and Sweden, who have similar populations, dispersed populations, lots of rural roads, they have brought down deaths and serious injuries to substantially below where New Zealand is. Now, from 2013 to 2018, deaths and serious injuries were rising, year on year. That’s now stalled. But it’s our intention to bring it down through a sustained commitment to investment, enforcement and education.

You talk about Sweden — they have this Vision Zero. We’ve talked about the same thing here, and the fact that we would have so many fewer deaths if we had that here. Where are we at with following their lead?

Well, Sweden took those steps — they started in the 1990s. And over a period of two decades, they’ve brought it down to less than a third of what New Zealand’s death rate is. And so that is the type of commitment that we need to have. Now where we’re at is we’re already investing in urgent safety upgrades to rural roads — the most dangerous ones. We’ve got 10 projects under construction in regions around the country. And we’re going to be upgrading thousands of kilometres of state highways, improving intersections, level crossings, local roads over the next three years. And that’s just the beginning.

Based on that Vision Zero, we’re told that if we had a comparable death rate to Sweden, we would have seen 250 fewer people die on our roads. That’s a terrible statistic to hear if you’re one of the families of those.

It is. It’s not just a number. I mean, this is people’s entire lives being, in some cases, destroyed. And what Vision Zero comes down to is recognising that you can’t just focus on bad driving. The majority of fatal crashes in New Zealand are the result of ordinary people making mistakes in a road environment that is unforgiving. And that is why things like median barriers make such a difference. A median barrier can be the difference between someone being in a fatal head-on collision where multiple people die or a car being written off, bouncing off the median. But people walk away from that. And where we’ve put them in place, like Centennial Highway or up over the Brynderwyns more recently, there hasn’t been a fatal crash since those have gone in. And we can afford to put them across our most dangerous highways right around the country.

Has that upgrading stalled at all? Paul Goldsmith says that our regional roads have been stripped of funding.

No, that’s ridiculous. I mean, under the National government, the majority of funding was going to just seven road projects — two of which had been started under the previous Labour government; two of which are still not complete ten years later. And there was a reduction in road policing under National; there was a reduction in regional road funding; there was a reduction in maintenance. They were sweating the assets. We are putting more money into regional roads, much more money into safety upgrades right around the country. And it will take a couple of years until we start to see a substantial difference.

DIA, for example, says that re-engineering our roads is what we actually need to do to improve their safety. Forty per cent of the state highway network has just a two star safety rating and those roads need re-engineering. How much would that cost and where is that at?

So the Safe Networks programme is the beginning of that — that’s $1.4 billion. That’s going to improve over 800km of state highway alone. And half of that spend will also go on local roads. And as I said, that is just the beginning.

Are tweaks like increasing rumble strips and widening shoulders enough?

Actually widening shoulders, rumble strips, have surprising and substantial impact on safety on those rural roads. The other side of it is, of course, safer speeds. We know that the safe and appropriate speed limit is not always the sign that’s posted at the moment, and many local communities have been calling for safer speeds so we’re streamlining that process to make it easier to get the safe and appropriate speed limit in those dangerous areas.

Do you stand by your decision to scrap the Roads of Significance programme?

Well, yeah, because as I said before it was only improving a few roads around the country, mainly in the cities. What we need to do is improve the thousands of kilometres where New Zealanders are driving every day, and if things like a medium barrier, a side barrier, a wider shoulder, can be put in place in a shorter period of time at a lower cost, that means 10 times as many roads can be improved.

It’s not just about having better roads. You’ve also talked about driver education and changing behaviours. When will we see New Zealand First’s policy of free driver education in schools?

That is something that is being progressed. It’s happening through the education portfolio, but just a couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister and I announced a programme that’s being part-funded by MSD, part-funded by NZTA which will see young drivers who couldn’t afford to get driver education able to achieve their learner’s licence, and that’s really important because actually young drivers who cannot afford to get training and cannot afford to get a licence end up still needing to drive at times and being quite dangerous.

You’re pushing for more people to use public transport. What’s your target on that?

Well, what we want to do is make it easier for people in our larger cities—

What about a target?

...to take public transport, so we’re working with the regional councils on what is the appropriate target, but our priority in places like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Tauranga is going to be ensuring that those peak hour trips, more people are able to take public transport, and for the short trips, more people are able to walk and cycle safely — get their kids to school on foot or by bike that will not only make things safer, but will actually reduce congestion.

There’s a lot of recognition that targets are what you actually need. When are we likely to see them?

Yeah, yeah. So the targets are being worked through so Auckland Transport just had a big workshop with NZTA and Minister Twyford and I. All of the councillors and the mayor were there, and they’re working through their programme of how we can accelerate and mode-shift. That really means more frequent buses, you know, safe separated cycle ways. Those are the things that make a difference to people.

Electric vehicles. National had a target of 64,000 by 2021. What’s your target?

We know that electric vehicles need to be more affordable and accessible to more New Zealanders. We have very high car ownership rates. Our car fleet is very polluting, and it actually costs more money to run because of that so we’re working through policy options right at the moment.

But we need incentives, don’t we? People are talking about this being stalled because the government’s not being clear on incentives — it’s stalling sales. Do you agree?

Well, yeah, the previous government had no plan to achieve their target, and I’m very, very committed to ensuring that we have an evidence-based plan that’s going to support our target. So before we announce our new targets, we need to be sure that we have the ambitious policies, which I am very supportive of, that are going to make it more affordable for New Zealanders and give them more choice when it comes to cleaner cars.

The Greens campaigned on introducing a capital gains tax. Labour was on-board, but New Zealand First put the kibosh on it. Are the Greens feeling bruised at the moment?

I think that the Greens are very focused on delivering what we can in this government, which includes significant and meaningful action on climate change. We want to see an overhaul of our welfare system. We want to see, and we have seen, a huge increase in funding for conservation. We are going to work with the Labour Government on the things that the Tax Working Group recommended around, you know, ensuring that we have appropriate prices around pollution and when it comes to housing, we’re going to have to ensure that people have rights when it comes to renting. There’s no question that I would have liked to see a capital gains tax. I think it’s fair. I think people should pay tax on the income they earn, wherever it comes from.

Is the Green Party leadership pushing hard enough for Green Party policies?

Ultimately, the way that we’re going to be able to implement our policies is by demonstrating that we’re credible — working where we can with this government — and telling the voters that if they want to see change, they’ve got to vote Green at the next election.

Do you still have aspirations to be co-leader?

I think our co-leaders are doing an excellent job.

All right. Julie Anne Genter, Associate Transport Minister. Thank you very much for joining us.

Thank you.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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