The Herald reports:
NZ First’s Shane Jones has stepped into the middle of legal action between the NZ Transport Agency and Northland’s biggest logging transport operator, even though he holds the portfolio of Associate Transport Minister.
Jones said he was speaking as the Regional Economic Development Minister when he expressed concern to the Herald about a case between the NZ Transport Agency and Semenoff Logging.
“I’m concerned about the economic implications flowing from issues between NZTA and Semenoff Logging,” Jones said, following a High Court decision last Monday where the transporter won temporary suspension of a ban on its licence.
On March 15, NZTA revoked Semenoff’s transport services licence over a range of safety issues, due to take effect on March 22.
This is entirely inappropriate. No Minister should be commenting on independent prosecution or regulatory safety decisions. Even worse Jones is an Associate Transport Minister so his public statements can only be seen as public pressure on an agency he has some ministerial responsibility for.
“I’m concerned about the future of 1000 jobs in Northland which could be on the line due to the High Court case. The High Court case doesn’t prohibit the first citizen of the provinces from advocating on behalf of economic development.
You’re not the effing first citizen of anything. You’re the Associate Minister of Transport attacking a decision by NZTA made on safety grounds.
The argument about being concerned about jobs is the exact one Justin Trudeau made when he tried to pressure the Canadian attorney-General not to prosecute a company that was a major employer in Trudeau’s home province.
Meredith Connell managing partner Steve Haszard, who has been overseeing NZTA’s regulatory compliance, said the entity has been strongly encouraging Stan Semenoff Logging since 2016 to get the company to lift its safety standards.
“The Transport Agency has given Stan Semenoff Logging every opportunity to provide evidence of improvement, but over the course of two audits and three years we have seen that this company is either unwilling or unable to comply with the necessary transport operator safety standards,” Haszard said.
“The revocation is a safety decision, plain and simple. It’s not just about the safety of Mr Semenoff’s drivers, it’s about the safety of all Northland’s other road users,” he said.
“As with every revocation we enforce, we know this will have an impact on those people employed by the company, and that is why we have made every effort to extensively engage with Mr Semenoff to avoid getting to this point.”
In August 2018, the agency served a notice of proposal to Stan Semenoff in a final effort to get him to provide evidence he was now complying with the required safety standards, he said.
“It was ultimately up to Stan Semenoff Logging to avoid this situation by demonstrating safety improvement. We were given many assurances from his company that standards would be lifted, but in the end, they weren’t,” Haszard says.
The Government says it wants safer roads yet their Associate Transport Minister is attacking a regulatory decision to do just that.
If all Jones has done is mouth off to the media, then the PM can get away with (another) public reprimand and instruction not to do it again.
However if Jones has had discussions with any officials or contractors of NZTA regarding the decision, then he must be sacked. If he has privately tried to pressure NZTA with regards to an independent safety regulatory decision, just because it involves a major employer in a seat he wants to win – he must go.