Testing not the problem, leadership is
Posted: 10-Sep-2021 |


Let’s be very clear – the road freight transport industry has no problem with Covid-19 testing to ensure we keep New Zealanders safe.

We are one of the most compliant industries around and well used to operating in strict health and safety environments.

What we don’t like is being blindsided by law changes on the fly, with no explanation of how they are supposed to work – which still was not forthcoming, even after the law came into play.

Last week, we were told that Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s suggestion that essential workers crossing the Level 4 Auckland border would have to have had Covid-19 tests was just that, his own idea, not Government policy.

We found out in Parliament’s question time on Wednesday, in a question to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins that (his words):

“I first received formal advice from the director-general regarding surveillance testing for essential workers crossing the proposed level 4-2 boundary on Saturday evening, 4 September. Cabinet then agreed on Monday that essential workers would be required to be tested within the last seven days before crossing an alert level boundary into and out of an alert level 4 area.”

At 4pm on Monday in the sermon from Parliament, the industry found out that this was a done deal – no consultation whatsoever with those most impacted, truck drivers delivering essential goods all around New Zealand. The Prime Minister and Dr Bloomfield had said it was so, and that was that.

Understandably, there was a lot of stress in our industry – a new testing regime was coming into force this week, with spot testing to begin, but absolutely no word from Government how this would work for operators and truck drivers, who work long hours including outside the hours testing stations and GPs operate. There was no information on how to prove testing had taken place.

At a virtual meeting on Tuesday, we were talked at by a Ministry of Health official who didn’t even know who he was talking to. He was high-handed and had no answers to any questions. He did talk a lot about communications and key messages which was beyond ironic, and frankly insulting.

He then said we could perhaps find answers to our questions by watching the 1pm press conferences by the Prime Minister. Let’s be honest, these are party political broadcasts from the pulpit in Parliament that no busy person has time to watch. They are guaranteed daily air time for the ruling party.

This is not an effective way for businesses who are being impacted by changing laws and rules to find out about that. There has to be a more formalised system.

There are other government department officials and some Ministers who are trying to help, but the Ministry of Health is running the country. I find that scary, and other Kiwis should too.

Politicians need to take them in hand. We have to move beyond being captured by the Ministry of Health and Covid, to have an economy that can be productive. Part of that will be freight movement. Trucks move 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight and they have to be able to move freely throughout the country.

As I’ve said, the operators are more than happy to comply to make that happen. But the ask has to be reasonable. Arrogant silence is not acceptable.

Even the Police are scratching their heads about how they are going to police this – stopping one in 10 trucks and potentially having to safely turn them around if the driver cannot prove they have been tested in the past seven days.

Weirdly, drivers only have to prove they have been tested. No one seems to be interested in the result of the test.

Given the tight timeframe and the lack of any process or plan from the Government, we were given a small stay of execution. Police won’t start checking for the proof of testing until after 11.59pm on 16 September.

A week of meetings and not much action has ensued. Some operators have started setting up their own testing systems, hoping the Government will accept them when they finally get around to presenting a plan and a process and what they want as proof.

Someone in Government needs to show some leadership and take this in hand, now.

Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


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