Road Transport Forum News

 
Questions must be asked in COVID-19 comeback

Questions must be asked in COVID-19 comeback

Road Transport Forum News

 October 2020    RTF News

A worrying trend has developed in New Zealand during this pandemic, where any opposition to what the Government does is treated as some sort of seditious act. Even the simple task of asking questions about what government officials knew – and when – is being characterised by many as pandering to conspiracy theorists or whipping up dissent. That is not just unfair, it is counterproductive. 

At times like this, the role of our political opposition and commentators must not only be to encourage compliance with the rules, but also to ask questions as to how and why we got here. Testing what ministers and government officials knew and when is how a democratic society identifies failures and works towards making improvements. 

We are not advocating for people not to follow the rules; but we do believe there should be space to test and question what is happening and why.

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A worrying trend has developed in New Zealand during this pandemic, where any opposition to what the Government does is treated as some sort of seditious act. Even the simple task of asking questions about what government officials knew – and when – is being characterised by many as pandering to conspiracy theorists or whipping up dissent. That is not just unfair, it is counterproductive. 
At times like this, the role of our political opposition and commentators must not only be to encourage compliance with the rules, but also to ask questions as to how and why we got here. Testing what ministers and government officials knew and when is how a democratic society identifies failures and works towards making improvements. 
We are not advocating for people not to follow the rules; but we do believe there should be space to test and question what is happening and why.
With the return of COVID-19 to the community after three months without it, probing the effectiveness of the Government’s response and the systems it had in place to prevent community transmission should be considered an absolute necessity, yet we have seen a worrying trend to suppress such inquiries. 
To hear that nearly two-thirds of border and quarantine workers were not tested was an obvious example of where the Government’s processes failed. It was well-known that the border was our biggest risk. 
COVID-19 can’t just materialise from thin air, so must enter our community through an external vector. It is only due to the persistent questioning of a couple of senior journalists and academics that failings were properly identified and the Government ultimately was forced to put in place measures to address them. 
Once the Auckland lockdown was imposed, the Road Transport Forum sought to shine a light on the debacle around border checkpoints.
The checkpoints, as designed, worked fine for non-commercial traffic, but did not adequately allow the free movement of freight, or workers needing to get to work for trucking operators. This meant trucks loaded with goods were stuck for many hours trying to get in or out of Auckland. 
It took a lot of work from RTF and other sectors of the industry to ensure freight operators were provided with a dedicated slip-lane and the right documentation to pass freely. While things ultimately did improve, it took far longer than it should have. 
It was also disappointing to have to push back against a Government health order that all those who undertook work at the ports of Tauranga and Auckland were required to take a COVID-19 test.
The Government had spent weeks telling us they couldn’t test border workers, couldn’t test airline staff working on international flights….and yet, all of a sudden, it announced via a health order that 10,000-15,000 truck drivers and contractors who service the two ports were to be tested within 48 hours. 
Such a directive was not only unreasonable, but totally impractical and RTF had no hesitation in calling the Government out on it. 
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for our industry doing its bit to help with contact tracing, but to think you could carry out such a testing programme without major consequences for the supply chain shows just how out of touch Wellington bureaucrats are at times like this. 
Eventually, pragmatism prevailed and only drivers with COVID-19 symptoms were asked to be tested. The whole episode caused a lot of needless stress, however, and could have been avoided if health officials had proactively asked for advice from industry about what actually happens at our ports and what contact drivers have with the goods they are carrying.
While we should be critical of certain aspects of the Government’s response, we also need to be critical of ourselves when that is warranted. Within hours of the Level 3 lockdown announcement, Police advised me that a number of truck drivers were on social media offering to take people in and out of Auckland in order to avoid the checkpoints. 
I know this was only a small proportion of the industry but such behaviour is totally unacceptable. People may have their own views on the Government’s actions, but knowingly and deliberately breaking the rules is very damaging to the reputation of our industry. 
Such behaviour totally undermines our efforts to work with Police, health officials and other agencies to make sure the rules and procedures are as flexible as they can be for freight movement. 
Finally, I want to thank the drivers, freight handlers, store workers and dispatchers who have again stepped up to keep the country moving during lockdown 2.0. 
RTF understands just how stressful times like this can be on essential workers – and especially for drivers desperately trying to maintain compliance with work time rules and health guidelines. We are greatly appreciative of your efforts and you can be sure that RTF and our associations will continue to support you and advocate on your behalf.  

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