Jul 4, 2008

Government's Own Goal

From this morning's Herald Editorial

Timing is everything, both in politics and protest. On that count, the Government scored a spectacular own-goal with its announcement of increased road-user charges, while truck drivers have hit paydirt with their demonstration today in Auckland and other cities. A poll, unscientific as it may be, on this newspaper's website yesterday showed a large majority of respondents supported the truckies' protest, even though some stood to be inconvenienced by the choking of city-centre streets by heavy rigs. The truckies, it seems, have become the poster boys for widespread discontent.
It is not hard to see why. The hiking of road-user charges, under a system that involves owners of diesel trucks buying road use in advance, rather than paying tax at the pump, came at a time when freight carriers were already struggling to cope with record fuel prices and other cost increases. Their plight struck an immediate chord with those under similar pressure at the pump and in the supermarket. The Government should have been aware of the perils of this association. If it was, it pressed ahead anyway.
Equally, the new charges were announced at almost the same time as confirmation of the Government's rail buy-back. Because truckies and KiwiRail compete for freight, the hike in road-user charges risked conveying the impression that, having secured the railways, the Government was immediately tilting the playing field their way. This is, of course, an irrational notion. Both announcements were the fruit of many months of work. But their timing provided a fertile field for those happy to dabble in conspiracies. Better political management would have ensured the two developments were spaced so far apart that any such inference could not be drawn.
This appalling timing has skewed any discussion on whether the increased road-user charges are justified, as well as a wider issue. Transport Minister Annette King says she wants trucking firms to pay their fair share of the money required to build highways and maintain existing roads.