National’s leader Christopher Luxon has rejected climate criticisms over his transport policy, but says the transport agency should focus on convenience of movement.
He said the party was committed to the net-zero 2050 goal, but when questioned on Wednesday said transport officials’ focus should be on “improving convenience for people moving around our country”.
The Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan released in May 2022 set a target of reducing transport emissions by 41% by 2035. It is cited by both Waka Kotahi and the Ministry of Transport, as part of the latter’s Decarbonising Transport Action Plan 2022-2025.
Luxon was asked if he was committed to those targets.
“I am, I’m committed to our climate goals — the means by which we deliver that will be different from this government,” he told RNZ’s Morning Report. “But I also don’t believe that the sole goal of Waka Kotahi should be about climate.”
National released its $24.8 billion 10-year transport policy earlier this week, including more roads and the scrapping of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme, in addition to its prior promise to scrap Auckland’s light rail too. A major component would be using private capital investment, possibly from offshore, but Labour said National’s costings appeared to come up billions of dollars short.
“Our priority is to make sure that New Zealanders can get their products to markets and make sure they can connect with each other in a much better way, and our roading network and our core infrastructure is really degraded,” Luxon said.
“And so what we’re saying here is look, here’s 13 roads, here’s four public transport projects that are going to be really important for New Zealand’s success into the future. That’s why the public transport options are really important, you know, the three projects.
“My focus for… Waka Kotahi will actually be to make sure they improve actually people’s ability to [get around] and they can actually remove congestion, they can actually get people moving around this country… We are going to need roads going forward. There’s no doubt about it. We can have great roads and we can also deliver on our climate goals.”
Luxon said getting more people into electric vehicles (EVs) would help bring down emissions, signalling the party’s election policy on EVs was yet to come, but part of the solution was to double renewable electricity generation. National has also promised to scrap the Clean Car Discount subsidy to encourage people to choose EVs over dirtier vehicles.
“But irrespective of that, we need to build out a modern, reliable set of infrastructure in New Zealand. And we’ve managed infrastructure really poorly in the country over a number of decades. And what I want us to have is a longer-term vision about what we’re trying to achieve and actually then lay up the projects, so we’ve got some certainty for the next 30 years in the pipeline.”
Luxon rebuffed criticism that focusing on roads over other options would do little if anything to help reduce emissions — particularly with only 1.3% of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet electric at present.
“The two things are not mutually exclusive, right?” Luxon said. “I mean, if you look at the top five countries with the highest-quality roads, they’ve seen a fall in their emissions over a number of decades now.
“If you’re looking about Netherlands or Switzerland or Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, you know, those kinds of places, they can have both and, you know, we are totally committed to net zero 2050 goals — no doubt about it.
“Whether frankly you’re in an EV or a hydrogen-powered truck, we’re gonna need high quality roads and great modern, reliable infrastructure.”
Luxon did not rule out giving the transport portfolio to ACT in a potential coalition. Recent polls have had the two right-leaning parties in a position to form the next government, though it has been extremely tight.
Chance of coalition with New Zealand First
If National or ACT lose some support during the election campaign, they may find themselves relying on New Zealand First if they want to change the government. Luxon — who has criticised Labour, the Greens and Te Pati Māori as a “coalition of chaos” — refused to rule this out.
“Look, New Zealand First aren’t in Parliament. Most of the polls I’ve seen show them well below the threshold of getting to Parliament. It hasn’t really been a focus of mine.
“To be honest, you know, what I’m focused on is making sure we build the party vote for National. That’s the way you change the government, but you get a strong, stable government on the other side.”
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has ruled out working with Labour again. The past two times the party has been in a position to choose the government, he has gone with Labour — under Helen Clark and Jacinda Ardern.
Peters recently refused to rule out working with National, if given the chance.