Simeon Brown is the new Minister of Transport. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

Interview: Simeon Brown, Minister of Transport


Simeon Brown has a massive load of portfolios. As well as being responsible for Transport, the MP from Pakuranga is Minister for Auckland, Local Government and Energy. He talks about the key things he wants to make happen in transport.

Did you want the Transport portfolio? If so, why?

Absolutely. I think it’s one of the most exciting portfolios. It’s one of the most significant in terms of the opportunity to help grow the economy, and to help people get where they need to go quickly and safely. Transport matters to everybody and there’s always something happening, every single day. From my perspective it’s exciting, it’s about the future but it’s also very much day-to-day, so it keeps me very busy.

Simeon Brown bridge INP

Minister of Transport, Simeon Brown. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for transport in New Zealand right now?

Making sure we are able to deliver the infrastructure we need. [There needs to be] a real focus on delivery, making sure we’ve got the funding and financing tools in place to ensure infrastructure is built on time. Also, a real focus on getting the basics done right. It’s really easy to get distracted on things like light rail or big projects like that but actually, fundamentally, a lot of Kiwis are saying we need to get the basics done right and we need to focus on delivery.

What is the biggest opportunity you see in transport?

The biggest opportunity, from my perspective, is the economic enablement that transport infrastructure can deliver. We’re a small economy. We rely on being able to export our goods to the world. That means being able to have efficient, reliable, safe connections across our country so we can move people and freight quickly and efficiently to where it needs to go. That’s about unlocking our economy, growing jobs and opportunities. Transport really is at the heart of that opportunity.

Your Government has given a strong commitment to improving road maintenance. How long should people expect it to take until they notice the quality of roads improving?

This is going to be one of the big focus areas within the Government Policy Statement on transport. We’re going to be making it one of our priorities. There are decisions that still need to be made around funding and delivery but, ultimately, we want to have clear standards, clear expectations, and outcomes.

It’s our role to hold both NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi) and local roading authorities to account to actually deliver against those outcomes. We see that as flowing through into the system very quickly but, at the same time, we acknowledge that there are some significant challenges for our roading network, so there is going to be a lot of work to improve quality over a number of years.

You’ve identified a lot of new roading projects around the country you want to build, but the briefings for you as the new Transport Minister say the transport budget and workforce capacity are severely stretched. How will you look to deliver these projects given those challenges?

We’ve been very clear as a Government that we need to look at a range of new funding and financing options to build the infrastructure that is required. Whether that’s PPPs (public-private partnerships), tolls, value-capture tools… we need to be taking a much more innovative approach to the funding of major infrastructure projects.

Alongside that is the conversation about capability. We need to set a clear pipeline to attract capability into the country and attract investment into the country to do that. Over time, that pipeline will help drive a far more efficient spend. It’ll bring in new funding and financing tools. It’ll also bring in capability that is going to be so critical to unlock that investment.

Yes, the briefings to the incoming Ministers painted a very challenging picture, but we need to set a clear direction, which is what we’re doing, so we can drive that investment and build capability to meet the country’s needs.

Do you think there’s a risk of people all over the country wanting those projects to happen simultaneously when the reality is that they’re going to have to happen over a significant period of time?

Our policy was for a 10-year pipeline of projects. We’ve made it clear that this is about setting a direction of where we want the next ‘roads of national significance’ to be. Those projects are across both the North Island and South Island, connecting our cities and regions. We need to build the capability to deliver it and we need to have the funding and financing tools in place to get those projects delivered. It will take time, but we’re committed to putting the foundations in place to get that programme underway.

Simeon Brown bush INP

Simeon Brown shares the Government's priorities for transport in New Zealand. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

You’ve faced some strong criticism in certain quarters for things like the removal of the subsidy for electric vehicles or any reduction in funding for public transport and cycleways. Will this be a major blow for New Zealand’s progress on making transport greener?

I disagree with that criticism. Ultimately the ‘ute tax’ clean car discount scheme was relying on hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies from the taxpayer. We didn’t agree that people should be penalised for buying a ute when they don’t have a choice around what kind of car they need, in order to subsidise someone who has got a choice. So, we stand by those policies.

We’re confident we’re going to see significant change in the make-up of our fleet, as car manufacturers convert to electric. We’ll support that change through increasing the number of public EV chargers, which is a priority for our Government. Also, the price point will continue to drop, which is exactly what we’re seeing, meaning a subsidy is no longer needed.

On the other point, people have choices. The vast majority of people drive to get where they need to go. It’s really important we provide the infrastructure for people to get where they’re going, quickly and safely, and that means making sure our roading network is as efficient as possible. That’s where our priority is going to be.

Your Government seems very supportive of introducing congestion charging in some New Zealand cities. When do you think that could be in place?

We are supportive of time-of-use charging. It’s about making sure we get the most out of existing infrastructure and make sure it’s operating as efficiently as possible. We’re currently getting policy advice on that. It will feed into a legislative programme once that’s approved. It’s in the coalition agreement between us and ACT; we’re very supportive of it.

What are the issues that people raise with you most often?

There are two key issues in transport. One is delivery; that means a clear pipeline of infrastructure, a real focus on getting it done and a frustration that it hasn’t been the focus over the last six years. The other one is making sure the network is being maintained to an appropriate standard. Those are two of my key focus areas which we’re working on through the GPS (Government Policy Statement, which sets out transport priorities and available funding for the next three years).


Story by Dylan Thomsen for the Autumn 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Dylan Thomsen is a Motoring Policy Advisor at the AA and a regular contributor to AA Directions Magazine.

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