20 Feb 2019

Reviewer defends his report into NZTA's regulatory functions

11:19 am on 20 February 2019

A leading company director is defending his review of the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

Some cnew cars in a car transport. Truck car carrier

An investigation lawyer says NZTA's "general regulatory approach was flawed" for years. Photo: 123RF

The agency is being overhauled after admitting it let its road safety regulatory functions get so bad they were in "intensive care".

Last week, an investigation by lawyer Kristy McDonald found NZTA's "general regulatory approach was flawed" for years because it put customer service ahead of public safety.

Along with reviewer Paul Reynolds, Dr Keith Turner co-wrote a Performance Improvement Framework (PIF) review issued 10 months ago.

His review was "exceptional value" for the taxpayer and repeatedly told NZTA it needed significant regulatory change, Dr Turner said.

He said it did not say anything about the agency's lack of enforcement, nor should it have.

"We are not there to do an audit to ... check on compliance."

He said that was up to the board. The PIF was about setting strategies over the next four years to improve performance.

Dr Turner rejected any suggestion his review was simply echoing the earlier "flawed" approach identified by Ms McDonald.

"We were shifting NZTA's thinking from delivering large infrastructure projects to delivering for the users of the transport network."

The agency's control of compliance was removed and given to an Auckland lawyer in October, and 850 files covering warrants of fitness, transport operators and heavy vehicle certifiers, among others, have been investigated.

But Dr Turner's report, referring to driver licensing, vehicle testing, vehicle certification and rail safety regulations, said: "NZTA does well in actual delivery in this core business area for the majority of customers."

In her investigation, Ms McDonald said the agency must refocus on public safety and "does not compromise robust enforcement action".

This was also in the PIF.

Dr Turner said he was not briefed about how the agency had cut in half its regulatory compliance team.

"We were at pains not to step on the toes of the board.

"We certainly saw the wider delivery and implementation of the organisation as needing development. You wouldn't get 17 out of 27 functions rated 'needing development' if that wasn't the case."

He was not surprised when NZTA board chairperson Michael Stiassny said the regulatory arm was in "intensive care".

"I think the PIF report itself has done its job in highlighting the need for regulatory development and greater focus on safety. So in that sense, I regard the PIF report as highly successful."

The State Services Commission allocates PIF reports about government agencies.

Commissioner Peter Hughes said Dr Turner's April 2018 review "clearly highlighted" that NZTA needed to improve its regulatory responsibilities.

"However, the PIF was not, and is not, a regulatory compliance audit. That is what the NZTA board did following the PIF. That was exactly the right thing to do."

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