Mainfreight chairman Bruce Plested has criticised what he says is the government’s lack of a national transport plan, throwing his support behind state-owned rail operator KiwiRail and calling it an integral part of the infrastructure.
Speaking to shareholders at its annual meeting in Auckland, Mr Plested said the government and Treasury had treated rail appallingly since it was sold in 1992 and repurchased in 2006, and that policymakers lack a strategy for transport infrastructure.
“Without rail, our opportunities for passenger transport are restricted, our desperation for more roads intensifies to the point of impossibility, and our options for port locations become hopelessly restricted,” Mr Plested said.
“How on earth could Treasury not see these connections, and our government not see the need for an overall strategy'”
Mr Plested, who last year donated $35,000 to the National Party and $100,000 to the Maori Party, was responding to Treasury advice to the government this year recommending closing major parts of the rail network.
Managing director Don Braid said the company was a strong supporter of rail, with current and future roading not capable of meeting Mainfreight’s needs, according to presentation slides accompanying his speech.
Mr Braid said the company wants more positive support for long-term rail infrastructure, and Mainfreight is continuing to invest in facilities at or near rail-serviced property.
Mr Plested also questioned the need for New Zealand’s dozen ports, which “allows the overseas shipping companies to play them all off against each other for price and service, mostly while the local ratepayers provide the ports’ finances”.
Mainfreight expects short-term earnings to come under pressure in Australia where the economy is stalling, and is seeking to improve margins by cutting costs.
The shares fell 0.5 per cent to $15.12, and have decreased 4.4 per cent this year.