THE MARITIME Union of New Zealand has renewed attacks on the Luxon government over its decision to de-fund KiwiRail’s Cook Strait ferry replacement program.

MUNZ’s call for “leadership” comes as KiwiRail confirms it has begun negotiations to cancel its orders with South Korea’s Hyundai Mipo for the sophisticated passenger/rail/ro-ro ships.

MUNZ said today that one year ago, then National Party opposition Transport Spokesperson Simeon Brown described the Cook Strait ferries as the “the biggest pothole on State Highway 1” after multiple technical problems with ageing ships.

In August 2023, he then described the current ferries as causing “significant safety concerns.”

MUNZ national secretary Craig Harrison says the future of Cook Strait has now become a “black hole not a pot hole” in NZ’s transport network, due to the government’s demolition of the Inter-island Resilience Connection project (iReX).

“Despite his strong criticisms prior to being elected, we have not heard a peep out of Simeon Brown recently about the future of the Cook Strait as a key transport link.”

Mr Harrison said many industry figures and commentators from across the political spectrum had expressed concerns about the future of the Cook Strait connection and the logic of the government decision.

He said there was a danger NZ would end up with a cheap, sub-optimal ferry option that would see ongoing disruption and safety issues: “The long term cost may end up a lot higher.”

The then newly-elected National government effectively pulled the pin on the iReX on 13 December last year, when finance minister Nicola Willis refused KiwiRail’s request for an extra NZ$1.47 billion, following a blow-out in the cost of new terminals infrastructure in Wellington and Picton.

The decision was harshly criticised at the time by various interests, including the country’s four transport unions, with Mr Harrison saying it was not tenable that such a major decision with massive implications for the economy should be made in such a “fast and loose” manner.

“This is far more than a fiscal decision – this decision shows poor judgment and a total lack of understanding of the importance of a functioning Cook Strait connection to New Zealand’s supply chain,” he said.

KiwiRail will appear before the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee at Parliament this Thursday (15 February).