Simon Bridges’ speeding offence considered before appointment as NZTA chairman: ‘I learned a valuable lesson’

This story by Azaria Howell of NZ Herald appeared on rnz.co.nz

Simon Bridges received a 120km/h-plus speeding ticket days before becoming the National Party leader in 2018 which he had to disclose to the New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) before being appointed as its new chair.

The former National Party leader says he learned a valuable lesson. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Under an Official Information Act response relating to Bridges’ confirmation in March as chairman of the agency, released by the Ministry of Transport on publicly available website FYI, the 200-page document includes several emails between the ministry and the transport minister’s office.

The documents show a routine background check of the former minister and National Party leader, revealing he exceeded a 100km/h speed limit and copped 35 demerit points in 2018.

That demerit level is received when a person exceeds the limit by more than 20km/h, but less than 30km/h.

“Not progressing an individual for appointment on the basis of their driving record is ultimately a judgment call for a minister,” internal emails under the OIA reveal.

Bridges received a speeding ticket for his actions on 21 February, six days before becoming leader of the National Party.

Bridges acknowledged committing the “speeding offence” to the Herald, saying it was “some time ago”.

“I learned a valuable lesson,” he said.

Bridges told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking he paid a “very significant fine” and had not received a ticket since then.

He could not recall the exact question NZTA asked when considering him for the role, but said it was based around whether the applicant had any “convictions and so on”.

“They may have asked me something about speeding and I would have disclosed, look, some time ago you know I did get pulled over.”

Demerit points remain active on an individual’s licence record for a period of two years from the date of the offence, and an individual needs to accumulate 100 or more active demerit points for their licence to be suspended.

Bridges did not have any active demerit points at the time of becoming chairman. However, he did while he was the party leader.

The documents released under the OIA also state four candidates, including Bridges, were shortlisted for the role of NZTA chairperson. The other three names, and information about them, was redacted. Bridges was recommended because of his experience as a senior Cabinet minister and political leader, the documents state.

Some red flags were initially raised around Bridges being appointed while being the chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.

“Mr Bridges has already made declarations about other conflicts which the ministry is comfortable with, but the chamber role remains of interest,” it was said, during the hiring process.

Further information revealed in the Ministry of Transport’s OIA release shows there were conflict-of-interest declarations around Bridges.

“Mr Bridges’ current roles as chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber, chair of the National Road Carriers Association and chair of the Northern Infrastructure Forum are all conflicts of interest,” the documents said, confirming Bridges would resign from two of the three roles mentioned if he became the transport association’s chairman.

“Further discussions will need to take place concerning his conflict on the Auckland Business Chamber to determine if an effective mitigation strategy is possible.”

Potential conflicts of interest were discussed with Ministry of Transport officials, and it was later deemed there was no direct conflict of interest, as the chamber “has a strong delivery focus rather than a policy focus”.

The Chamber of Commerce does not have an active work programme on transport.

Bridges committed to refrain from making any public statement on transport in his role as the Auckland chamber’s chief executive.

A letter from Transport Minister Simeon Brown to Bridges at the time of his appointment as NZTA’s chairman states he does not have “any unmanageable conflicts of interest”.

Following an interview with Bridges, Ministry of Transport principal adviser Jono Reid, in an email released under the OIA, said, ” think we may still need to do a bit of work to be fully comfortable. The challenge we did not discuss is the potential for the chamber board’s strategic direction to change and how it could conflict with NZTA’s role.”

“That may never fully absolve [Bridges] for a conflict, and even if the role is okay now, could provide challenges at a later date,” Reid said during the hiring process.

A Ministry of Transport spokesperson confirmed Bridges had disclosed the driving offence during the appointment process of becoming the chairman of NZTA.

Brown confirmed Simon Bridges disclosed his February 2018 speeding ticket as part of the NZTA appointment process in March 2024.

“Mr Bridges received the February 2018 speeding ticket for one offence in which he exceeded the 100km/h limit,” Brown said in a statement to NZME.

– This story was first published by NZ Herald.

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