Politicians need to take action to fix New Zealand's "social disgrace" around housing, Mainfreight founder and chairman Bruce Plested said.

In his chairman's statement for the transport and logistics company's latest annual report, Plested reflected on a year in which the firm posted a record profit but also one that presented big challenges like the Kaikoura earthquakes.

Mainfreight posted a 16 per cent gain in profit in the 12 months to March, which exceeded $100 million for the first time, led by earnings growth in New Zealand and Australia.

Profit rose to $101.5m, from $87.6m a year earlier. Sales climbed to $2.3 billion from $2.28b.

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Given 2017 is an an election year, Plested said it was worth asking questions of politicians.

"Our normal housing, through most parts of New Zealand, costs some ten times the net annual income of the family seeking to buy them," said Plested, who has been on Mainfreight's board since 1978.

"These high prices (three times annual income was the price paid by buyers for many years prior to the early 2000s) have been progressively increasing for the past 15 years, and all governments have been aware of the problem. No government or local government has taken any meaningful action against this rising tide," Plested said.

He believed the problem was due to planning restrictions making it difficult to grow within city boundaries, cities being prevented from growing outward because of rural and urban limits and that new developments required investment from local councils that could only be paid for by rate increases.

"The politicians, both local and national, must take action on this very fixable social disgrace. 'The market' cannot sort out this problem. Real leadership and
intestinal fortitude is needed now," he said.

Plested also addressed education and environment issues in his chairman's address.

New Zealand's "lack of respect for water and water quality is an indictment of governments going back decades", he said.

While by some standard New Zealand's education system was satisfactory, only 30 per cent of "children from lower decile school areas" were reaching the average for NCEA Level 3, he said.

"This low level of success continues the establishment of a permanent socio-economic group of underachievers in education, and it is our Maori and Pacific Island people who make up most of this group. This group of under-achievers are more displaced than ever by our rising housing and rent prices," he said.