Fresh from his success at selling off part of Auckland Council’s Airport shares Wayne Brown has proposed another privatisation, that of Ports of Auckland Operations by way of the granting of an operating lease for the Port’s activities.
Just two weeks after [Mayor Wayne] Brown won a contentious vote for the partial sale of the council’s shareholding in Auckland Airport, he has floated the idea of selling an operating lease for the port business and reclaiming some of the land for public use.
He said it would make the port more efficient but the union feared it could be a financial disaster.
Ports of Auckland operates as an independent business, working off port land owned by the council, to which it also pays dividends.
Brown has always been highly critical of the port’s performance saying it is inefficient and has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a botched automation project.
Now, he has been looking into what leasing its operations and freeing up land could mean for the city.
The Maritime Union thinks the decision would be disastrous:
The Maritime Union’s national secretary, Craig Harrison, warned that leasing out the port business would put Auckland in a dangerous financial situation.
“You’re setting up what is effectively a private monopoly,” he said.
“Our concern is, if you lease it out to a foreign operator, you’ll get a good price for it, all right, because there’s nowhere else to take those containers.”
He said there needed to be more discussion about the issue with the whole of the Auckland region involved in any conversations on what happened to the port.
Ports of Auckland has not been helped by a disastrous automation project which has affected its economic performance. The motivation appears to have been designed to deunionise the site. The subsequent industrial dispute The past CEO and the directors who were responsible have been moved on.
And the Mayor wants to make sure that more waterfront land is used for other purposes.
This particular wish is not unreasonable. There is an international recognised phenomenon where ports in major cities shrink as their city grows.
But the privatisation of operations is unrelated to decisions on land use, in fact privatisation will make changes more difficult to achieve. And “efficiencies” almost inevitably equate to cuts in workers conditions.
The proposal will shine the light on three Councillors, Richard Hills, Shane Henderson and Julie Fairey who each voted against proposals to stop the sale of airport shares.
This issue will put them in a difficult position.
And it allows Mike Lee to further rehabilitate himself with the left. When he was ARC chair he oversaw the repurchase of the ports and he was involved in initial efforts to keep the Ports in public ownership.
I suspect that the Mayor will attempt to put more Airport shares up for sale next year. Privatisation is going to be a live issue for Auckland’s councillors for a while.