Darien Fenton’s port transparency Bill is due for its first reading in the house tomorrow and, as far as I can tell, it’s got a pretty good chance of passing.
Right now council owned ports are exempted from the Official Information Act. This appears to be a hangover from being prepared for privatisation from the fourth Labour government days but what it means now is that there are billions of dollars of public money tied up in ports around the country that are under the control of largely unaccountable boards.
While that’s not been ideal, it’s also not been a huge issue until the recent dispute at Ports of Auckland when one of these unaccountable boards decided to use ratepayers’ money to pursue a costly and ideological crusade against its own workforce.
As far as I can tell this has directly cost the Auckland ratepayers tens of millions of dollars but nobody will ever know for sure because the company is not subject to any transparent process.
Now it looks like the management and board are preparing for another round of costly action. And why wouldn’t they? They’re not the ones bearing that cost.
Fenton’s Bill would be a step in correcting this situation in that it would turn ports into Council Controlled Organisations and thus introduce some transparency by putting them back on the OIA schedule.
Of course this isn’t just a union issue, accountability and transparency are fundamental aspects of a functioning market and few politicians would deny that the public should have a right to know how their money is being spent. It’s just common sense.
I understand that this Bill has the backing of most parties in the house. It will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow.