Ports of Auckland is out of control

Written By: - Date published: 8:33 am, May 3rd, 2015 - 28 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, Conservation, Environment, len brown, local government, Politics, supercity - Tags: ,

I have thought this for a while. Ever since POAL have spent huge amounts of public money to try and rid the Auckland Port of union labour I have thought that they were out of control and should be replaced.

The Standard covered this issue in some detail and I used to blog on this issue at Waitakere News.  The handling was a perfect example of the major weakness of Auckland Super City where democratic control had been sacrificed to corporate priorities.

The basic problem was the insistence that POAL should return a healthy financial return.  It is a publicly owned piece of infrastructure that facilitates economic activity.  Financially it can break even but as long as it contributing to Auckland’s overall economic wellbeing this should not be of concern.  The greater good can mean that it’s profitability is not a priority issue.

Perhaps enamoured by its earlier success POAL has recently engaged in further controversial activity and has proposed to extend the total wharf area and to reclaim land to improve the port’s bottom line.  The Port wants to construct new 97 and 92 metre wharves along either side of the Bledisloe Wharf and will no doubt in the future want to fill in the area between.

The logic is at one level compelling.  Increasing the size of wharves will improve the bottom line.  As long as profit generated can more than sustain the cost of construction then logically POAL should keep building wharves.  They may not stop and eventually the wharves may be approaching Devonport but as long as the bottom line is improving all is fine, according to this analysis.

The gap in POAL’s logic is that it could wreck a beautiful harbour.  Increasing encroachment to essentially provide wharf space for used cars and large liners housing retired Americans appeals to POAL’s corporate view of the world.  Preserving the harbour appeals to the elected representatives, at least some of them as well as huge numbers in the community.

The super city structure is a major impediment.  Despite the Council effectively owning the POAL shares there is a corporate layer in the middle.  Auckland Council Investments Limited is the nominal owner of the shares and the appointer of POAL directors.  Auckland Council owns ACIL’s shares and appoints its directors.

In terms of raw legal power the solution seems clear.  You would think that Council could tell ACIL to tell POAL that if its directors do not reflect the wishes of the Council then they will be replaced.  And if ACIL is not willing to do this then tell ACIL’s directors that they will be replaced by directors willing to do the job.

But in that typical corporate way matters have become somewhat complex.  Everyone lawyered up and people start talking about judicial review and the obligations of a ports company to operate as a successful business.  This analysis however  completely misses the obligations of the Auckland Council to govern in the interests of the city and it shows how limited POAL’s world view is.

The most upsetting thing is the complete disdain POAL has shown to Auckland Council’s expressed wishes.  Correspondence has been exchanged, POAL asked in that polite Council way to stop work and even talk of a thermonuclear option has not deterred it from giving a very clear extended middle finger to the Council.  POAL’s decision to announce on National Radio its response to the letter was unbelievable.

In the ensuing stare down that occurred Auckland Council clearly blinked first.  An agreement to allow one extension to be constructed was supported by the barest of majorities with Mayor Len Brown having to exercise a casting vote to get the agreement over the line.  Cameron Brewer, no doubt with the intent of embarrassing Brown, joined the group of progressive and environmentally protective councillors such as Darby, Clow, Casey and Lee in opposing the resolution.

The brinkmanship exercised by POAL was pretty extreme.  Two days previously its lawyer Jim Farmer had told the High Court that the work could not be stopped.  And then this compromise deal was reached where construction on one of the wharves has been halted, at least for now.

The issue is one of a number that has divided Auckland Council.  Chris Darby described the situation well when he described the compromise as “a black day for Auckland when it is blackmailed by its port company”.

If you want to express your thoughts there is a protest at Downtown Auckland today starting at 11 am.  Details are on Stop Stealing our Harbour’s Facebook page.

28 comments on “Ports of Auckland is out of control”

  1. tc 1

    Local body dirty politics brought to you by brewer and his associates, works just as hide and key intended it to.

    • dukeofurl 1.1

      Brewer and colleagues new trick is ‘lease off the port’ but keep the land in public ownership.
      And we are talking very very long leases, and as we found out with Sky City they usually have the clout to run ruffshot over any conditions to get what they want.

      International owners would use every financial trick in the book to avoid paying taxes on profits.

    • Bearded Git 1.2

      I just can’t believe 5 councilors didn’t turn up to the wharf vote. WTF?

  2. Paul 2

    This is what happens when a country worships at the altar of neoliberalism.

  3. Sable 3

    Ever known a government or governing body of any kind in this country to govern in the interests of the people? Sorry to sound cynical but it wont’ happen.

  4. Tracey 4

    who owns ports of tauranga and northland?

    best thing imo is for those 3 to merge…

    • jenny kirk 4.1

      Tracey – Ports of Auckland has a large share in both Tauranga and Northland. And Tauranga has a large share in Northland as well. You’d think they could all work together for what is the major good of carting products around the world from NZ – but NO, PoA want to be the biggest and the best and to heck with what that would mean for the environment in which it operates ie the Waitemata Harbour and the greater Hauraki Gulf. Meanwhile the best deep water port in NZ languishes from lack of work and investment (ie Northland).

      • dukeofurl 4.1.1

        The problem with northland is the additional transport costs to bring imported goods to Auckland.
        It is essentially only an oil import terminal for the refinery, which cant be used for anything else and a logs export wharf nearby – which cant be used for anything else. There is a small cement wharf separate again- which cant be used for anything else.

        Auckland had land set aside for new wharfs at Te Atatu. This would have been ideal for cars etc, but in the amalgamation frenzy the land was sold back in the late 1980s

    • You_Fool 4.2

      It does seem to me that would be the best way forward. Offload ships in Tauranga or Whangarei and transport by train to wiri as an inland port then distribute to auckland from there. POA can be converted back into public spaces and a luxury cruise liner terminal. If more space is needed for them (which they don’t really need) then maybe another spot in auckland is needed (with the required direct rail link to downtown)

      Of course this appears to go against the interests of those who run the place

  5. grumpystilskin 5

    Gotta love the “no big cruise ships” in the headlines now, marketing 101.
    Surely most people can see through the PR?

  6. greywarshark 6

    large liners housing retired Americans appeals to POAL’s corporate view of the world
    A relative recently had a jaunt on one of the large liners. There are people who have
    had 20 tours on liners.

    POA groans that cruise ships are being turned away – they are too long for the present wharves. I think $40 million was mentioned as the loss to Auckland. How is that calculated then? Is there a basic spend of average for each passenger, which then gives the multiplier effect, usually of diminishing return up to 3 times.) An Australian study gives the sum of $371 a day per passenger. Largest cruisers hold to 6,600 passengers down to 3,000. On the Costa Concordia there were 4252 passengers.
    http://www.cruising.org/vacation/news/press_releases/2014/11/new-study-shows-cruise-passengers-spend-371-day-cruise-industry-generate

    Crews on cruise ships – Most staff work 77 hour work weeks for 10 months continuously followed by 2 months of vacation.[22][23] Numbers on board for the Costa Concordia were about 500 Indians and Filipinos about half the personnel which also had a big number of Indonesians, 170. There are no paid vacations or pensions for service, non-management crew, depending on the level of the position and the type of the contract. Non-service and management crew members get paid vacation, medical, retirement options, and can participate in the company’s group insurance plan.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruise_ship

    The cruise ship companies need huge input of money from willing travellers. If the financial system goes down, the oil is depleted and they stop coming then there are wharves which people might not even be able to fish off if the ecology of the area deteriorates because of the building destruction and the ongoing efffects of the extra wharves. Also the leaching from shipping, oil, unsanitary goo which happens despite the best regulations, properly policed. Has anti fouling paint been outlawed and if so is that adequately policed? How? There is something called fanworm come in from overseas that grows rapidly and spreads over native sea habitatsand this requires the sort of precautionary monitoring that careless corporates find inefficient to their bottom line.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruise_ship_pollution_in_the_United_States

  7. wyndham 7

    The objections by the people of Auckland appear based on the spatial and visual despoilation of the Hauraki Gulf.
    Surely the so-called ‘compromise’ decision of allowing one wharf to go ahead is no compromise at all ! One wharf or two make equal contribution to ruination of a gem.
    Besides, we all know that approval given to one is merely the old foot in the door trick. Inevitably the second will follow.

    • greywarshark 7.1

      @ wyndham
      I heard a spokesperson on the radio say as much – that the second would happen. The single on was just to break the logjam of complaints and constraints.

  8. Tiger Mountain 8

    well written Micky

    cruise ships are an optional extra in a warming world (until substantial numbers of people possibly end up living on them ala ‘Waterworld’) POA seems the ultimate undemocratic CCO standover merchant, bastard spawn of Rodney Hide’s Supercity

    the problem is so many Auckland residents and ratepayers are either lazy sods that won’t even submit a postal vote or marginalised and alienated into non participation in any public affairs, such as local boards

    inequality does not breed community spirit just niches and interest groups jostling for position, Len could have stood up for the Wharfies but did the opposite and it has gone downhill since

    yes there are quiet achievements from council activity but it is the big power plays like this one that put people off, one wonders what commitments POA had made in secret to the likes of cruise companies for the directors to so obviously take themselves out of the line of legal fire

  9. Dave Langford 9

    As a member of the Union which has spent the last 3 or 4 years locked in a fight with these swine,it comes as no surprise to me they don’t give a f..k about any objections from the people of Auckland.The worst thing is the fact that they use your money to buy full page adds to put their views over and no doubt there will be MSM story’s regarding what a fine chap the leader of POAL is (along the lines of loves kittens,and spends his free time helping old ladies cross roads etc) I can’t see any good result from this , and don’t get me started on the stadiums debacle!

  10. Armchair Critic 10

    Ports of Auckland is one of the few parts of Auckland Council that is operating in the way that ACT and National intended when they designed the reorganisation of local government in Auckland. Those two parties are doing a great job of avoiding responsibility for the mess they made.

  11. hoom 11

    This is an example of the fundamental flaws in Corporatisation of Public assets.

    POAL should be properly accountable to its owner & respectful of the desire of citizens of Auckland to have a nice harbor.

    Given the vital importance of shipping to the NZ economy there should be a Central Govt plan & direction to make sure that NZ gets the ships it needs without trashing our environment.

    Also: Can someone explain how in the hell does stopping the West extension but keeping up the East one solve anything?

    The East side is only 220m long currently, no way a big Cruise ship can dock there even with extension -> East extension only makes any sense in the context of the full reclamation between the extensions.

    And the West extension doesn’t really make any sense to me either, the West wharf is already 475m long but the largest cruise ships are only 362m long.

    Previously there was talk of extending Captain Cook wharf for Cruise ships which would have much less visual impact & removal of Marsden Wharf which would enable better use of Bledisloe, what happened to those?

    • greywarshark 11.1

      Bigness and length obviously has significant meaning for the POA deciders.

  12. Skinny 12

    A good turnout for a city full of apathy.

    http://i.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/68226885/Hundreds-of-protesters-march-against-Auckland-wharf-expansion

    The obvious solution would be to use the deep water Marsden Point port and freight goods to and fro from Auckland by rail. This would require the rail link and an upgrade of the North Auckland line. Of course common sense doesn’t prevail when you have a former National MP, turned lobbyist in Annabel Young smashing Kiwi Rail at every given opportunity, aswell as creating opportunity no doubt. Dig a little deeper and you see she is an executive director of the New Zealand Shipping Federation. National tapping another money tree no doubt, and lining the pockets of one of their own. What a disgraceful outfit in charge.

  13. Penny Bright 13

    With all due respect – the process for the effective corporate takeover of the Auckland region – this ‘Supercity for the 1%’, started, in my view, on 5 September 2006, with the attempted Auckland ‘Mayoral coup’.

    The then four City Council Mayors in the Auckland region, Dick Hubbard (ACC), Barry Curtis (MCC), George Wood (NSCC) and Bob Harvey (WCC) – all signed an ‘Open Letter’ to Labour PM – Helen Clark, on behalf of big business, calling for the abolition of the ARC, and it’s urgent replacement with an Auckland ‘Supercity’.

    Having been tipped off, myself and fellow community activist Lisa Prager, gate-crashed and effectively disrupted this ‘Mayoral Forum’ meeting, which was not following any ‘lawful due process’ for any ‘reorganisation proposal’ – as outlined in the (then) Local Government Act 2002.

    Such a fuss was made that this ‘Mayoral coup’ was an epic FAIL.

    It was the Labour Government who then appointed the Royal Commissioners for Auckland Regional Governance (including David Shand ex-World Bank /IMF ).

    It was arguably the MOST important of ALL the recommendations of this Royal Commission – that all Auckland’s major infrastructure and trading activities be undertaken by Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs).

    CCOs, have been the mechanism for the corporate takeover of the Auckland region, and the means by which we are being run ‘like a business, by business – FOR business’.

    So blaming Rodney Hide and ACT for the Auckland Supercity is quite simply – NOT historically correct.

    This Auckland ‘Supercity’ amalgamation – has been the second dose of neo-liberal Rogernomic$ forced upon the majority of citizens and ratepayers, at local government level.

    Both times – it was started under Labour.

    Lest we forget …..

    Penny Bright

    http://www.pennybright4mayor.org.nz

    • John Shears 13.1

      Penny,
      You need to read the history again.
      You mention the commission but you omit to note that their report created after several years investigation and careful consultation was thrown in the rubbish bin and Hide , as Nationals dogs body, came up with the present mess of confused governance in a few months.

    • Murray Rawshark 13.2

      Thanks Penny. It’s good to know that Brown is carrying on Labour work, rather than being forced into carrying out a devious NAct plan against his will. Just one more example where you need an electron microscope to see the difference between the two parties.

      • greywarshark 13.2.1

        Looking back at scoop on Hide as Minister when he released the report – this is what was said. But what Auck! got seems different.

        “I can see merit in having one Auckland organisation to drive, manage and be responsible for all planning and delivery of services.
        (Me – But there is not one, the Council, there are a number of silos.)

        “The proposals around management of assets, including water and wastewater, appear well thought through. Having one organisation manage all the regional assets makes a lot of sense.
        (“Makes sense” – sounds subjective to me. And again not one organisation in effect.)

        “However, I have some concerns about whether the report provides for adequate local representation in our many diverse communities, and I want to look more closely at this issue.
        (Local representation? Does this mean some hand-picked gofer or group responding to hand-picked questions from the PTB, when asked ?)

        “It’s important to get Auckland governance right as our decisions will shape the future of Auckland and New Zealand for the next 50 to 100 years. We’re committed to making a great city greater.”
        (You’re right there mate! We are being tied up in a Gordian knot that we won’t be able to wiggle our way out of because our hands are tied, behind our backs.)

        http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0903/S00405.htm

        A quote from nzherald (lower case NZ is appropriate for them) John Clements opinion – retired pilot from Orewa – makes sense.
        The Super City has led to a weird structure in which the Mayor and 20 elected councillors have to joust with seven council-controlled organisations over which they seem to have little control, and aphalanx of unelected bureaucrats. It’s highly questionable democracy.
        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11346670

        David Beatson in Pundit 2009 gives a rapid review of events in reforming Auckland from the 1980’s.
        http://pundit.co.nz/content/super-city-or-super-mess

        Two useful comments by Phil Twyford on Red Alert from 2009
        http://blog.labour.org.nz/tag/royal-commission-on-auckland-governance/

        Ref. Wikipedia on Gordian knot: It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) solved easily by cheating or “thinking outside the box” (“cutting the Gordian knot”):

        Think like Shakespeare – he had enough imagination to construct plays thinking into and sometimes. out of problems. We need to use our human trickster-mind to get out of the maze of our illogical-thinking mindset.

        “Turn him to any cause of policy,
        The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
        Familiar as his garter” (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)
        edited

  14. Draco T Bastard 14

    And then this compromise deal was reached where construction on one of the wharves has been halted, at least for now.

    In no way is it a compromise. The harbour will still be narrowed and when that’s been done the excuse will be that extending the other won’t make any difference because it won’t.

    This is an example of an uncontrollable commercial entity walking over the wishes of the people. Exactly as Act and National planned.

  15. Penny Bright 15

    Sorry if the FACTS are not to your liking, regarding the historical background to the disastrous Auckland ‘Supercity’ ( for the 1%).

    I’m not relying on the reading of the historical record.

    I’m relying on memory and my own research / investigation, as one of the very few who was actually there, opposing the Auckland Supercity, literally from Day One – when it started – in my view on 5 September 2006 – the day of ‘the failed Mayoral coup’.

    The mechanism for the corporate takeover of the Auckland region has been the the Council Controlled Organisation (CCO) model, which, in my view was the most important recommendation of the Labour Government appointed Royal Commission on Auckland Regional Governance – that all major infrastructure and trading activities should be carried out by CCOs.

    Don’t ask me to have a frontal lobotomy.

    Facts are facts and truth is truth.

    Why don’t you ask Mike Lee?

    Penny Bright

    http://www.pennybright4mayor.org.nz

  16. Richard@Down South 16

    Surely Jim Farmer committed perjury by saying the work could not be stopped?

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