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