31 Mar 2021

'Just bugger off', Tau Henare tells Ports of Auckland boss after damning report

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 31 March 2021

After a report revealing systemic failings in safety practices at Ports of Auckland, Independent Māori Statutory Board deputy chair Tau Henare says port chief executive Tony Gibson should "just bugger off".  

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff commissioned the report, which found suspected under-reporting of accidents, with workers fearing retaliation if they raise concerns.  

It called for Ports of Auckland (POAL) to put safety ahead of profit. 

Chief executive Tony Gibson maintains he will stay in the role to push through changes, despite the report laying much of the blame for failings at the feet of management. 

Henare is the deputy chair of the board that advises Auckland Council on Māori issues. He wants to see Gibson gone. 

"You have the victims' families saying basically the same thing as the report," he told RNZ's Checkpoint.

"It's time, in my opinion, and it's what I will be saying to my board at our next board meeting, that both the CEO Tony Gibson and the chair should stand down forthwith.  

"Somebody needs to take responsibility … get in some real people who know the business, who know what needs to be done and instill some confidence from the workers in the management.  

"If that had been a worker, they'd be down the road in five seconds." 

POAL board chair Bill Osborne has not been with the organisation as long as Gibson, but Henare told Checkpoint he needed to go as well. 

"When you're the chair, when you're the chief exec, the buck should stop right there. Especially if you're getting paid close to $1 million a year to do a job that somebody could do for $100,000 to $200,000 a year." 

Gibson told Auckland councillors on Tuesday he felt "sick" reading about the issues outlined in the report, and he wanted to lead a programme of change.  

Henare said Gibson already had his chance. 

"After the first [fatal] incident. Nothing changed. Then the second incident comes along and nothing changes. But how many times do people have to be buried for him to get his arse into gear?" 

In an interview with Checkpoint in December 2020, Gibson said: "We have a large Pacific Island, Māori community, and very often they are what I would call shy in coming forward to address issues. 

"We've spoken to them. And we want to ensure that through their leaders that they ... have an avenue to come through and express how they feel about safety." 

Henare said he was still waiting to see work done on engaging with Māori workers.  

"Back in 2017, the Independent Māori Statutory Board and the Ports of Auckland agreed that by 2019 there would be a Māori responsiveness programme established. Well it's 2021 and they haven't done sweet F.A. about it.  

"In fact, only a couple of days ago we asked them, 'where's your Māori responsiveness report?' They haven't even started it. We in fact, after that meeting, sent them a template that they could use. 

"That's three or four years in the making, just getting to a, 'sorry we didn't do what we promised to do'. 

"When last year we asked them who did they have, they had employed a person of Māori descent. They couldn't even tell us his or her name. 

"This is just one of many issues that have culminated in a culture of non-responsiveness and non-responsibility.  

"It's time for these guys to walk out of the office, get in their flash cars, and just bugger off. 

"Let somebody who knows what they're doing handle the move into the 21st century." 

As Independent Māori Statutory Board deputy chair, Henare's responsibility is to advance the interests of Māori in Tāmaki Makaurau.  

In this situation, he said that meant trying to work with POAL to create the promised Māori responsiveness programme.  

That involves establishing the Treaty of Waitangi at the base of policies, working with Māori particularly so they feel safe.  

"What work have they done with Ngāti Whātua? What work have they done with the other 18 iwi in and around Tāmaki?" 

On a scale of one to 10, Henare said POAL management's engagement with Māori was about a one. 

"I mean there are deaths there. Not just one, not just two, but also a poor person in the community who just happened to be on the water.  

"There's too many instances where boards and chief execs get away with - I hate to say it - murder." 

Ports of Auckland declined to comment.