Mayor Wayne Brown raises ire of union, councillor over port lease plan

8:26 am on 23 June 2023
Auckland mayor Wayne Brown visits the Mangere Emergency Centre following the Auckland floods on Friday, 27 January to see how they are supporting victims.

Mayor Wayne Brown has been a longtime critic of the performance of the Ports of Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

The Maritime Union believes it would be disastrous for Auckland if Mayor Wayne Brown gets his way with a proposal for the Ports of Auckland.

Just two weeks after 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.

He said his predecessor had the same idea.

"What I didn't realise was that mayor [Phil] Goff had started this off already," he said.

"So I said 'let see where he was going'," Brown said.

He admitted the details of his plan were still unclear.

"It's very early days, I don't know whether we're looking at getting some money for the right to operate or whether we're going to get some rent and a dividend, or just a dividend," he said.

"The dividends at the moment aren't very good, but they have got better than what they were."

Brown said he saw how a profitable and efficient port could run, during a recent trip to South Korea.

"Everything's automated, the trucks aren't backed up on the street, it's safer, faster, better, every piece of land in Busan on the port is earning money."

He believed more could be done with the Auckland operation.

"We're going to put a bit of pressure on the existing operators, and know that they've got to compete with other outside ones," he said.

"There appears to be quite a lot of interest from various groups who might actually want to operate the port and pay some rent."

But not everyone was on board.

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.

Brown, however, saw things differently.

"What's a disaster to one person is an opportunity to another," he said.

AUCKLAND - JULY 12 2018:Freight ship in Ports of Auckland. its New Zealands largest commercial port handling more than NZ$20 billion of goods per year

Ports of Auckland. Photo: 123RF

Consultation with councillors needed

Manurewa-Papakura councillor Angela Dalton, who opposed the partial sale of airport shares, said it was too soon to be taking another controversial sale to councillors.

"It just brings back the scepticism of the relationships," she said.

She said she only heard about the proposal by reading it in the Herald and there should be greater transparency.

"We're on a long road here, and the ports should not be up for discussion in the media until the mayor has spoken with councillors," she said.

Former mayoral candidate and business group Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said the idea has potential, but other options should be looked at.

"We've been very supportive of developing that land over time," she said.

Beck said any changes needed to ensure Auckland was still well served in terms of goods, and that the land ownership remained in public hands.

"There's obviously a lot of work that needs to go into this," she said.

The council is in the early stages of developing its Long Term Plan.

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