Saturday, 20 May 2017

Whaleoil's take on "Phil Goff won’t confirm he’ll sell the Ports of Auckland"

Goff would only say he has had wide-ranging discussions on Auckland’s port but no specific proposal on ownership has been presented to him.
In politician-speak, that is:  Yes.  Yes I am going to try and sell it.  

My personal comment: remember it was Labour mayor Garry Moore who tried to sell off Ports of Lyttelton when he was in office in Christchurch. This elicited huge controversy from many of Moore's own fellow Labour politicians, and it was never carried through.

As Slater says, it becomes a question of ideology to be selling income generating assets (even given Slater's own right wing affiliations) as once they are sold the income from the sale has to be balanced against the fact that the dividends the port company pays are a continuing income source, a return on investment to the city that keeps on paying year after year.

In my view the City of Auckland has been a poor example of socially responsible or community ownership because they have sought to maximise their income at all costs then looked the other way when the result is port company management are forced to casualise and contract out their workforce and cut their terms and conditions in order to reduce costs so they can pay the bigger dividend. In other words the short term financial gains are a far bigger imperative for Auckland Council than the socially irresponsible impact of cutting the wages bill for staff who are in a lower paid sector of the workforce.

On the other hand there are significant questions about the need for the city to own any business activity that is competing against other businesses in the marketplace and for which there is not an imperative that public ownership is necessary or desirable to ensure there is sufficient oversight of monopoly powers. Port of Tauranga has been quite successful in partially private ownership being now NZ's biggest port. They would be likely to look to take a stake in POAL to protect their strategic interest, particularly if POAL is floated on the stockmarket.

The biggest issue overall is that the wider public interest overrides the political interests of the mayor and elected councillors. Local government politics has been becoming more and more geared towards political interests, vote buying and insatiable greed for more and more funds to do this, and in general, accountability and scrutiny of local governance is much weaker than at central government level. The extent to which local government politicians are prepared to jump on the bandwagon of selling off things or constantly demanding greater dividends or lower operating costs is becoming so bad, look at GWRC with the debacle over the new bus services in Wellington for a recent example of this.