Hooton doesn’t care anymore. Except about one thing

Whichever major party first agrees to Winston Peters’ ‘cast iron commitment’ on port reform is set to lead the next government

First a disclosure: As middle-aged cynicism sets in, closing Auckland’s container and used-car port remains one of the few political issues I genuinely care about anymore. I have provided usually pro bono PR advice to various community groups and organisations who share that view. More recently, I may even have had a chat to one or two people connected to NZ First.

My view is predominantly economic but also aesthetic. It is absurd that 77 hectares of prime Auckland waterfront land is used to receive used cars and containers, which are then trucked to national distribution centres spread through the wider region before the goods are brought back into the city or sent elsewhere.

Auckland, like Sydney and most seaside cities, exists because of its harbour and port.

But, over the last century, Sydneysiders were smart enough to progressively move their port’s industrial operations ever further from its CDB, and build things like an opera house, a world-class cruise-liner terminal, parks, boutique hotels and high-value apartments instead.

In contrast, Auckland’s hapless city leaders have been held hostage by a combination of an old-school-tie establishment interested in port directorships, and maritime union bosses and captured council bureaucrats interested in preserving the status quo.

I think the idea of a progressive move makes a lot of sense.   But that’s not what’s being proposed.  

Under Mr Peters’ plan, by the time container operations at Auckland cease, the natural deep-water port at Marsden Point will have been developed into a new mega-port having been designated as New Zealand’s first Special Economic Area (SEA) by the end of 2018.

Mr Peters’ thinking on the SEA is informed by similar zones in the US and Asia. While radical in a New Zealand context, they are mainstream economic policy globally.
The SEA would enable tax-free national distribution centres and other businesses to be established around Northport from where goods would be sent to Auckland and elsewhere via an upgraded Auckland to Northland rail line, including a spur to the SEA.

As port functions were progressively transferred to Northport over the next decade, Mr Peters says central government would work with Aucklanders, Auckland Council and other stakeholders on a masterplan for the new waterfront.

Importantly, Auckland iwi Ngati Whatua has backed Mr Peters’ vision and says it wants to help develop but not dictate the masterplan. While asserting it has deep cultural and historical connection with the harbour, it has publicly acknowledged all Aucklanders have a special relationship with the waterfront.

For its part, the port is firing warning shots across Mr Peters’ bow, announcing on Wednesday it had ordered three giant new cranes to support its 40-year expansion plans and mocking his Northport vision on social media.

Mr Peters should not be naïve. Port lobbyists have successfully thwarted political leaders as formidable as Ms Clark and Mr Mallard, even when they came bearing hundreds of millions of dollars of gifts, and also Labour coalition negotiator Annette King when, as transport minister, she tried rationalising New Zealand’s mainly publicly owned port network. The port has no intention of letting Mr Peters succeed where Ms Clark, Mr Mallard and Ms King failed.

Port lobbyists will already be in the ear of both Ms King and National negotiator Gerry Brownlee, another former transport minister but one seen as more sceptical about rail and whose position on the port is unknown.

If Mr Peters faces them all down and implements his plan, he will be immortalised in his birthplace of Northland. More surprisingly, Mr Peters will be seen as much the father of 21st century Auckland as Sir John Logan Campbell is of the 20th century version of the city.

Media do want us to believe Winston wants a legacy.  That would certainly be it.


– Matthew Hooton, NBR

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.