Gary Swift

Council fratricide on Thursday – pass it on

The streets will flow with the blood of left-wingers after this coming Thurday’s Auckland Council committee meeting on the Ports of Auckland industrial dispute.

To be discussed at the meeting will be a series of questions posed by Richard Northey and answered by Auckland Council Investments’ Gary Swift.

Also on the table will be the nutty and pathetic tablings of Local Boards (they who are so clearly not tasked with regional and investment matters) who have even had MUNZ come and whinge to them about what is happening. This is all a bit ho-hum.

What is going to really set the cat amongst the pigeons is Richard Northey’s motion as chair:

? That the Accountability and Performance Committee express to the Ports of Auckland and to the Maritime Union:

i) its strong desire for an immediate return to good faith bargaining aimed at the achievement of a fair collective agreements that further significantly improves port efficiency, and
ii) its opposition to the redundancy and contracting out of 292 port workforce positions as proposed.

This amounts to political interference amongst the management of the Ports. Should this motion pass, then the left will have massively backflipped – and in the process handing a massive humiliation to Len Brown who has said his hands are tied and he won’t interfere.

It will also be interesting to see which councillors do not turn up (like last time), or choose to abstain. This includes Len Brown, whose failure to turn up last time kicked off the cunning C&R strategy of baiting Len into a foolish and compromising position of “supporting both sides” in mid January.

Brown is now tasked with an even worse set of choices thanks to Richard Northey’s desperation to show he is a worker’s mate.

a) Don’t turn up and be called a coward
b) Turn up and vote for the motion, completely upending his council and risking central government wrath (with the wrath rumoured to include legislation that the council might not like)
c) Turn up and vote down the motion, doing the right thing but further hurting his support with the militant left

I will be counting on the votes of the 5 C&R councillors, plus independents to show that it’s NOT the business of council politicians to publicly contradict and countermand previous decisions it made to support the boards of its investment wing. (Remember than on 8 December, the council voted at this same committee to back the Ports board and Auckland Council Investments). Nominally centre-right councillors like Penny Webster, Michael Goudie, and Calum Penrose, plus centrists like Arthur Anae, Sir John Walker and Sharon Stewart will be scrutinised heavily to see if they back this hard left retrograde step to inferfere in the management of the Ports.

On top of this – the votes of the two unelected Maori Statutory Board members will be scrutinised hard too.

This is going to be the showdown of the council term – this vote may define the Len Brown and Labour-left led council in the same way the Waterfront Stadium debate of the Hubbard Council wrecked the inter-personal relationships between left-wing councillors and humiliated Dick Hubbard publicly.

Ports crisis – the roll call

As the union goes to the media talking about the protection of “their” jobs and calls are being made for the missing in action Len Brown to step up, it may be useful for Whaleoil readers to know who the roll call of names are in the snowballing Ports crisis. Here are the major figures, a brief history, and their involvement


Garry Parsloe – ?tough, gruff and staunch leader of the Maritime Union of NZ. A lot smarter than he is given credit for, but not smart enough to avoid an asymmetrical war with a blogger. Supported by his union, desperate to hold on to the benefits and working conditions of the 1980s (ironically the last time he appeared in newspapers for all the wrong reasons), and avoid contracting or competition for labour at the ports, even if it means pay rises for their workers. Those who start work at the wharves are ruthlessly drilled on the history of the Ports, and reminded of the “struggles” of their forebears for the perks they now enjoy. The Maritime Union is an old red leftist union of old communists still practicing “internationalism”. They have as recently as September of this year supported the Port of Longview in Washington, USA, for their strikes against management. MUNZ have also expressed political views on global mining, Pike River and Mexican labour disputes. They are a political organisation – make no mistake of that.

Mike Lee – ex wharfie, now supercity councillor, who rose to become chairman of the old Auckland Regional Council, which bought back the 20% of the Ports which were owned by shareholders around 7 years ago. As Chairman of the ARC, Lee used Ports of Auckland dividends to pay for his transport projects, and by owning 100% was able to demand excessive dividends out of the eye of the public. (therein is a good reason why having a mixed ownership model is good for SOEs – it keeps the govt honest). During the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the Ports were in serious trouble with their debt levels, and were mercifully bailed out in part by the National government buying Queens Wharf, ostensibly for tourism reasons. Will be marshaling the left forces on council to stay strong for the union badged workers, even though this hurts the Auckland Council position.

Len Brown – It is highly likely that Len Brown is sympathetic to the union cause, though would be keen to stay out and not get involved in the conflict. However, Mike Lee will be exerting massive amounts of pressure on Brown to stay staunch to the workers, while the Herald this morning asks “where is the Mayor”. Brown’s strategy of turning off the cellphone and only replying by email belies the fact he will be sweating profusely over being smoked out on an actual position that would then require leadership, especially one where he would be at odds with his left-wing instincts and left wing mates.

Other left-wing councillors – Sandra Coney, Richard Northey and Cathy Casey will be other staunch left-wing councillors backing the unions against the Ports asset they are tasked with the responsibility to oversee.


Tony Gibson – the CEO of Ports of Auckland, who took over from the mild-mannered Mr Magoo Danish Jens Madsen. Gibson knows he is up against a union that will play nasty and brutally against attempts to bring Ports labour practices into the 21st century. Gibson has the strong support of the Ports Board.

Gary Swift – Chief Executive of Auckland Council Investments Ltd who are tasked with monitoring the ownership of the shared that the council owns in investments like the Ports, Auckland Airport etc. Swift is a professional company director, ex Watercare, and under no illusions as to what he is up against with the unions. ACIL received the support of a number of councillors at a December 8 council meeting, which fell down a centre-right/ independent and left/Maori divide. The Labour/City Vision/left bloc, along with the Maori statutory board members, voted against supporting the Ports of Auckland business plan.

Chris Fletcher – leader of the C&R bloc on council. Though Fletcher’s history as Mayor was uninspiring and her political views seen as fluffy centrist, her timing and handling of the Ports crisis has so far been excellent. Her leadership in pushing the Mayor to take a position and back the Ports Board has sent shockwaves through the independents on council who have so far been timid and compliant in the Mayor’s hands. Her role will have cemented her as the leader of the opposition on council, and given some hope that C&R remains the pre-eminent centre-right force in Auckland.

Steven Joyce – the Minister of Infrastructure has avoided any public commentary so far, other than a bland statement that they would only enter the dispute if asked to intervene. However, the issues of industrial labour strife will not have been lost on Joyce and the National led government. They will be watching developments here like a hawk, and probably have some strategies up their sleeves if asked to make a statement. Is thought to favour a long term alliance between POAL and Ports of Tauranga, without compromising the independent ownership of each Port.


Mark Cairns – CEO of the Port of Tauranga, who though is sympathetic with what POAL are trying to do in having industrial relations practices that are similar to Tauranga, can simply not believe his luck in having a bunch of Auckland union drongos drive profits into the hands of PoT and Infratil, the majority owners of the Port of Tauranga. Is probably working the phones hard over summer with every major shipping company, importer and exporter to shift business to the Bay of Plenty. “Hello, is that you Toyota?”. PoT’s share price is up around 6% since December 1, not a bad rise in price for a utlity company that is supposed to be a defensive yield based stock.

Infratil – the only people in New Zealand who can run infrastructure properly in New Zealand. Majority owners of the Ports of Tauranga. CEO Marko Bogoievski and Executive Chairman Lloyd Morrison are highly regarded as top NZ businessmen – actually, the whole Infratil board looks like the who’s who of NZ business. They will be delirious with joy at the opportunities being presented to them.

UPDATE:?Infratil are no longer on the PoT share register. They did own 24.7% at one stage, then owned ~5% around 2005 and sold down completely in 2006/2007. ?The PoT majority shareholder is Quayside Securities (subsidiary of BOP Regional Council) who own 55%.

I have had the shareholding of BOPRC described as a fantastic cornerstone shareholder (because that is how they behave despite owning a majority shareholding) as they allow the Board and Management complete autonomy to run the port commercially as the Port Companies intends.