Ports of Auckland fires back at city mayor in leadership spat

Straddle carriers working at the Fergusson Container Terminal

The board at the Ports of Auckland has hit back at comments from the city’s new mayor in an ongoing row about the future of the port.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said he has lost confidence in and is currently working to replace the Ports of Auckland board, whose members he has not yet met directly.

The mayor added that he wanted to insert members who accepted that “much higher returns” were required from port operations.

Brown made his comments in a live Q&A session with a New Zealand Herald subscriber base earlier this week.

The Ports of Auckland has been in the news throughout the year: posting a profit net loss as a result of the failed automation project of the Fergusson Container Terminal.

Workers at POAL have died during operations in April 2022 and August 2020.

“It is disappointing the mayor made his statements about the Ports of Auckland Board today prior to meeting with us,” commented board Chairperson Jan Dawson.

“We repeat our invitation to the mayor to visit the port to discuss the operations, economics, and its importance to Aucklanders.”

​​Brown’s comments “create uncertainty” for the 3,000 Aucklanders, Dawson continued, whose livelihoods depend on the port, and also for the thousands of businesses in Auckland and surrounding areas that rely on imports and an efficient supply chain.

The port business is a valuable NZ$2 billion ($1.25 billion) asset wholly-owned by the council.

“There is no doubt that the port in recent years has not performed be it from a safety operational and commercial perspective. This is changing with improved safety, operational and commercial performance,” Dawson said.

Rumours are circling that the port could be opened up to bidders including DP World.

Brown, however, downplayed the rumours at a press conference this week. He commented: “It seems that some people knew more than others but it does not matter because [the talks] are not going to go anywhere.”

The Maritime Union of New Zealand chipped in on 22 November, noting that the Ports of Auckland is too important to the national economy to be drawn into a local power struggle.

Maritime Union Auckland Branch Secretary Russell Mayn said it would be a mistake to remove the current board and a more constructive discussion was needed.

“There are legitimate different views on the future direction of the ports, but we can’t let its strategic value to Auckland and New Zealand be damaged,” Mayn said.

He said that the current board and management have engaged with the workforce and the ports had a positive future.

“There has been a new focus on good workplace relations and a higher quality of health and safety skill sets on the current board.”

Container throughput has improved by 30 per cent since April 2022.

The Board are confident the port will meet and even exceed its Statement of Corporate Intent profit targets for FY23-FY25 and return dividends of NZ$30 million ($19 million) per annum for FY23 and NZ$50 million ($31 million) per annum in the medium term.

The port has also commenced work on the examination of the use of the area between the Ferry Building and Bledisloe Wharf and will report on this back to Brown on 31 March 2023.

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