Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: March 12

Maritime Union lends their support for the Port Protest, Downtown Auckland. Photo / Jason Dorday
Maritime Union lends their support for the Port Protest, Downtown Auckland. Photo / Jason Dorday

Standing silent on the sidelines no longer appears be an option for politicians of all hues when it comes to the Ports of Auckland dispute. John Key has cautiously supported the Ports management line that the workers are well paid but need to be more flexible. He also expressed confidence that the sacked workers will be back working soon - see: Ports workers will be re-employed - Key. Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson is claiming that 'sinister elements' within the Maritime Union are preventing this from happening - see: Union accused of stopping workers applying for jobs, but the union is calling on the management to put up or shut up and go to the police if they have any evidence of coercion.

The Port Company has indicated it will take 10 weeks to train up new staff to get the port fully operational.

Along with the disruption already caused by strikes, even this best case scenario will have significant financial impact on their bottom line and getting skilled union members to cross the picket line would greatly minimise the impact. This morning there appears to have been a short-lived attempt by picketers to stop non-union workers getting on to the site and that has delayed some ships - see: Port protesters block entrance.

Auckland mayor Len Brown is now trying to portray himself as proactive, especially given the extent of the criticism that has been directed at him from port workers and their supporters. His offer to mediate between the parties has been welcomed by the union but dismissed by the port company who say the decision is irrevocable: "we have passed the point of no return' - see: Port rejects mayor's mediation offer. The Port Chairperson has said the only role the mayor could play was to 'ensure that the workers that are striking are encouraged quickly to apply for jobs at the port and to break through the people who are bullying them not to apply for jobs." This is almost certainly a different interpretation of mediation than the union and the mayor had in mind.

Brown appeared on TVNZs Q+A saying he believed the union could have settled the dispute on the first offer. Interviewer Paul Holmes pressed him on the 12% rate of return demanded by the council, pointing out that other Australasian ports have rates of return between 3 and 9%. Brown said the 12% was an 'estimate' rather than a guess - see: Union could have settled Ports dispute earlier - Len Brown.

Matt McCarten paints an unflattering picture of Brown's rise up the ranks of the Labour party, comparing him to other pakeha Labour politicians who have risen to the top on the back of mostly brown, working class support - see: Mayor's leadership feeling the strain.

Labour Leader David Shearer has also become more vocal, attending and speaking at the weekend rally in support of the port workers, even though he has previously said that it was 'not about taking sides' see: No contradiction: Labour leader.
The contrast between his hands-off approach and the presence of many of his MPs on the picket line and their implicit support of the union, couldn't be maintained much longer.

There are some in Labour who are more ambivalent about support for the union's aims. Ex-Labour candidate Josie Pagani (wife of long-time Labour advisor John Pagani) has provoked a scornful response for comments on Newstalk ZB that casualisation brings benefits to workers, especially mothers looking for flexible working arrangements - see: The Standard' Pagani: love that workforce casualisation.
The differing views expressed are indicative of the gap David Shearer has to bridge between 'Waitakere man' doing his GST at the kitchen table and the core working class support that Labour ultimately relies upon, for whom job casualisation rarely represents 'opportunity'.

Shearer also appeared on Q+A and used the opportunity to make a clear policy initiative on land sales to foreign investors. It was, as the Q+A panel noted, an easy and obvious step to take that will have widespread public support - see: Labour wants law restricting farm sales to foreigners. Tim Watkin thought it was a Good first outing for Shearer but noted that the hard work is ahead of him as Labour decides which election policies to keep and which to dump, especially in the area of welfare reform. The Waikato Times looks forward to Shearer's upcoming speeches but says that, after taking so long to say anything of substance, Charmed Shearer's speech better be a rip-snorter. The same opinion piece also looks at Key's plans for the public service and notes that recent negative publicity has Government spin doctors hosing down speculation on the scale of further reforms.

If so, the Wellington region may breathe a sigh of relief as there is clear evidence redundancies are taking their toll. Unemployment is at a 16 year high and economic activity is down last year in contrast to the slight gains the rest of the country has made - see: Public sector cuts see Wellington's dole queue grow. Dave Armstrong has some free advice for Mfat employees feeling a bit down about redundancy, including starting a journal: 'When you are really angry, writing down your feelings makes you feel better. If you start your journal in bright red paint on the concrete exterior of the government department who just laid you off, your anger may slowly dissipate.' - see: Make costly 'change management' your saviour.

In other articles, both David Parker Media freedom and independence under threat and John Roughan Press independence under threat raise alarm at proposed changes to media regulation, particularly the ability of journalists to be able to protect their sources and Catherine Harris looks at the boost SOE privatisation may provide to the New Zealand stock exchange - see: Partial SOE floats help NZX. Of particular interest is the comment by John Peacocke of Australian-based Next Capital who said the opportunities private equity firms would be looking for would be to spin off and sell parts of the former SOEs, giving credibility to concerns about individual assets being on-sold after privatisation.

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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