With Auckland's housing in crisis and our roads grid-locked, the last thing Mayor Phil Goff needs is gung-ho Royal Caribbean cruise ship boss Adam Armstrong demanding new berthing facilities for his ridiculously large ships "in six months' time."
Stamping his foot, Armstrong warned, "we don't want a solution in two or three year's time."
His threat seemed to be, if Goff doesn't jump to his whip, he will take his toys elsewhere. To rub it in, Armstrong said that having to anchor his pride and joy, "Ovation of the Seas" in the middle of the harbour this summer had been "embarrassing."
To whom, exactly, he didn't say. Maybe it was to him, as newly appointed managing director for Australia and New Zealand, having to report this ignominy back to his imperial masters in the northern hemisphere. Personally, I wasn't the least bit embarrassed. Indeed, if I was a tourist escaping the confines of a giant floating motel en route for a long bus trip to the Waitomo Caves or where ever, a short ferry transfer to shore would be a welcome diversion.
A quick cruise around the internet shows Armstrong's fulminations were not personal as far as Auckland is concerned. He and his predecessors, have been badgering the Australian cities of Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney in like fashion. No port, it seems, is jumping high enough to Royal Caribbean's orders. Or to put it the other way round, the issue is not so much with the ports, as it is with the cruise ship companies, which keep building larger and larger leviathans which are just too big to berth where the operators want to take them.
At the end of February, it was Sydney's turn for a bollocking. Royal Carribbean Cruises' president and CEO Adam Goldstein turned up in town to discuss Sydney's "lack of infrastructure for cruise ships" with the New South Wales and Federal governments. This coincided with something of a cruise ship traffic jam in Sydney Harbour, with Cunard's Queen Elizabeth having to be moored off-shore.
Playing the good cop role, Goldstein turned on the charm, saying "the first steps to a solution have to be a proper dialogue." He also said his company were "open-minded" about investing towards a solution. We should test how open his mind is by inviting him to Auckland with his cheque book.
Armstrong is upset the controversial $10 million proposed extension of Auckland's Queens Wharf won't be ready for next summer's cruise season. I'm more interested in the good news that Mayor Goff says the port company will be paying, not the city. In 2013, it was the poor ratepayers who had to fork out $18.6 million to flossy up the old cargo Shed 10 on the wharf to transform it into the new cruise ship terminal.
It was part of the cargo cult belief that untold wealth was hovering just over the horizon ready to pour in once the new home for cruise ships was completed. The politicans were so beguiled that when the port company demanded the city pay, they caved in and did.
If it's good business for the port company, then it should fund the necessary facilities.
This time, Mayor Goff has got things right. It's never seemed a proper use of ratepayers money to pay for commercial facilities for cruise ships. If it's good business for the port company, then it should fund the necessary facilities the same way it does when doing business with car importers or frozen food exporters, not expect a hand out from the council coffers.
If there is any subsidising to be done on the grounds that cruise ship visits are a vital contributor to the regional or national economy, then that's a job for central government, as happens across the Tasman, where both the state and federal governments get involved.
Goldstein's call for "proper dialogue" in Sydney is common sense. We need it here too. It seems only yesterday that Princes Wharf was redeveloped at great expense, as Auckland's cruise ship terminal. Now Queens Wharf is found wanting. Where next, Devonport Naval Base?
It's time we pinned the cruise ship operators down on how much bigger they intended to build, and what sort of "investment" in port facilities we could expect from them. That at least would give us a better idea of how high to jump the next time they came a-bullying.