I'm seriously conflicted over the proposal to sell the Port of Napier and it is, frankly, really peeing me off. Because it seems I must decide if I'm first and foremost a socialist or an environmentalist.

See, here we have the most genuinely pro-environment regional council in Hawke's Bay's history apparently being hoodwinked by corporate vested interests into selling our major public asset to fund an expansion of its commercial operations.

The asset that helps enable them to protect our environment, through its $10m-plus annual dividend.

Read more: Bruce Bisset: False assumptions driving Port of Napier sale
Bruce Bisset: All workers should be valued
Bruce Bisset: Supply and demand doesn't always work


And what really tugs my pinkie is the condescending way these supposed defenders of the public good are attempting to short-sell us voters on what a fine idea it is to throw away 100-odd years of public ownership, based on the key assumption they make that it's either that or less money for the environment; all while blithely presuming ratepayers are unwilling to pay more to keep our crown jewel.

I believe both those assumptions are wrong, and consequently the port does not need to be sold.

Let's get one thing clear to start: it's the port of Hastings, too. In fact, it's the port of Hawke's Bay. It just happens to be located at Napier.

The majority of the 5 million tons of cargo crossing its wharves comes from the widespread farm and forest lands of the entire region, so to think of it as only Napier's port, or Napier's business, is absurd.

Does it need to expand? The council has taken it on faith that it does, because of projected growth in exports of food and wood in particular.

But we are nearly at "peak wood" already, while given climate change and water scarcity the supposed growth in intensive farming of any sort may be unable to occur.

Let's also be clear about the much-vaunted cruise ship industry: tourists may be good for the economy in general, but if it comes to a choice between a large cargo ship or a large cruise ship, the port's commercial decision will be to take the cargo, thanks.

Because that's what makes most money for them. Don't be fooled otherwise.


However, it seems reasonable to assume a new wharf is needed, and soon, so how to pay for that becomes the main debate.

The council has been poorly served by its advisors, who seem driven solely by commercial perspectives of what a good business the port would be for private enterprise.

The lack of strong advice about what a good business the port is for public enterprise, and why that should not need to change, skews the argument.

So instead of developing a positive plan showing how the port can be retained and expanded, with little cost to ratepayers (yes, you read that right), they are now scaremongering about how keeping it would spark rate rises of 50 per cent while somehow putting the whole operation at risk.

Speaking of which, the "risk" argument – too many eggs in one basket - is a big red herring; the port has operated as the council's major asset and cash cow for three decades without any change in appreciable risk and can continue to do so, provided it is properly insured.

Next week I'll be pulling apart the figures and re-interpreting them to present what the council could have chosen in preference to a fire sale – and in doing so show up the myth-making being foisted on us by the pro-sale lobby.

As for my conflict, it's a no-brainer: you protect what you've got, first. Besides, keeping the port public is also a plus for the environment. Stay tuned!

* Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's