The flawed consultation exercise the regional council is asking all Hawke's Bay to take part in has been framed in a way that obscures their real objective.

Which is, baldly, to sell just under half of the port to create a $130 million-plus fund to underwrite future environmental enhancements.

Certainly there are huge challenges staring us all in the face, from water scarcity to rising sea levels, that will require several multiples of that size fund to deal with.

But in that case why not have that conversation direct, instead of making the port a scapegoat for future-proofing?


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Okay, to be fair, the council believes it has come up with a win-win solution, because the port does need major investment and the debts do have to be managed in a way that doesn't allow them to get out of hand.

And, given the port is the council's only marketable asset, what other choice is there than to try to extract as much money from it as practicable?

Therein lies the dilemma.

However, though the material put out by HBRC doesn't properly cover this ground, there are several ways port infrastructure could be funded and existing debt serviced without selling a "minority" - but effectively controlling - interest.

A bond issue, increased user-pays charges, central government regional growth funding, a restructure of the planned $350m expenditure to spread that development over a longer term; all are being talked about subsequent to the council's proposal.

Certainly a package of those options could achieve a result without impacting too heavily on any one sector.

But that's no good if it "only" saves the port and doesn't provide the investment fund. So the council sees it; and - reluctantly – I agree.


What I don't agree on is privatising a share to generate that fund, because the port is a public cash cow, and regardless of any "romantic attachment" (as one councillor pithily labelled public ownership), it makes no sense to neuter it.

The obvious alternative is to repurpose the dividend the port pays, which the council then uses to subsidise our rates. That dividend is already over $10m per year and forecast to significantly increase over the next 10 years – so set aside it would quickly grow to a sizeable fund for whatever schemes the council comes up with.

Yes, regional rates would go up, but only once by about 20-something per cent - $90-odd per ratepayer on average. Thereafter there'd be no need to ask for any "special" increases – because HBRC would have the growth fund to call on.

And we would still own 100 per cent of Napier port.

This solution may not fully allow for sufficient "divestment protection" in the face of natural disaster, but that's a risk everyone and everything lives with regardless.

However, Anna Lorck's rather elegant suggestion could satisfy all parties and allay all concerns: divest a share of the port to our other publicly-owned utility, Unison (ie, the power consumer's trust).

Apparently they have money to invest, and a share could be tagged with a buy-back provision just in case such were needed, neatly ensuring it remained in public hands while delivering the necessary funding to support the port's and the council's objectives.

Chairman Rex Graham has promised if "a thousand submissions" flood in saying "yes, we're happy to pay to keep the port", that is what they will look to do.

So it's up to you, dear readers, to make those submissions and sign the referendum petition – if you agree it's worth a Hillary to keep the port under public control and want to ensure your voice as an owner is heard.