COMMENT:

The dapper mayoral candidate John Tamihere stood in a Parnell carpark overlooking the container port this week. Blue suit, red crew neck, black leather and suede brogues with contrasting beige laces. If you're looking for a different kind of mayor from the ultimate man in a grey suit, aka the incumbent Phil Goff, you've got it right there.

Sartorial contrast is just the beginning. Tamihere wants to sell the port. Not the whole thing. He'll sell the business but keep the land.

It's a big idea. He doesn't have a plan for the land: that's for "the ratepayers of Auckland" to decide. Although he likes the idea of a bold new public building, "perhaps a museum". He mentioned the Sydney Opera House. Also, he agreed, there should be beaches and other public land, and commercial development on some of the site.

Advertisement

As for the operation, it would be sold to someone with a commitment to moving it elsewhere within 25 years.

Building a new port elsewhere will cost billions but, as the consensus working party reported in 2015, one day it will have to be done. Tamihere's plan is effectively an attempt to privatise the cost of that move.

Mayor Phil Goff promptly dismissed it, saying it came at a bad time because the government is considering larger issues surrounding the port and freight in the upper North Island.

Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff could be getting Auckland Transport to pull finger, writes Simon Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig
Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff could be getting Auckland Transport to pull finger, writes Simon Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig

"Who is going to buy the company when they don't know where its operations will be in 10, 15, 25 years? It will be selling it at a bargain basement price," Goff told the Herald.

Talk about missing the point. Tamihere says, as a matter of policy, that the port should move, and has devised a way to make that happen. The sale he proposes couldn't happen straight away, but he hasn't said it would. He has a clear position for the Government to factor into its strategic thinking.

Goff campaigned in 2016 on a promise to review the future of the port, but over the last three years he has not been able to articulate any kind of position on that at all.

On the other hand, there's transport. Tamihere's port proposal follows his launch last week of campaign billboards: a ragged red-white-blue background, a determined-looking candidate and some dramatic messages: "JT is coming" and "Sack the AT board".

Respect for the Game of Thrones allusion, although JT may not have caught up with the news that winter actually isn't coming, not anymore. Perhaps the idea of Phil Goff as Theon Greyjoy, martyred at the hands of the Night King, has a certain appeal.

Tamihere wants to sack the board of Auckland Transport because, he says, "it has no mandate to carry out a range of deliberate strategies designed to harass people out of their cars".

That's such a crock. Auckland Transport's plans have been clearly mandated by council. The proposal to limit non-essential cars in the central city, for example, received unanimous support from councillors – including JT's own running mate, Councillor Christine Fletcher – in November last year.

Any attempt to sack a council agency's board for doing what it's been asked to do will be very messy and expensive. For ratepayers.

John Tamihere has devised a plan to move Auckland ports. Photo / Jason Oxenham
John Tamihere has devised a plan to move Auckland ports. Photo / Jason Oxenham

JT's against wasting ratepayers' money so that can't be his real intention. Rather, he's identified that AT is unpopular and he's scoring easy hits because he can. Those bombastic billboards carry the message that if you're fed up with road cones, JT is your guy.

When he says, as he often does, "I support public transport, but," what many people hear is, "The purpose of transport planning is allow you to drive wherever you want, as quickly as you can".

You thought, after the rising horror of the road toll, there was value in AT's new focus on safety? You like the growth of public transport and you understand it's the key to controlling congestion? You want more cycleways? You agree the public space of the city centre needs to prioritise pedestrians? JT is probably not your guy.

Is Goff going to weigh in on this? Tamihere is right that AT is unpopular but, for many people, he's diametrically wrong about the reason. AT should be doing far more about safety. Public transport should be better in some parts of town and at many times during the week. Expanding the cycleway network has almost stopped.

And where's the lively experimentation we were promised to work out how to get cars out of the downtown streets?

Goff could be campaigning right now to get AT to pull finger. He could be exposing government agencies too, which appear to be blocking the big plans: where's the light rail plan, for heaven's sake? Where's our SkyPath?

Transport should be a key difference between the two candidates. Goff is still to reveal his campaign platform; meanwhile, Tamihere is churning it out.

His own full transport policy is due soon, although he has some internal conflicts to resolve first.

At that port announcement he condemned Goff's plan to introduce free kids' travel on weekends, because "where will the money come from?" But it will cost less than a million dollars. Standing right next to JT, Christine Fletcher talked about new policies to help schoolkids on public transport. That will cost far more.

Ah, but the port. Tamihere thinks Tauranga and "possibly Singapore" will be keen to buy the operation. Ngāti Whātua have long been interested. Perhaps there's a twinkle in the eye of current management. Perhaps it'll be a consortium of all of them.

Goff worries it won't be worth buying if the imported car trade goes to Northport, an option raised in the recent report of the Upper North Island Supply Chain working group. But is he implying the cars have to stay regardless?

The cars have nothing to do with the long-term future of the port. How long before they're replaced by small electric models? How long before they're made right here on 3D printers?

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere and his running mate, Christine Fletcher, pose for their campaign photos with former mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson looking on. Photo / Michael Craig
Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere and his running mate, Christine Fletcher, pose for their campaign photos with former mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson looking on. Photo / Michael Craig

The great commercial attraction of the port doesn't lie in it's existing operation, but in what you'd be able to turn it into starting from scratch.

A giant Asia-Pacific hub, floating offshore near the mouth of the Firth of Thames? Or a dispersed freight operation, including the inland ports and 3D facilities, shared among the cities of the region? A centre for coastal trading with a new fleet of electric ships?

Tamihere has not said where a new port should go, and he's right not to. That's for all of us to decide, after substantial debate over some problematic environmental, cultural and economic issues. Besides, if there was an easy answer, the port would have shifted there already.

Big thinking. Tamihere's doing it on the port but sabotaging it on transport. Goff doesn't do it at all, or hasn't yet. Could we please have some more big and good thinking from both of them?