What happened to the idea of moving the port? Isn't this a good time, with no one around, for Northland to sneak in, load up all those cranes and straddle carriers and just steal them away to Northport?
That's not quite as silly as it sounds, and it wouldn't need to be Northport doing it. Ports of Auckland (POA) could take charge.
Susan Krumdieck was a member of the Upper North Island Supply Chain (UNISC) strategy group that recommended moving the Auckland port earlier this year. She told me this week that she had asked POA: "If the 1.4km of berth at Northport were built and ready, and your owners said, 'Pick up operations and move to Northport,' what would happen?
"They said: 'If the Northport build had been done with the equipment and operations designed in, then it would take about a month to break down the POA, put the kit on ships and build it back at Northport. Call it three months all up to shift the POA to the new berth at Northport'."
Krumdieck added: "With the land available and the ability to lay it all out from scratch, the efficiency of the operations could be improved to world class. The POA would make more money for their shareholders. POA business would 'move' to Northport, not be lost to the ratepayers."
[Update, April 18: A Ports of Auckland spokesperson has denied this discussion took place and called the notion "ludicrous". Krumdieck has confirmed that it did take place, although it was not part of POA's formal submission. She took notes at the time. She also says she asked if the operation "would make the same kind of money handling freight at Northport as at Auckland" and, according to her notes, the answer was, "Of course."]
The POA shareholders, remember, are us - the ratepayers of Auckland. Moving the port north doesn't have to mean we would lose anything. And Northport, which is near Whangarei, is already part-owned by POA.
• Premium - Port in a storm: Leaked report says time for action on moving Auckland's port is now
• Premium - Simon Wilson: The Auckland port and the wretched truth about business case analysis
• Premium - Simon Wilson: the port, transport and Tamihere's promises
• Premium - Simon Wilson: More mischief and mayhem at the port
So what did happen to the idea of moving the port? As we move out of lockdown, the Government says, there will be a massive spend on infrastructure to get New Zealand working again. The Auckland Council has submitted a list of 73 projects.
Not a one of them bears any relationship at all to the proposal to move the port.
Yet the council and the Government have said the car and container operations do not have a long-term future on the downtown Auckland waterfront. A working group representing all affected groups came to the same conclusion in 2016.
As yet, there is no political commitment to the UNISC recommendations, which include expanding Northport and the Tauranga port. The crisis has probably pushed a decision out to an uncertain future date.
But it is agreed the port will need to move within 20 years or so. Even Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, one of the most vocal critics of UNISC, says yes to that.
The thing about 20 years, with a project of this scale, is that it has to start now. Moreover, given all the money the Government is about to spend on economic salvage, if the port isn't included now, it may never be.
There'll be no money left for anything else. Covid-19 could become a Trojan horse for killing off the idea. So what should they do?
The heart of the UNISC proposal is not the move to Northport. It's that freight haulage should shift largely to rail. That requires a modern railway network and a new "inland port" or freight hub in Auckland's northwest, probably near Kumeu.
The proposal is for a rail line "around the back door", as Krumdieck puts it. One that doesn't route freight on to State Highway 1 through the city, as the port does now, or across the harbour bridge, but skirts round to the west.
It's the key to managing congestion on Auckland's roads. And the condition of the country's highways. And it's a vital component in our response to the climate crisis. In time, UNISC proposed, 80 per cent of the country's freight could be shifted by rail.
Modernising the Northland-Auckland railway and building the inland depot, says Krumdieck, "should be top of the list" in the new infrastructure spend.
Krumdieck, by the way, is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury and a world-renowned expert in freight logistics. She did the freight modelling for UNISC, using an advanced programme common in Europe and Asia but not yet licensed to anyone else here.
The new freight hub will become an "intermodal distribution centre" that "draws the heavy industry and warehousing out along that line and provide the lifeline for rational industrial growth". Getting goods into the city will be the "last leg", done by road freight, largely at night. The rail link will continue through Avondale to the industrial south and further, into Waikato and beyond.
The freight hub would remain an Auckland operation. The city won't be losing out but will be able to function better and get many other benefits.
As with the idea that a Northport operation could still be a POA business, this is something Goff has never seemed able to grasp.
Re-establishing the Northland line, says Krumdieck, has a business case larger than two - for every dollar spent, the benefit will be more than $2.
Also: "The cars on the Auckland waterfront could move to Northport and Tauranga today. The servicing jobs would move with them and the workers would be able to afford to live there."
It all depends on the railway. Build a rail line able to carry the cars on electric trains and, right there, you've got an excellent model of what the future of freight in this country could look like.
On the other hand, if we don't do it, keeping the port and its related operations where they are will cost at least $8 billion, with no new benefits to show for it. The business case for that, Krumdieck notes, is less than one.
And what's the real cost going to be? Krumdieck puts it, "realistically", at $14 billion.
"That $14b will return more than twice because it enables a totally different future. The rebuild of New Zealand rail – preferably electric – is the main thing separating New Zealand's future as a prosperous nation from a future as a third world backwater. You either build the country that works well, or you are Ghana."
Meanwhile, Ports of Auckland has just announced the arrival of 12,000 boxes of bananas and 12,000 cartons of pineapples. And more coffee beans.
It's way beyond reason to use our downtown waterfront and clog up our roads for that.