On Feb 13, the HBRC held what certainly was an extraordinary meeting to discuss forming a new Council Controlled Organisation[CCO] to facilitate the part-privatisation of our strategic asset, the Port.

Fenton "walk out" Wilson said there should be no rush to complete the process even if it is election year.

I suspect Fenton would have his own seat covered if he were to stand in CHB after his later walk out antics in support of CHB irrigators.

Others may not fare so well.


Privatising the Port is a mistake on so many levels.

One of those levels is that some otherwise progressive councillors may find themselves no longer on the council after the next election and the environment could suffer for that.

New candidates could emerge and whip the "No sale of the Port" pony for votes. This has worked well for the opportunist Stuart Nash who now has gone from Port Saviour to Port Sell-out in one quick about-face of promised action.

The consequence of voters waking up to the fact that they have been misled by councillors and others could come at a cost.

CEO James Palmer said at the meeting they didn't want to sow confusion - a bit late for that.

Rex expressed concern for the future wellbeing of Port employees under privatisation and said perhaps something could be done to ensure things didn't go badly for them or their families. Good luck with that. The money or the workers, "what to do, what to do?"

My experience in Lyttelton when the part ownership model was in play was profits came first.

Port staff were constantly under attack from an aggressive employer leading to the death of Christine Clark on a union picket line.

Concerns of the town residents were constantly ignored and resisted in the name of profits to the shareholders.

I'm sure Napier residents also have various issues with the Port.

Currently, with 100 per cent Port ownership, sitting councillors appoint the directors and can replace them at will. This is their controlling mechanism for the Port if they choose to use it. However, they have repeatedly denied they have control.

Yet this is the mechanism CEO Palmer says they'll use to exert control over the new CCO if were to come into being. This is completely contradictory.

Remind me never to a buy second hand car off Palmer or Councillor Kirton.
Kirton unbelievably suggested the Council would have more control under 49 per cent privatisation in response to a patsy question he asked of Palmer about degree of control.

Palmer's answer was we would have control through the Statement Of Intent
and protections could be written into the reconfigured Port Co's Constitution.

A Statement of Intent is only expressing a desire, it shackles no one to anything.

Lastly he said although the Council could no longer handpick all the directors, they could fire any they didn't like.

Given that ones they can't appoint will be those representing around $180m private capital whose purpose is to maximise Port profits, firing any of them will end in a court battle which the council would lose.

Under the 1988 Port Company's Act, Ports must operate as a successful business. Under the part-privatisation model that means maximising profit.

Any suggestion of limiting freedom to maximise profits through any method the council would like to put in place would lower the share value.

So once again it's "what to do, what to do?" the money, which we are told is the point of the exercise, or control over our strategic asset.

These councillors will feel election pain if some council hopeful burrows into the money question.

Firstly according the Port CEO the Port doesn't need our rates to expand.

It only needs to clear its existing debt which they could do by using the $60m left over from the Dam, sorry $50m, $10m having gone walkabout somewhere.

That remaining $50m is supposed to be in a safe investment somewhere. No safe investment pays more that what it costs to borrow.

Use that $50m, plus save the whopping $11m given as the cost to simply get our Port shares listed and a small amount of user pays and we're out of the woods with no rate increase and the ability for the Port to expand.

Once those shares are listed it won't be possible to deliver on submitters' hope that ownership stays local or doesn't end up foreign hands. The shares will go to the highest bidder.

The point of this extraordinary meeting was to debate the easiest and fastest way to get the Port shares sold.

Obviously the pro-privatisation councillors would like this whole issue put to bed before the next election.

The council want a new CCO called HoldCo to make this happen. HoldCo will have no councillors as directors.

Our existing CCO [HBRIC] has one non-councillor along with chairman Rex Graham and Councillor Peter Beaven.

Finally, in this new round of submissions, Tom Belford didn't want to see the whole Port sale re-litigated but when you go on line that's what you get so as they say, "Have your say".

* Gren Christie is an ex-port worker