Lyttelton Port Company Sale
We've Won The Battle But Not Yet The War
- by Murray Horton
Watchdog 111 (April 2006) reported the alarming news that the Christchurch City Council, hitherto one of the few beacons of hope on the local government scene (the Mayor, Garry Moore, glories in the title of the People’s Republic of Christchurch, bestowed on it in the 1990s by the Business Roundtable) was hell bent in selling the publicly-owned Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) to Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd of Hong Kong. Usually in situations like this, the proponents of privatisation move at breakneck speed, following the script written by Sir Roger Douglas in the 1980s (and I mean “written” quite literally. In a 1989 speech to the Christchurch meeting of the global Rightwing thinktank, the Mont Pelerin Society, Douglas spelled out his handy hints for stuffing up a country. Speed was of the utmost importance. See Watchdog 63, April 1990; “Bludgers’ Prizegiving: Mont Pelerin Society Conference Protest”, page 10). The idea is to leave any opponents sprawling in the slipstream until it’s too late to do anything about what is presented as a fait accompli. I’ve been in a few of these battles before, such as the mid 1990s’ sale of TrustBank to Westpac, for example, and that’s always been the case.
But not this time, I’m pleased to report. Currently the proposed port company sale is dead in the water. It would be nice to think that the rapidly mobilised and wideranging public opposition, headed by the Keep Our Port Public (KOPP) coalition, did the trick. But I’m realistic enough to concede that although KOPP played a part, the knockout blow, at least temporarily, was delivered by Port of Otago (it has the most unfortunate acronym of PoO, so I won’t use that as it’s too distracting - although it’s definitely left the Christchurch City Council in the poo). It made a lightning raid on the 31% of LPC’s shares held on the sharemarket (the very same target of the Christchurch City Council, which wanted to achieve 100% ownership, then sell off half of it to Hutchison) and succeeded in buying a big enough stake to block the sale and thwart Christchurch’s plan. Christchurch needed to own 90% of LPC to compulsorily acquire the rest. Port of Otago blocked that by buying 10.1%, which was just enough to block the sale in one king hit. It didn’t end there, as Christchurch announced that it would use another piece of commercial law which decrees ownership to have changed hands once 75% has been acquired. But Port of Otago kept buying shares, at a significantly higher price than that offered by Christchurch, and when the latter’s offer closed, in April, it had also just failed to reach that lower target. As of late April, Christchurch had 74.6% and Port of Otago 15.3%. That was enough for Hutchison to announce that it was temporarily walking away from the deal, including withdrawing its application to the Overseas Investment Office, while the cackhanded, would-be entrepreneurial geniuses at Christchurch City Council and its trading assets company, Christchurch City Holdings Ltd, try to get out of the hole that they have so spectacularly and publicly dug for themselves.
For its part, Port of Otago has said absolutely nothing about why it bought the shares or what it intends to do with them, which has only driven the Christchurch privatisers into even more of an impotent rage. Much media scorn has been poured onto their heads, although exclusively from the angle that privatisation is a wonderful thing and that these clumsy politicians and bureaucrats have buggered it up. The conventional wisdom is that the deal might now be on hold for up to six months. But we’ve only won the battle, not yet the war. Christchurch has made it abundantly plain that it regards the present situation as only a temporary setback and that it has every intention of trying to put the same deal back together with Hutchison, as soon as it is able. It is obviously determined to prove Humpty Dumpty wrong.
None Of This Is Happening In A Vacuum
All over the world, there is a concerted drive by transnational corporations and their client governments addicted to mantras such as “free trade” and “privatisation” to turn over ports fully or partly to private enterprise (the Lyttelton proposal involves a partial privatisation). The companies involved are invariably one or more of the handful of huge private port operators (Hutchison is one of them), sometimes working in combination with the big shipping companies. For my information on this, I am indebted to Victor Billot of the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ), who supplied us with heaps. Here is the opening paragraph of a report from MUNZ’s Assistant Secretary General, of a international union conference held in Bangkok in February 2006: “Developments in the world port industry are increasingly following in the same direction, i.e. privatisation of port and terminal services, including cargo handling in many countries, followed by a takeover of the privatised terminals by Global Terminal Operators, such as Hutchison…, whilst shipping lines are developing their own terminals also into a global network of terminals”. He quotes an International Transport Federation official as saying: “If your country is yet to have a global terminal operator, wait for the knock at the door, there soon will be”, and then wryly notes that two hours later he learned about the proposed Lyttelton deal. This global drive for “rationalisation, consolidation and privatisation” of ports is happening on every continent – that MUNZ report goes into great details about Asian ports.
The shipping companies have their own agenda and the buzz word is “hubbing”, that is, ruthlessly playing off ports against each other, driving down wages and the costs to the shippers, and forcing the ports to compete to become hubs. A hub becomes the one port for that region, meaning that everything has to be transported to and from it, rather than the local port. That means that the cargo has to come to the shipping company, not the other way around. Hubbing works in the interests of the shipping companies, not the local community that the local port used to serve.
We’ve all heard of flag of convenience ships. Indeed Lyttelton has played, and continues to play, reluctant host to a number of disgraceful examples of them in the past decade or so. The next step in that process is ports of convenience. To quote from a 2004 issue of Transport International (of the International Transport Federation): “Inexperienced, untrained, casual non-union labour is gradually replacing skilled unionised workforces in many ports, as terminal operators succumb to pressure from ship owners, shippers and politicians to embrace fundamentalist market ideologies. Ultimately this means the introduction of many labour cost saving policies: reducing the standard of working conditions, introducing total flexibility of working times and tasks, employing unorganised workers and flying in cheap labour from countries where trade unions are forbidden or severely restricted”. We’ve already had a taste of this in NZ in recent years when Carter Holt Harvey flew its own stevedores from port to port to load its timber cargoes, putting the local port workers out of a job and causing severe industrial disputes everywhere it happened (see the 2001 Roger Award Judges’ Report on that year’s winner, Carter Holt Harvey. This can be read online at www.cafca.org.nz; click on Views, Analyses, Research and follow the Roger Award Links).
In June 2006 evidence emerged from Asia that, shock horror, port transnationals such as Hutchison’s put their own corporate interests ahead of those of the ports that they own or operate. The Indonesian government was reported to be considering buying back shares in the country’s largest container terminal ( Jakarta). The Government had sold 51% of the terminal’s shares to Hutchison in 1998, in return for the promise that the transnational would expand Jakarta and turn it into a major international hub. Instead, the Government estimates that 80% of the country’s exports and imports are shipped via neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore (where Hutchison has major interests), costing Indonesian businesses more than $US1 billion per year in increased transportation costs, and longer shipment times. This has stunted the growth of Indonesia’s shipping sector, with importers and exporters largely dependent on foreign shipping companies to move their goods. This is a very timely cautionary tale for Christchurch, which is busting its guts for Lyttelton to become a hub. Hutchison promised Indonesia that it would transform Jakarta into one and hasn’t delivered. Nor would choosing another port transnational make any difference – Indonesia is also looking at buying back the 49% of the shares that it sold in its second largest port to the British giant P&O Ports, for the same reason.
Sale Planned In Secret For Years
Lyttelton has been branded, rightly or wrongly, as the “problem” port in relation to its industrial relations (meaning that its unions and workers didn’t roll over and play dead, as was expected of workers in the 90s). There have been a number of high profile industrial battles there in recent years (including the one which led to the tragic picket line death of Christine Clarke, in 1999). The unions’ fears of what will happen if the deal proceeds seem well-founded when Brent Layton, the hitman former boss of the LPC (he was ousted in 2002 because the City Council wouldn’t let him carry on his union-busting crusade) said that, to him, it is obvious that the sole motivation of the proposed sale is to “sort out” labour “problems”. But rest assured that this global tsunami is not irreversible. In 1998, the Australian union movement, with magnificent public support, killed dead the attempt by the Howard government and Big Business to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia. And just in the past few months, US opposition has killed off an attempt by a Dubai port company to take over six major and strategic American ports. Americans recognise that not only are ports vital infrastructure, they are a strategic asset, in every sense of the word “strategic”.
When this proposed deal was sprung on the unsuspecting public, in February 2006, there was no explanation of its history, and any questions about that were denied by the old shibboleth of “commercial confidentiality”. Fortunately, we can rely on Christchurch’s thinskinned Mayor, Garry Moore, (who is its most fervent champion and seems to take any criticism personally) to lift the lid. The Listener published a letter, from one of the port unions, criticising the sale. So Garry wrote back (29/4/06; “Local Assets”), defending it, once again, but adding some information as well as simply repeating the party line (which is very much the old Rogernomics mantra, There is No Alternative).
“Several years ago we undertook a study of trends in transportation in the South Island and the world. The report alarmed us. Shippers were gouging away at the values of all of the ports in New Zealand. We then handed our report to the board of LPC and asked them to further the work. One thing that worried us was that the shipping companies were looking at using Australia as a hub. This could lead to a one-port policy in New Zealand and we were pretty sure the South Island wouldn’t feature very highly in this proposal. Some of the LPC board’s scenarios involved us looking at joint ventures with shipping companies. This idea died a fairly early death as, if you enter into partnership with one of the shipping companies, the rest turn their backs on you pretty soon after. They felt that LPC needed to talk to one of three companies. One was Dubai (which has just been barred from taking over the US ports. Ed.), another Singapore and the other Hutchison Port Holdings. They introduced Hutchison after an exhaustive analysis of the options…”.
This is very interesting as it confirms that Christchurch and LPC were actively scouring the world for some time looking for a port transnational at which to throw themselves. At the time the deal was made public, various other explanations were presented, such as Hutchison having made the first approach. And, in a further demonstration of the consolidation of ownership among the port transnationals, Port of Singapore (which is owned by the Singapore government) bought a 20% stake in Hutchison, in April 2006. So, if the proposed deal is revived and goes through, Lyttelton Port Company will be owned by both Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, the tenth richest man in the world, and the city state of Singapore. The other interesting mindset revealed by Moore’s letter is that, apparently, to counter shipping transnationals you have to get into bed with a port transnational. There seems to be a fairly obvious logical contradiction there. The simplest solution would be to cooperate with, rather than compete with (or, at worst, try to destroy) other South Island ports. Port of Otago’s move may have the effect of forcing Christchurch to do exactly that, but at the moment the latter is playing very hard to get, publicly at least.
So much for the bad news. The good news is that the fightback is well and truly underway. In February, CAFCA and the Aoraki ( Canterbury) Greens took the lead in calling together a range of groups and individuals, which formed into the Keep Our Port Public (KOPP) coalition. As well as those two, it included the Alliance, the Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ), the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU), people from the Christchurch 2021 political group and the Progressives, and members of various Christchurch and Banks Peninsula community boards. As a first step, KOPP wrote to the Mayor, all Councillors, community board members and all Canterbury MPs, asking whether they were happy with the sale plan and whether they considered that the Canterbury public had been consulted about it (there had not been a whisper about this issue during the 2004 local body election campaign, yet according to Garry Moore’s letter to the Listener, quoted above, the whole thing had been planned for years). The Mayor was the only person to reply from the City Council, trying to allay our concerns and pointing out that the Council resolution to sell, in February 2006, had been unopposed, with only one abstention. Several community board members replied, stating their opposition to the sale.
Christchurch’s Government MPs Slam Deal
If we struck barren ground with the local politicians, we hit pay dirt with the MPs. Watchdog 111 highlighted the fact that not one member of the Government, elected on a “no more privatisation of public assets” platform in 1999, had said anything at all about this proposed sale. The running had been left to the likes of local National MPs, Gerry Brownlee and David Carter, who attacked the Council’s heavyhanded process, not the sale itself. New Zealand First came out against the whole thing, which was as expected (and obviously, so did the Greens. All KOPP meetings are held in their central Christchurch building. Our old partner in crime, the late Rod Donald, must be kicking himself that he’s missing all this fun). However, just in time for KOPP’s big April public meeting in the Christchurch Town Hall, a statement was received from Banks Peninsula Labour MP, Ruth Dyson, on behalf of herself, fellow local Labour MPs Tim Barnett, Clayton Cosgrove, and Mahara Okeroa and the Progressive’s sole MP, Jim Anderton. Christchurch East’s Labour MP, Lianne Dalziel, did not put her name to it because, as Minister of Commerce, she may have to play a role if the deal comes to pass. The statement was unequivocal.
“We have serious concerns about both the process and the potential outcome of the proposed sale into the private sector of the majority shareholding in the operational arm of the Lyttelton Port Company. In holding these serious concerns we also believe that the current competitive situation and price gouging actions of New Zealand Ports is unsustainable in the longer term.
“The current situation, which is a direct result of the so-called ‘Shipping Reforms’ of the 1990s, leaves all (their emphasis. Ed.) New Zealand Ports vulnerable to the whims of the Shipping Companies. These reforms have also resulted in New Zealand Ports competing against each other, and often price gouging in order to attract business. This pricing regime is not sustainable, which will mean that some of our Ports will fold.
“One alternative to this current unsustainable situation is indeed that proposed by Christchurch Holdings. Their proposal could possibly give Lyttelton a competitive advantage over other New Zealand Ports and could strength Lyttelton Port. But it may be at the cost of current employment security and involves the loss of a public asset.
“A stronger and more competitive Lyttelton Port, with protected employment security, could be achieved in another way; by much closer collaboration between New Zealand Ports. New Zealand Port companies need to get a strong message that they cannot continue to compete if they want to survive. Port reform needs to move to another stage where New Zealand Ports collaborate to compete internationally. So – we have two messages:
“The first is that that we cannot continue as we are and expect all New Zealand Ports to survive. We have to collaborate to compete internationally. The second message is the sale of the operational arm of the Lyttelton Port Company is not the only option or the best option, and therefore it should not be supported. It is (their emphasis. Ed.) the sale of a strategic asset and it should be kept in public ownership in New Zealand”.
This statement came out on the same day as KOPP’s public meeting and constituted a double whammy of media coverage. It carried considerable weight, not least because of just whom it came from – two of the signatories (Dyson and Anderton) are Cabinet Ministers, in Jim’s case one of the top three (below only Helen Clark and Michael Cullen). The Press, which has supported the proposed sale from the outset, editorially bewailed that this was further evidence that politicians should have nothing to do with running businesses.
KOPP Urges Government To Stop Sale As Not In National Interest
KOPP was very grateful to receive this very powerful statement of political opposition to the proposed sale by the Government’s Christchurch MPs. But fine words need to be translated into action. As they said: “The current situation, which is a direct result of the so-called “Shipping Reforms” of the 1990s, leave all New Zealand Ports vulnerable to the whims of the Shipping Companies…”. Quite correct and, so, we have to ask – what has the Government done to right this wrong since it came to power in 1999? Nothing, that I’m aware of. Leaving aside that bigger picture, there is the question of whether these MPs will stand on the sidelines wringing their hands while Christchurch steams ahead with this precedent-setting privatisation, or will they ensure that the Government of which they are a vital part stops it dead? KOPP publicly urged the Government to stop any privatisation of the Lyttelton Port Company, on exactly the same national interest grounds that it used to renationalise Air New Zealand and the national railway track network (and, currently, to order the unbundling of Telecom’s national phone network to allow competitors a fair go for the public good. See my article elsewhere in this issue for details).
KOPP also wrote to those MPs and gave them a specific suggestion as to how the Government can stop the proposed sale dead, using powers that it already holds, powers that it established under the 2005 Overseas Investment Act and accompanying Regulations (see any Watchdog from 2003-05 inclusive for details of that). CAFCA had already asked the Overseas Investment Office for Hutchison’s application to buy the LPC and, to give the Office credit, it sent us the weighty file in very short time. The fact that Hutchison had already withdrawn its application, unbeknownst to us until months later, probably played a part in its speedy public release. Some material was withheld including, intriguingly, a couple of annual reports by Hutchison’s parent company and CAFCA is appealing that. We wrote to the MPs:
“…We believe that it gives the Government a trump card in this sorry situation and provides one simple means of translating the wishes of you and your Government colleagues (that the sale not proceed) into reality. That aspect is that, in transactions such as this, the land has first to be offered to the Crown (via the Minister of Conservation) and the Minister can then waive that right, thus allowing the transaction to proceed.
“A reading of the transaction agreement document reveals that the deal is conditional on permission being granted by the Overseas Investment Officeand the Minister of Conservation waiving the Crown’s right to acquire the LPC land.We urge you, singly and collectively, to request that, when this transaction comes before him (whether involving Hutchison or any other private foreign or NZ company) that he exercises his right to acquire the land for the Crown and not waive that right (KOPP’s emphasis. Ed.).
“Don’t take our word for it. This legal requirement is obviously of considerable concern to the proponents of the sale. We have recently received Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd’s application to the Overseas Investment Office and the bulky file includes the following quote from a February 15 th, 2006, letter to Chris Carter, Minister of Conservation, from Kensington Swan partner, Rob Noakes, (Hutchison’s law firm):
“‘An application will be made to the Overseas Investment Commission (sic) for consent to this transaction, as obviously, under the Overseas Investment Regulations, LPC would become an overseas person once Hutchison Port Holdings took its minority interest. However, before this happens, the Overseas Investment Regulations require LPC to offer the port land to the Crown (through the Minister of Conservation). Technically, if one follows the strict interpretation of the Regulations, LPC must first offer the land to the Crown which may then waive its rights to purchase. However, Christchurch City Holdings Limited’s agreement with Hutchison Port Holdings provides that the shareholding will be available only if Overseas Investment consent is received and the Minister of Conservation has given a waiver of its right to acquire the port land at Lyttelton. The Regulations are very new and we understand that they have not yet been tested in this regard, but it would seem reasonable to presume the Regulations were not designed to take land such as the port into Crown ownership when that land will continue to be controlled by a New Zealand entity i.e. Christchurch City Holdings Limited and through it, Christchurch City Council’…”.
On the contrary, KOPP considers this the perfect opportunity for these powers to be put to good use to stop the sale. That same letter from Hutchison’s lawyer referred to the Mayor of Christchurch, Garry Moore, having rung the office of the Minister of Conservation earlier that week and the letter being a result of that call. Obviously the sale proponents are anxious to ensure that this legal requirement should be a mere formality. KOPP has requested the details of Moore’s phone call, which have not been forthcoming at the time of writing.. As for the MPs, Tim Barnett has been the only one thus far to respond, calling it a “very helpful letter”. We intend to keep at them, to translate words into action.
KOPP has been waging a two pronged campaign of political lobbying, namely with both central and local government politicians. Our dealings with the latter have been the more unsatisfactory, except at the very grassroots of local democracy, namely active participation, or declarations of support, from individual members of several Christchurch community boards (KOPP has spoken at the monthly meeting of one Banks Peninsula community board). We also took advantage of the Long Term Council Community Plan process, which called for public consultation on any issues of concern to Christchurch ratepayers and residents. KOPP prepared a pro forma submission opposing the proposed LPC sale and many people sent that to the Council (with a few asking for speaking rights, at the marathon public hearings, held in May and June).
KOPP Takes Council To The Local Government Cops
But we have moved on from merely trying to persuade our city fathers and mothers of the error of their ways. The Christchurch City Council went to some considerable lengths to try to set up this deal (that it has, thus far, failed so abysmally, tells you all you need to know about the Council’s competence), including structuring it to avoid the requisite public consultation. The February 2006 Council meeting which set the process in motion altered the definition of “significance”, and then proceeded to remove not only the Lyttelton Port Company but also the Red Bus Company, City Care (the Council’s road works and contracting company), Council-owned civic amenities such as Jade Stadium, and Council housing (Christchurch is the country’s second biggest landlord, after the State’s Housing New Zealand) from its list of protected strategic assets. Obviously the planned sale of LPC was seen as only the first in an intended domino effect of privatisations (Garry Moore has publicly denied this). Bob Lineham, the head of Christchurch City Holdings Ltd, (the unelected front man for the deal, alongside Mayor Garry), told the media that the need for public consultation had been avoided because the stake of LPC to be sold to Hutchison would be 49.9%, i.e. 0.1% less than that which would legally invoke the necessity for consultation. So they had planned it out carefully, or so they thought, and considered themselves rather clever, or so they thought. Actually by announcing to the world at large what they planned to do, they practically invited the likes of Port of Otago to act as it did, so they were the very opposite of clever. There is a word for that.
Outrage about the blatant lack of democracy and abuse of process has been evident from when the deal was first announced. It drew criticism from local MPs from several parties, both in Government and Opposition. It led to a petition from Christchurch 2021 which, until the 2004 local body elections, was the major force on the Christchurch City Council (Garry Moore is still a member). This attracted nearly 900 signatures in only a few weeks. The occasion of its presentation, in April, to a weekly Council meeting was marked by a KOPP picket of the Council building, attended by around 50 people from KOPP’s constituent members, such as CAFCA, the Greens, Alliance and several unions. A large number of the picketers attended the actual Council meeting, complete with placards and banners – the whole thing attracted national media coverage.
KOPP is not confining its criticism of the Council’s undemocratic decision-making process to the odd picket. In May 2006 we filed extremely detailed and extensively referenced 12 page complaints with the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman. The grounds cited fall under three headings: failure to undertake appropriate public consultation; the Council’s decision-making process; and misleading public information. The Chief Ombudsman initially declined to accept our complaints on the spurious grounds that KOPP hadn’t given the Council the chance to respond to them. According to him, only if we did not receive redress from the Council could we then proceed to the Ombudsman. Actually, the very first thing we did in this campaign was to write to the Mayor and every Councillor. However, to placate the Chief Ombudsman, we went through the motions of writing to the Mayor again, with a copy to all Councillors. A pointless exercise, actually, as it involved us asking him to reverse a political decision that the Council had already taken, namely to sell the LPC. We’re not seeking redress from the Council but a ruling from an oversight body or bodies that it is out of order in what it has done. We’re not expecting any decisions anytime soon but this serves notice on the Council and other sale proponents that we are not merely a “protest” group. As I said in a May 9 press release announcing these complaints:
“ The question may arise – why persist with this when the deal is dead? Because it isn’t – it’s just having an enforced spell in the sinbin. And if the deal is finally confirmed as dead (which is what KOPP is fervently hoping for), the way that the Christchurch City Council has behaved thus far has provided ample grounds for our complaints. We want to ensure that this whole fiasco does not set a precedent for the way the City Council treats its employers (the people of Christchurch) in future. The cornerstone of democracy is accountability”. In July, the Mayor sent us a two page reply denying all the complaints, claiming that KOPP was “not correct” in some respects and defending the Council’s process in the whole schemozzle.
KOPP’s most high profile activity to date was its April 10 th public meeting in the Limes Room of the Christchurch Town Hall (the last time CAFCA had held a meeting there was a decade earlier with a less successful coalition to oppose the sale of TrustBank to Westpac. That campaign marked the beginning of our work with the Greens, then in the Alliance, in the person of the late Rod Donald). We distributed several thousand leaflets and posters, and the Press reported that 200 people attended (we have no doubt that there would have been more but for the announcement several days earlier that the deal was on hold until further notice due to Port of Otago’s very successful blocking move). The Limes Room is an expensive upmarket venue but was worth it on this occasion. I spoke on behalf of KOPP (and was the only featured speaker on TVNZ’s news coverage of the meeting).
The lead speaker was Sir Kerry Burke, the chair of ECan (the regional council), who stressed that he was speaking in a personal capacity only – a fine distinction lost on the Press, which reported him speaking as the ECan chair, no doubt adding fuel to the fire that already rages between the regional and city councils (and specifically between Sir Kerry and Mayor Garry). When I asked him, privately, why he was opposed to the sale, he replied: “Because I’m the son of a wharfie”. This is not the only time that CAFCA and Kerry Burke, a former Labour MP, Minister and Speaker in the 1980s Lange government, have publicly been on the same side against the Christchurch City Council. The first such occasion was the late 1990s’ campaign against the proposed regional rubbish dump in the Malvern Hills, near Darfield, to be jointly operated by a number of councils and waste transnationals. The Dump The Dump Campaign, which brought together a wide range of opponents, including a dumpsite public meeting which featured Rod Donald and local National MP and Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, speaking on the same side, succeeded in stopping that dump but it is now situated in another part of rural Canterbury.
Burke hammered the “clumsy” way that the proposed LPC deal had been handled, a point headlined by the media. The other speakers were Green MP, Metiria Turei, who damned the Government for having come to power on a no more privatisations ticket in 1999 but now apparently countenancing just exactly that happening to the LPC. Wayne Butson and Trevor Hanson, respective national heads of the RMTU and MUNZ, spoke on behalf of port and maritime workers who will be directly affected by this and put it into its global context. There was also supposed to be a speaker representing a local shipping agent. He publicly came out against the sale the day it was announced and accepted our invitation to speak. But, at very short notice, he rang me and told me that his company’s principals had ordered him to withdraw and they wanted all reference to his name and that of the company removed from our publicity material (which meant that each one of 5,000 leaflets had to have one black line drawn through them).
For my part I stated KOPP’s total opposition to the sale and got my biggest laugh when I suggested that the People’s Republic of Christchurch should be renamed the Corporate Republic of McTurkey (a reference to the highly controversial Lesley McTurk, the City Council’s Chief Executive Officer, who is enthusiastically “restructuring”, i.e. firing, the Council staff and reshaping it into a more” businesslike” organisation). The meeting, chaired most ably by CAFCA’s Bill Rosenberg, was very successful, bringing together a very wide range of people opposed to all or some aspects of the proposed sale (including a couple of rabid Rightwingers who had been writing tirelessly to the Press about how this sale would have Lyttelton and Christchurch under the boot of the Communist Chinese. They were the only two to vote against the resolution to keep LPC in public ownership, because they don’t agree with public ownership).
Considerable Media Coverage
The meeting attracted considerable media coverage, both local and national. Indeed, the next day I received an unprecedented apology from the local head of TV3 News for not having covered it and asking if there was anyone, other than TVNZ, from whom he could cadge footage (no). And excellent media coverage has been the norm since even before KOPP was born. Between us, Christine Dann (from the Greens) and I share the role as media spokespeople. Despite being both a CAFCA founder and an old friend of more than 30 years standing, this is the first time that Christine and I have directly worked together on a campaign. We’ve had a damned good strike rate, in the Press and Christchurch Star, community papers, TVNZ, TV3, Radio New Zealand, Newstalk ZB, Radio Live, not to mention specialist maritime and transport industry publications. The Star, in particular, has made a meal of it – it devoted the whole front page to KOPP in one issue of its weekly Southern Christchurch tabloid edition, including a photo of a suitably serious looking me posed against the backdrop of Lyttelton (I love dealing with alarmingly young reporters who say things like “I understand that you’ve been involved in things like this for a while”). I had a Perspective page article published in the Press, replying to an earlier one by Mayor Garry which had trotted out the party line on the sale, and I received a very positive response to that. However the Press editorial line has been to consistently support the sale, bewailing the present impasse as a “lost opportunity”, and trying to restrict its coverage of any opposition to the less eyecatching Business section. So when Bill Rosenberg offered them a second, updated, Perspective article, it was refused, on the grounds that the issue was now “dead” and what’s more, the Press was sick of it. The Otago Daily Times had no hesitation in publishing the very same article, however (you can read it elsewhere in this issue).
Nor have Christine and I been the only voices or faces in the media – it was a letter to the Listener from Trevor Hanson, General Secretary of MUNZ, that provoked Garry Moore’s very revealing letter by way of response (quoted above). Both MUNZ and the RMTU have been very actively publicising the issue and the campaign in their respective union journals, The Maritimes and The Transport Worker. Particular mention needs to be made of Con Jackson, RMTU’s man in Lyttelton, who has been actively involved from the start and has been one of the most regular attenders of KOPP meetings, and Victor Billot, MUNZ’s Dunedin-based Communications Officer. The tragically unexpected 2005 death of Rod Donald caused all sorts of upheavals in the Greens’ Parliamentary caucus, such as who was now spokesperson on what. Added to that is the fact that the Greens no longer have any MPs in Christchurch, let alone the Co-Leader. So their first media comment on the LPC sale plan came from Keith Locke MP, but by the time of KOPP’s April public meeting, it had been decided that Metiria Turei, their only South Island MP, would be the Party’s spokesperson on the issue.
Petition & KOPP Expands Beyond Christchurch
That April public meeting was also saw the launch of a second petition, KOPP’s own one (distributed with the April Watchdog), calling for the Christchurch City Council not to sell any of the shares in the LPC to Hutchison or any other private company, whether foreign or New Zealand; and for the LPC to remain in 100% public ownership. This was widely and enthusiastically distributed by all KOPP’s constituent members. An online version could also be signed at KOPP’s newly created Website www.keepourportpublic.org. By the time the petition was presented in July, it had attracted nearly 2,900 signatures. Now that may not sound like a lot (the simultaneous and successful petition to the Council urging it to reverse its plan to close several suburban libraries attracted over 25,000 signatures) but there are several reasons for that. The decision to put the deal on hold came just days before the petition’s launch, and that indisputably led to a lot of people thinking that the battle had been won and the issue dead (yes and no, and the war has yet to be won). Any petition is only as good as the work that goes into it, and one opposing the LPC sale lacked the obvious public signature-gathering points, namely the libraries themselves, of its larger counterpart (in which local CAFCA members were prominent, by the way). Nor do the people of Christchurch have the same personal connection to their endangered port (out of sight over the hills) as they do to their endangered local library.
On the other hand, KOPP’s petition attracted national support, as it is very much a national issue, with signatures received from around the country. In fact, it got signatures from several countries around the world, because the members of international port and maritime workers’ federations recognise this as part of the global drive to privatise publicly-owned ports and sell them to the same handful of transnationals that dominate the industry worldwide. It is always nice to get more signatures but petitions are a wonderful rallying tool, and a means for rank and file members to do their bit. KOPP’s petition was supported by a very wide range of people, from individuals to businesses who displayed it on their premises (my local butcher shop filled several sheets, and they came splattered with blood to prove it). A petition is an indicator of public opinion and the KOPP one only represented the tip of the iceberg on this issue. Public opinion was overwhelmingly against the sale – nobody wrote letters to the editor supporting it, let alone petitioned, picketed or marched in support of it.
The Mayor handed KOPP another public relations coup by refusing its request for speaking rights to a full Council meeting when presenting the petition (we’re talking about a lousy five minutes here, which is all that is stipulated in Standing Orders). To add insult to injury, he suggested that we should present it to the LPC. As I said in a July 11 press release: “ That suggestion is nonsense. The petition is addressed to the Christchurch City Council, not the Port Company, and we will not be fobbed off by our elected representatives (who tried to spring this whole Port Company sale fiasco on the city without prior warning or consultation) redirecting us to the unelected board of a company. The buck stops with the Mayor and Councillors. The Mayor’s refusal to allow KOPP a measly five minutes to speak to a Council meeting is further evidence of the erosion of democracy in this city and contrasts sharply with the speaking rights granted to Christchurch 2021 when it presented its (smaller) petition opposing the Port Company sale, at a Council meeting in April”.
KOPP set about finding sympathetic (or even pro-democracy) Councillors and two of them, Helen Broughton and Anna Crighton, agreed to publicly accept the petition. Despite their political differences (Broughton is Centre Right, Crighton Centre Left) they were united in their outrage at the Mayor’s refusal of speaking rights to KOPP. They accepted the petition at a July press conference in a committee room in the City Council building – Broughton said that she was committed to majority public ownership of the LPC, although not necessarily to KOPP’s demand that it remain 100% publicly owned. But she expressed adamant opposition to it being sold overseas. To her credit, she was the only Councillor who had not voted in favour of the sale at the fateful February 2006 Council meeting which approved it (she had abstained on the grounds that she didn’t have enough information). At the KOPP press conference, Anna Crighton admitted that she had made “a huge mistake” in voting for the sale at that February meeting. Helen Broughton then tabled the petition at the full Council meeting that immediately followed the press conference (but Standing Orders prevent Councillors from speaking to a petition, they’re only allowed to read out its text and how many signatures it has).
We continue to win battles. In June, the same two Councillors, Anna Crighton and Helen Broughton, were successful in persuading the Council to reinstate all the other de-listed assets (the Red Bus Company, City Care, Council housing, et al) back onto its list of strategic assets. They took Mayor Moore at his word that there had never been any plan to sell them. Anna Crighton said: “As there’s no hurry to sell them, as we’ve been assured on many occasions by the Mayor, then why not let them remain on our strategic asset list?” ( Press, 24/6/06; “City assets protected”). That logic convinced her colleagues.
But the war is far from over and nor is KOPP. It is still meeting regularly and campaigning on several fronts. As already mentioned, it now has its own Website, with special thanks to its Webmaster, MUNZ’s Victor Billot. And Kopp has now expanded beyond Christchurch, with a newly created-Dunedin branch, thanks to the local MUNZ, Greens and Alliance. This is perfectly logical as Port of Otago is now a vital stakeholder in LPC and Dunedin KOPP has written to each member of the Otago Regional Council (the owner of Port of Otago) to ascertain why they voted to buy that stake (which has never been publicly stated) and to urge them not to see it as a chance for a quick profit but to ensure that Lyttelton remains in New Zealand public ownership. There is a subtle but extremely significant difference in the titles of the Christchurch and Dunedin KOPPs. The latter is called Keep Our Ports Public, indicating the future need for a possible national campaign on this issue. For the time being, the original KOPP is keeping our title as Keep Our Port Public, but if the need arises, we’ll be into any national campaign boots and all. This is a war that may have to be fought, battle by battle, port by port. If we can stop them in Christchurch, we will have done the rest of the country a great favour. In June, sharebroker Goldman Sachs JB Were published a report on the extent of foreign ownership of the New Zealand sharemarket (41.4%, down from 44.3% in 2005). At zero, Lyttelton Port Company has the least foreign ownership. Let’s keep it that way.
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