Overseas trade endangered unless New Zealand has a maritime strategy

The Maritime Union of New Zealand says that New Zealand’s overseas trade could be in jeopardy unless the Government has a plan for ports and the maritime sector.

Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood, responding to comments from the Minister of Transport Hon. Stephen Joyce, says it is not good enough for the Government to leave it to chance when 99% of New Zealand’s imports and exports are shipped.

He says that there is widespread concern in the industry that in future cargo could be hubbed through a large Australian port, with complex and negative effects for New Zealand.

“This decision would be made by global shipping lines, whose interest is their own profit, not New Zealand’s long term economic security.”

Mr Fleetwood says that an October 2009 report from Auckland Regional Holdings, the business arm of Auckland Regional Council (ARC), had noted the risk that, over time, New Zealand containers would be hubbed through Australia.

Further comments last week from retiring Pacifica Shipping CEO Rod Grout backed up the view the current hands-off approach could end with New Zealand cargo being hubbed through Sydney or Melbourne.

Mr Fleetwood says the views of the maritime industry appear to be falling on deaf ears.

He says an example of potential problems could be seen with what had happened when Fonterra had changed its transport mode in South Canterbury with no warning from the Port of Timaru to long distance rail.

This had led to severe pressure on the port, and was just one of a number of examples where ports had risked major investments in infrastructure to build capacity, only to be left in the lurch by global shipping companies.

“This situation if repeated on a larger scale through hubbing to Australia due to decisions of shipping companies could result in huge disruption to regional economies, millions of dollars of infrastructure being mothballed, and our transport chain in chaos.”

Mr Fleetwood says Mr Joyce’s claim that changes in the port sector would occur naturally over time showed the Government did not grasp the implications of recent developments.

He says the Maritime Union wants a long term national strategy to ensure any rationalization of ports is achieved through a planned and non-destructive process.

Ports should be integrated through a “KiwiPort” system and coastal shipping had to receive the same support that road and rail did to create a effective, New Zealand-controlled transport system.

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