In 2016 Ports of Auckland launched an automation programme which it claimed would double the port’s capacity, promising Aucklanders, customers and shareholders safety, environmental, community and capacity benefits from the automation of their container terminal. But the automation project failed on every measure. Instead of improving throughput, and even after accounting for disruptions caused by COVID, the automation project led to severe congestion, delays and additional costs for the port and its users. Workers were put under pressure to make up the shortfall, jeopardising safety with a with lives lost and a tripling of injuries and lives lost. New analysis has found that Ports of Auckland’s automation programme has cost the port and wider New Zealand economy over NZD$1.2 billion – equivalent to 17 years of port profits prior to the terminal’s automation.
Privatising the operations of Ports of Auckland would result in increased costs of at least $70m a year to New Zealand businesses to meet the investor’s return on equity. Privatised port operations in Australia saw surcharges of over $100AUD a container imposed on users, who have no other options. The failed automation experiment shows there is no fat to be cut at the Port, a private operator’s extra profit would come from the Port’s business customers, who could expect similar increases in container charges as seen in Australia.