The NSW minister who named a ship 'Ferry McFerryface' now says he's changing it to 'May Gibbs'

William West/Getty ImagesFerry McFerryface on Sydney Harbour

The next time New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance says he’s “listened” to the people, take it with a very large grain of salt.

In November last year, Constance, the man currently in charge of the ongoing Sydney trains crisis, announced that one of the city’s six new Emerald class ferries would be named “Ferry McFerryFace”.

The other five ferries were named after eye doctor Fred Hollows, heart surgeon Victor Chang, obstetrician Catherine Hamlin, and historical Aboriginal leaders Pemulwuy and Bungaree.

Just days after the announcement, Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan claimed he’d been told his name would feature, only to told they’d been a change of plan the day before the minister delivered his second-hand joke as a captain’s pick, declaring that “We asked Sydney to name their new ferries, and we have listened”.

But Constance appears to have misled the public, with a freedom of information investigation by 9News revealing that as well as making a captain’s pick on the name, despite warnings against it from senior public servants, and ignoring the government’s own criteria in process, it wasn’t the popular choice the minister claimed.

The FoI request reveals Ferry McFerryface received around 200 nominations but was not included among the 36 names selected for the list the public voted on and cost taxpayers $100,000. Ian Kiernan’s name received 2025 of the 15,000 votes in the online poll.

Transport for NSW officials had tried to stop a repeat of the 2016 UK competition to name a research vessel, which led to “Boaty McBoatface” topping the poll – in that instance, the British minister intervened and the ship was named RRS Sir David Attenborough, with a submersible christened the joke name – by “mitigating the risk of satirical naming campaigns”.

And Constance decided to ignore the panel’s final recommendation with a captain’s pick and “do something a bit different” – a fact 2GB’s Ray Hadley revealed just days after the announcement, which provoked a widespread backlash from the public and unions.

But here’s what the transport minister said about the decision in his media release last November.

“The most popular names by far in the Name Your Ferry competition were Victor Chang, Fred Hollows and Catherine Hamlin, which are already ferrying passengers across the harbour.

“This one is for the kids.”

The next most popular name was Boaty McBoatface, followed by Ferry McFerryface.

“Given Boaty was already taken by another vessel, we’ve gone with the next most popular name nominated by Sydneysiders,” Mr Constance said.

Ian Kiernan failed to rate a mention in the minister’s media release.

On Tuesday Constance told 9NEWS “we always said we’d run it over summer, have a look at how it goes. It’s had international recognition, bit of lighthearted fun, lots of kids taking selfies” and now he plans to change it.

Within hours of the 9News revelations, Constance issued a new release on Tuesday evening saying the ferry would be now named after the children’s author May Gibbs.

“We always intended this vessel would be named for the kids. After a summer on the harbour, Ferry McFerryface will now be renamed after prominent Australian author May Gibbs,” the minister said.

“This will retain the vessel’s appeal to our youngest customers while also recognising an Australian icon with a long connection to Sydney”.

In another interview he said he couldn’t take responsibility for a bureaucrat telling Kiernan his name was chosen.

The Clean Up Australia legend said he was disappointed with the final outcome and that the NSW government had abandoned democratic voting.

“Letting politicians politicise it and grab it as a tool should not be permitted,” the former Australian of the Year told ABC Sydney radio.

Opposition leader Luke Foley, who turned the name into a campaign policy by pledging to dump the name if Labor wins next year’s election, told 9News “we know he can’t run a train system but now he can’t name a ferry”.

You can watch and read the full 9News report here.

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