Air NZ strike notice lifted

Air New Zealand strikes planned for three days before Christmas have been called off. This will be a relief for the many people who would have been affected.

I presume some sort of agreement or compromise has been made between the airline and union, but I also expect there would have been a lot of anger expressed to them. I don’t know how badly pay negotiations were going, but threatening to strike at Christmas looked a bit like industrial blackmail.

Beef-less burger bull

Two days ago it was reported that Air New Zealand was going to serve a beef-less burger on a couple of flights, and it has prompted some political bull.

Stuff: Air New Zealand to serve plant-based burger on Los Angeles-Auckland flights

Our national carrier is the first airline in the world to partner with Impossible Foods, a Californian start-up whose non-meaty meat is stocked by more than 2500 restaurants across the US, from renowned chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi restaurant in New York to White Castle and Umami burger outlets.

There’s usually a burger on the Business Premier menu but Chave believes the Impossible Burger will appeal to all palates.

“Whether you’re a vegetarian, flexitarian or a hard-core meat lover, you’ll enjoy the delicious taste of the Impossible Burger.”

The burger, which is prepared in Air New Zealand’s Los Angeles kitchen and assembled at altitude, comes with two plant-based patties, smoked Gouda cheese, caramelised onions and a smear of tomatillo cream. Because fries don’t hold up in the air, it’s served with a side of beetroot relish and pickle.

Sounds like it could be quite nice. I had a delicious meatless burger in a Curio Bay cafe (in the far south of the South Island) last month.

It isn’t the only food option, and won’t be compulsory. It is a choice for Air New Zealand customers, who are using a US product when stocking up when in the US.

But for some reason it has irked some politicians here.

NZ First MP Mark Patterson put out a press release: Air New Zealand needs to review its decision to promote synthetic proteins

Air New Zealand has dealt another blow to regional New Zealand by promoting the meat substitute ‘Impossible Burger” says New Zealand First Primary Industries spokesperson, Mark Patterson.

Mr Patterson described the decision as a “Slap in the face” for New Zealand’s Nine Billion dollar Red Meat Sector. “The National Carrier should be showcasing our premium quality grass fed New Zealand Red Meat not promoting a product that has the potential to pose an existential threat to New Zealand’s second biggest export earner”.

“There has been widespread concern in the regions at the loss of services from provincial airports and now we have Air New Zealand actively promoting synthetic proteins which have a genetic modification component to them. This is not a good example of New Zealand Inc working together for the greater good.”

I don’t think regional New Zealand could economically supply food to flights originating in the US.

“Promoting a product that has the potential to pose an existential threat to New Zealand’s second biggest export earner” is a bit over the top.

NZ First leader and acting Prime Minister was also critical – RNZ Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters hits out at fake meat burger

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said he would not eat a burger with lab-made meat, particularly if there’s one with the real thing available.

“I’m utterly opposed to fake beef,” he said.

That’s his choice. No one is making him eat it.

Mr Peters said the farming industry was made up of New Zealand taxpayers who wanted to ensure they get the top end of the product market offshore.

“Our airline should be its number one marketer.”

Generally Air NZ does a very good job of promoting New Zealand and New Zealand produce.

It isn’t just NZ First MPs complaining.

A different response from Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor:

“Customers will ultimately make the decision as to whether they like this burger. In fact it may be a really good positive thing for the meat industry if people taste it, don’t like it and eat real meat.”

He’s right that customers, and businesses like Air NZ, should be able to decide for themselves, but he’s being a bit lame suggesting a positive from a negative response.

I thought that the Greens might be opposed to a GE meat substitute but apparently not.

However, the Green Party said a move away from eating so much meat would ultimately be a huge plus for the planet as it would help cut emissions, lead to less intensive farming, and improve animal welfare.

Would the Greens be happy with GE meat substitutes being grown in New Zealand laboratories?

I have concerns about concocted food products myself, but simple meatless burgers can be delicious and healthy without needing to be manufactured.

But, why the sudden interest in trying to act as nanny to airline menus?

I think that our MPs should have better things to do than manufacturing outrage over a non-problem that really is no of their business.

‘Having a conversation’ on Air NZ and the regions

Phil Twyford has just appeared on his weekly Newshub morning spot alongside Judith Collins. He is Minister of Transport. Duncan Garner asked him about the Shane Jones attacks on Air NZ.

Twyford effectively backed Jones’ stance on pushing for air services for regions.

He said that as a Minister he would have a conversation with the head of Air NZ over better services for regions.

He was asked if he supported using some of the $200 million annual profit from Air NZ being used to provide regional services, he avoided answering that.

Garner pushed him on what he wanted Air NZ to do, and he copped out with the standard Labour fob  off ‘ they will have ‘an ongoing conversation’.

So without being up front Twyford has effectively backed Jones’ attention seeking stance, which is contrary to what the Minister responsible for state owned companies Grant Robertson has said, and contrary to the sort of reprimand Jacinda Ardern directed at Jones.

I’d expect Newshub to do a news item on this.


Ardern fails to muzzle Shane Jones

Shane Jones ripped into Air NZ for stopping flying unprofitable routes to provincial towns, he told the Air NZ to resign and keep out of politics,Jacinda Ardern told him off for ‘stepping over a line’, Jones sort of conceded he shouldn’t have gone that far but didn’t really, Winston Peters supported Jones, leaving the coalition Government looking rocked by a bunch of NZ First cowboys out of control.

Jones says he will still attend an Air NZ sponsored dinner featuring Barack Obama tonight. So baubles aren’t affected by his bombastic barrage.

And it has pointed out that Jones was trying to bully Air NZ into breaking the law.

Andrew Geddis at The Spinoff:  Does Shane Jones want Air New Zealand to break the law?

Yesterday morning, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones went on RNZ’s Morning Report to double down on his earlier claims that Air New Zealand was failing provincial New Zealand. The chair and board of the organisation, Jones said, needed to realise there was a new government in place and it was going to ensure that Air New Zealand properly served the country as a whole.

Air New Zealand is a company, governed by the Companies Act 1993. Despite the Crown’s bare majority shareholding, Air New Zealand is not a SOE or even a MOM. As such, the board of Air New Zealand – its directors – have legal duties under the Companies Act. Primary amongst these are that “when exercising powers or performing duties, [they] must act in good faith and in what the director believes to be the best interests of the company.”

Note that their duty is to the best interests of the company. Not to the nation. Not to the provinces. Not even to the shareholders directly – even where the majority shareholder is an elected minister of the Crown. (Just to be clear, however – Air New Zealand’s shareholding minister is the minister of finance, Grant Robertson. It isn’t Shane Jones.)

So, if the directors of Air New Zealand are of the opinion that the company’s best interests are served by closing particular routes and opening others, then that’s what they legally are required to do.

In fact, if they were to say that, then they’d potentially be committing an offence that is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $200,000. Not that I think they’d be prosecuted for making one such route decision, but the existence of this offence provision shows just how important these fundamental director’s duties are.

Legal requirements haven’t deterred this NZ First attention seeking diversion.

But Jones’ attack on Air New Zealand seems to go beyond this activism. He’s effectively arguing that the company should put nation building or community servicing objectives ahead of its commercial interests. That’s a call to change the basic nature of what Air New Zealand is as an entity.

Maybe there are good arguments for doing so (see my earlier reference to how important the Dunedin-Wellington-Auckland route is for my family dynamics!) But if it is going to be done, it should be done openly and following debate in parliament. Put up legislation to transform Air New Zealand into a SOE and then direct the board to include “nation building” in its statement of corporate intent.

That would be the proper democratic way to do things, but NZ First only promote democratic processes when it suits them, and they ignore them when it doesn’t.

Of course, the problem with this course of action is that Air New Zealand does not just belong to the Crown. It is 48% owned by private shareholders, the large majority of whom live offshore. If Shane Jones wants to renationalise the company, they will have to be bought out – which will cost the taxpayer over $1 billion.

Furthermore, any action that the New Zealand government takes that affects the value of these private shareholdings may constitute a breach of investor rights under our various free trade agreements.

So legally and democratically it is a poorly thought through stunt by Jones. NZ First have strong stances policies on democratic processes but that only seems to apply when it suits them. Peters opposed the flag referendums because he didn’t want change, and didn’t seem to care about giving people the choice. And they are trying to get the democratically dubious waka jumping bill through Parliament despite their promotion of referendums on constitutional matters.

But it has put him in the media and Parliament spotlight, which may be all he really cared about.

Given he has $1 billion to dish out for regional development a year an obvious option is for him to give hand outs to regional air services, but this time he chose to bully the Air NZ board.


And what did Ardern say about all  this? RNZ: Jones’ Air NZ comments ‘a step too far’ – PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reined in New Zealand First minister Shane Jones after he called for the chairman of Air New Zealand to be sacked.

Ms Ardern said as a major shareholder in New Zealand, the government had to ensure it did not overstep the mark.

“I’ve certainly explained to him that he is absolutely entitled to an opinion that he has shared, but suggesting anyone from the Board should go, is a step too far.”

It was not a sacking offence for anyone involved, Ms Ardern said.

“Not for any Air New Zealand board member, not for Shane, he’s expressed an opinion, one that I know that some New Zealanders will share some sympathy for, particularly those in the regions but suggesting someone should be sacked is too far.”

Ms Ardern said Mr Jones had listened to her, and “acknowledged” what she was saying.

That’s a very soft reprimand, and it has been virtually ignored by Jones.

Mr Jones is unapologetic over his scathing comments, but he does accept he has no authority to remove any member of the Board.

When asked if he still wanted Air New Zealand chair Tony Carter to resign, Mr Jones said he was aware Mr Carter was “reportedly upset” by his remarks.

“And he’s a powerful man, he’s a director on Fletcher Building… after their $1 billion loss, I accept Tony will take not an ounce of notice of what I say.”

But he accepted what he had been told by the Prime Minister.

“That I don’t have the authority to bring into being the disappearance of the chairman or anyone on the Board.

“But if anyone on that Board believes they are going to muzzle me as a champion for the provinces, then they are sadly mistaken.”

He may as have said that if Ardern believes she is going to muzzle him she is sadly mistaken.

Ardern looks increasingly waffly, and weak.

NZ First versus Air NZ

The war of words between Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Air New Zealand over the cutting of regional flights continues. Jones is in tricky territory as a minister trying to bully a company with commercial interests.

Stuff: Shane Jones continues war of words with Air NZ as chairman hits back

Air New Zealand has hit back at Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones’ criticisms of the company saying it would “always act independently of the Crown”.

The strongly worded statement from Air NZ chairman Tony Carter is in response to Jones warning the company they needed to stop cutting regional flights and his attack that Kiwis got better treatment from second hand car dealers than the country’s national airline.

Jones delivered a blunt warning to Air NZ’s regional affairs manager, Ian Collier, at the Bay of Islands Airport near Kerikeri on Friday.

Jones told Collier: “don’t keep closing down regional air links. And take that message to your supervisors”.

Jones is furious about the announcement earlier this month that the airline is ending flights to the Kāpiti Coast, which comes after flights to Kaitaia were axed in 2015.

Jones’ comments to Collier were made at an event where the Government announced $1.75 million towards the $4.75m cost of building a new terminal near Jones’ Kerikeri home.

Earlier on Tuesday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended Jones’ comments and said, “ministers, particularly with a regional focus, will have an opinion”.

“That doesn’t mean that we have any ability or intent to take away the independent decision-making of a business like Air New Zealand,” she said.

Trying to defend NZ First ministers has become a bit of a task for Ardern. Last week she tried to defend Winston Peters over his stance on Russia.

Jones is encouraging mayoral leaders to approach the government with “solutions” and he wants to see a policy that ensures flight connectivity in the regions continues.

“The immediate solution lies with (Air NZ). They’ve taken a strategy to increase profit by downgrading provinces and you can’t tell me that they haven’t done that.”

He said former prime minister Sir John Key was on the Air NZ board and was in a position to “change the strategy and priorities”.

Air NZ should “put their money where their mouth is” when it comes to supporting provincial providers, Jones said.

Jones’ apparent understanding of how a commercial airline should operate raises questions over his decision making in dishing out billions of dollars to regions.

Jones said regional NZ got better treatment from second-hand car dealers than Air NZ.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said there wasn’t the same “political oversight” for Air NZ as other state-owned enterprises because it’s 49 per cent privately owned.

“The people on the board were put there by the previous Government and you’d think they’d be looking at New Zealand’s total interests across the country, including the regions.”

Ardern said the decision to cut flights was for Air NZ and it remains their decision, Jones was just expressing an opinion.

“I don’t think it would have come as any surprise to hear that from Minister Jones at all.”

She said the government had a role to play in some of the infrastructure projects in the regions but it’s “not for us to make decisions that are ultimately commercial ones for Air NZ, whilst we may of course have the opinion that we want things to improve, not get worse,” she said

Once again Ardern is distracted trying to deal with and defend statements and attempted coercion of her coalition partner.

The Government has to leave Air NZ to make commercial decisions as the company sees fit, or buy all the privately owned shares and then dictate what the airline should do as a government run service.


These two want to be the pilots?

David Cunliffe and Russel Norman have been trashing the share sell-down of Air New Zealand. It’s not clear if they are just trashing National and don’t care about collateral damage to financial returns from the sell-down, or whether they are trying to directly trash the share sell-down as well.

They will be aware that Labour and Green scare tactics adversely and substantially affected the returns from selling shares in Mighty River  Power and Meridean, so it appears as if they are knowingly doing something that may reduce the amount of money the Government will get from the sell-down.

Cunliffe and Norman appear to put their political ambitions ahead of the good of the country. They know their actions won’t stop the share sales, it will just reduce the return to taxpayers.

NZ Herald’s Emmerson:

It’s an odd way to try to convince voters they should be pilot and co-pilot of the plane.