Ardern’s separate flight to Nauru

An Air Force Boeing 757 has dropped Winston Peters off at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, is flying back to new Zealand and returning with Jacinda Ardern for a one day visit.

It has been reported that the reason Ardern couldn’t go with Peters was so she would not be away from her baby too long – Neve was not able to travel with her because she is too young for the necessary vaccinations.

Stuff: Jacinda Ardern defends travelling separately to Nauru for Pacific Islands Forum

The main New Zealand delegation, including Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and a media contingent, arrived in Nauru for the forum on Monday.

Ardern will be travelling to the Micronesia island on Wednesday in the same Air Force plane, which will have to return to New Zealand to pick her up.

The prime minister could not go for the longer period as her 11-week-old daughter, Neve, is too young to be given the appropriate vaccinations for the trip and, thus, could not travel with her.

Ardern said she had weighed up whether or not to go and had asked about how much extra it might cost. She was told the extra cost would not be exorbitant and the plane could not stay on Nauru anyway, as there was not enough room on the runway to store it.

Weighing up the logistics around travel I asked officials to check what the extra costs I would be imposing on the crown would be if I were to travel separately,” Ardern said.

“They assured me that because of the 757 not being able to remain on Nauru anyway, but having to leave the island so other planes could come in and depart – and also the fact that if it wasn’t flying there it would be taking up an hour somewhere else anyway, then on balance I decided it was worth me travelling.”

She made the comments after Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper estimated on Monday morning the extra fuel costs would be about $50,000.

There have been various claims of cost, including $80,000 and $100,000.

Ardern said the plane’s flying hours were budgeted for anyway and would likely be flown for “training hours” if not used for the five-and-a-half-hour trip back to New Zealand.

The original plan was to send the plane to the Marshall Islands an hour’s flight away to get it off Nauru.

The actual additional costs are debatable.

There will no doubt be further added costs catering for Ardern’s baby.

But there will be decisions made all the time that impact on costs like this. The cost of governing and the cost of Foreign Affairs travel are substantial.

This puts some perspective on the recent news of Simon Bridges travel expenses for three months, quoted at over $100,000 but he would have normally been expected to incur at least half of this without raising eyebrows or opponent’s hackles and heckles.

This travel cost to Nauru is small change compared to overall costs in conducting foreign affairs in the Pacific – see Foreign Affairs funding boosted by $1b with no clear plan.

It is also likely that the foreign travel budget for Ardern will be lower for a while than if she had not have her baby.

Peters’ foreign travel costs, usually substantial for a Minister of Foreign Affairs, will have been much lower for the eight weeks he was acting Prime Minister while Ardern was on maternity leave.

So the overall cost of our Prime Minister having and caring for a baby may have little if any effect on overall Government expenses.

Quibbling over one-off expenses seems pointless and perhaps petty.

If Ardern and her Government turn out to have much higher expenses per year and over their three year term then there may be grounds for grizzling, but the Nauru flight on it’s own does not seem to be a big deal to me.


Twyford’s big little mistake

More trouble for Phil Twyford, self inflicted.

He was one of Labour’s most active and critical MPs in when in opposition. In Government he was given big and relatively many ministerial responsibilities.

He has struggled with the transition from Opposition, and with his new jobs, particularly the very demanding Housing portfolio in which Labour had been very critical, and made some big promises. As National had discovered as the number of houses kept falling behind a rising population, it can be a very slow behemoth to turn around, especially with our restrictive, time consuming and expensive RMA requirements.

Last week Twyford was reprimanded by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for referring to ‘kids at Treasury’ when he disagreed with a housing forecast. Ardern put on a show of telling him off but agreed with the thrust of his criticism. Twyford said “Some of these kids at Treasury are fresh out of university and they’re completely disconnected from reality”. Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says he is “disappointed” with the Housing Minister’s comments that his officials are “kids… disconnected from reality”

Now another controversy has flared, with Twyford being  reported by a member of the public for making a cellphone call on plane after the doors had been closed.

This may seem like a trivial offence breaching what seems like a pointless airline rule.

But it is highly embarrassing for Twyford, because as Minister of Transport he had responsibility for Civil Aviation.

Twyford has admitted his mistake. He also ‘offered to resign’ in a statement:

I recognise that I made the call when I shouldn’t have.

This is inappropriate for anyone, but particularly inappropriate for me as Transport Minister. I apologise unreservedly.

I have apologised to the Prime Minister and offered my resignation as Transport Minister.

She has declined my offer but chosen to transfer my responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority to Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

I have referred the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority who will follow whatever processes they deem appropriate,

So he didn’t actually resign, he left it to Ardern to make a show of declining it, and she also appropriately appropriately stripped him of Civil aviation responsibilities. Regardless of the offence reducing his workload seems like a good idea.

This is being compared to Gerry Brownlee’s breach of security at Christchurch airport in 2014 while he was Transport Minister. he was fined $2,000 for that.

It can be argued that Brownlee’s offence was worse, or potentially not as dangerous (if there is any danger from using phones on planes), but that’s largely irrelevant. This is four years later and Twyford is the current Minister and he has earned some flak.

This will probably blow over fairly quickly except for ongoing attempts to niggle away at the Government by opponents – unless Twyford keeps making mistakes and inappropriate comments. It’s time for him to measure up as a minister, or he could find more of his responsibilities slipping away.

Update: This irony is being reported on RNZ, from July 2014: PM too quick off mark – Labour

Labour transport spokesperson Phil Twyford said John Key had been too quick off the mark in deciding not to accept Mr Brownlee’s resignation and should have waited for the outcome of the CAA investigation.

“The Prime Minister did say that he was going to hold National Party ministers to a higher standard of accountability, so I would have hoped that the prime minister would have waited for the facts to be on the table about what regulations Mr Brownlee might have breached.”

Mr Twyford said it was important Mr Brownlee was held to account, and pointed to the prosecution of John Banks when he was Police Minister for using his cellphone during a flight.

“Well I think it’s very important, for the public, that politicians are seen not just to make the laws but to follow them, as well, and that’s a pretty fundamental principle of our democracy.”