Oil and gas announcement a bad look for NZ First

The Greens and associated organisations were ecstatic after the announcement was made yesterday that no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits would be issued, and there would be no more onshore permits outside Taranaki (but existing permits would remain). It was seen as a big win for James Shaw and the Greens.

In contrast NZ First’s Shane Jones publicly squirmed, and Labour rushed to try to pacify criticism, especially in Taranaki.

Photos from the announcement were telling:

The power of a photograph. Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones holds his face in his hand.

Kevin Stent/Stuff

Stuff: Photo says it all: How Shane Jones reacted to Government’s oil news

“At the press conference it became pretty obvious there were two contrasting dynamics going on. A disgruntled Jones and a gleeful (Climate Change Minister James) Shaw,” Stent said.

Ardern and Minister of Energy Megan Woods don’t look over the moon either.

Stuff: Shane Jones says ending oil and gas exploration is the ‘only scenario’

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says the Government’s ending of oil and gas exploration is the “only scenario” and NZ First voters will have to accept that.

Jones fronted media alongside Ardern, Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw and Energy Minister Megan Woods where he painted a picture of NZ First leader Winston Peters going to lengths to strike a deal with Ardern to keep any existing entitlements intact.

Speaking to media after the announcement Jones was frank about being a “pro-industry man” and being unable to “walk back from that status”.

“But I am one person and I am loyal to the agreements that are struck by my leader and the Prime Minister and it’s futile to talk about alternative scenarios.”

As both a NZ First MP and a self-professed “champion of the regions” Jones said “this is a genuine MMP Government, this is what the majority of New Zealanders voted for and we’re putting it into practice”

The announcement puts Jones and NZ First in a difficult position.

It may not have helped that coincidentally petrol pump prices rose yesterday due to rising international oil prices.

Trade too important to be decided by public opinion?

Consultation with the public has become more important in a modern democracy such as we have in New Zealand, but a representative democracy gives the ultimate responsibility for decisions to MPs, especially Ministers. Apart from constitutional issues that is generally best.

Public opinion, and especially opinion that dominates PR and social media, may not always be right – public opinion can be formed  formed and  fought for with superficial and often distorted knowledge and information.

And popular opinion may not always support the interests of the greater good.

There can be a difference between popular opinion and populist opinion. Ongoing public pressure has resulted in an escalating prison population, but this appears to be a very costly failure.

Ordinary people may not have the depth of knowledge to understand some issues properly. Like trade.

Dominion editorial: Tinker with trade at your peril

Since Labour came to power, Trade Minister David Parker has made subtle, yet significant, changes to the way the Government communicates about trade to the public.

Rather than simply talk up the benefits of selling goods and services overseas, Parker has validated concerns by making changes, in the name of sovereignty, pledging to ban foreigners from buying residential property.

He has also offered a more sympathetic ear, even as he points out opponents are often blaming trade, when their real concern is something else, such as the inevitable change brought on by new technology.

This approach appears to have taken the heat out of the debate, allowing Parker to sign the CPTPP with little fuss from the public, something National could never have dreamed of achieving.

Parker may well have helped take the heat out of the debate, but I think there is more to the dramatic reduction in TPP opposition – Labour and the Greens were prominently involved in the TPP protests in 2016, which were as much anti-National government as anti-TPP, an obvious political ploy.

Now that Labour leads the government they obviously wouldn’t get involved in stoking protests against themselves, and the Green  opposition has been muted apart from some token protest, in part so as not to appear to be divisive of the government they are a part of.

‘Popular opinion’ is often manipulated by minority political parties for political purposes.

The benefits of trade are not necessarily understood by everyone, partly because they are simply taken for granted.

That does not mean that the direction of New Zealand’s trade policy should change in any material way.

Every year New Zealand sells tens of billions of dollars worth of goods and services around the world, boosting our material standards of living.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are directly linked to international trade, but even that measure does not capture its significance.

Whether or not any particular New Zealander works in a trade-related industry, this trade is, to a large extent, what gives the dollars in their pockets meaning and value, especially when buying goods or services from overseas.

Parker appears keen to set stricter conditions for future trade deals, while maintaining an openly pro-trade stance.

An openly pro-trade stance may cause friction between Labour and the Greens, and also with Winston Peters and NZ First, especially now that Russian trade deal moves have been put on hold.

Provisions which would allow foreign investors to sue New Zealand overseas – provisions which are almost never used – will be out. Environmental and labour standard protection clauses may be required.

These changes are well-meaning and may be beneficial.

But what if the process becomes a debate about whether trade is beneficial?

Just because the new Labour Government has managed to take the heat out of the debate in recent months, it would be risky to assume this is a lasting peace.

Now that the Greens have a second leader again the peace may be threatened by a more left wing, more radical, less trade friendly Marama Davidson.

Overseas, the rise of Donald Trump and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union appears in no small way to be driven by anti-globalisation sentiment, exploited by populist politicians.

What if this sentiment was to catch on here?

It wouldn’t look unusual for Winston Peters to try to drive a populist anti-globalisation sentiment, but it would be could be conflicting for the Greens to oppose international corporations and non-green trade in a similar manner to Donald Trump.

Consultation has become an essential part of public process at all levels. The problem is that in some cases, the public may not deliver a well-reasoned response.

Business groups have admitted not enough has been done to prove the case for global trade to the public.

But anything resembling a public education campaign driven by corporate interests may backfire.

Parker needs to run a process which is sufficiently “comprehensive and inclusive”, without running the risk that it could end up damaging New Zealand’s economic interests.

Can Parker keep Peters and Davidson on side with this approach?

Trade may almost be said to be too important to be left to public opinion.

That’s unlikely to deter populist politicians, especially as we approach 2020 and the next election, and it’s unlikely to deter parties with significantly different ideas on trade to Labour and National.

One of the anti-TPP protest organisers was Barry Coates, who then became an MP for part of the last term, and was expected to remain an MP until the Green upheaval last campaign. He has still been working against the CPTPP.

Parker is one of the Government’s best performing ministers. But he could have a challenge promoting trade against public opinion and partner parties.

 

Speaker appears to protect Peters from questions in Parliament

Trevor Mallard started in his role as speaker promising a better way of managing the parliamentary bear pit, but as time goes on he is raising eyebrows rather than standards.

In a bizarre exchange in Parliament yesterday he seemed to be protecting Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters from questioning over a serious claim that an NZ First minister was behind a threat made by new MP Jenny Marcroft (as alleged by National MP Mark Mitchell – see NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell).

Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Question No. 2—Deputy Prime Minister

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, I do, in their context.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe his actions and those of other Ministers have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m going to ask the member to rephrase the question to make sure it is entirely within the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. He has no responsibility for any other Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. Does he believe his actions have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, and compared with that member and her colleagues, my actions are as pure as the driven snow.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he said yesterday in his statement as Deputy Prime Minister, “Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point.”, what was the underlying point Mr Mitchell misunderstood?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Because this is a very finely tuned matter, I’m going to do what I did with Dr Smith last week and seek an assurance that that statement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister and, in the body of the statement, uses that appellation for the Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I expected your question on that. I have a copy of it that’s clearly under the Deputy Prime Minister, and clearly has it written as his statement. I’m happy to—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member tables it and continues with the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you. Would you like to hear the statement again?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I heard it. We’re not slow learners over here. Can I just say that when I was first made aware of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Just answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if you keep quiet for five seconds, old man, you’ll hear it. [Interruption] Can I just say that when I first heard of a report of this conversation, I knew that someone had got the wrong end of the stick, and so I thought, seeing as my colleague had allowed another parliamentary colleague to get a mistaken impression, that we should correct it as fast as possible. I thought that was the right thing to do. I mean, there’s nothing big about this, but we’re surely not going to have Mr Mitchell trying to make a mountain out of a molehill?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Having listened to the reply and looked at the statement, I accept the member’s word, and it is very clear that it is headed “Deputy Prime Minister”. It is, however, clear to me that there is nothing in the statement that is the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all fairness, the statement that has been put out is clearly “Deputy Prime Minister”. It doesn’t even say “Leader of New Zealand First” on it. I double-checked that. So he has made those comments as the Deputy Prime Minister and, as such, he has responsibility for them as the Deputy Prime Minister and should be answering accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER: I think you have to go quite a lot further than mislabelling a statement—[Interruption] minus three supplementaries—in order to bring something into ministerial responsibility. He might be responsible for mislabelling a statement, but there are areas which he is not responsible for, and the activities of Ministers, as was made very clear by the Prime Minister, as all senior members of the Opposition will know, is a matter for the Prime Minister and not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the problem with your ruling is that it ignores the fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters, putting out a release under the banner of the Deputy Prime Minister, has made an accusation against one of our members that he now, apparently, simply cannot be questioned upon. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask him “What did he mean? What was the other side of the story, which my colleague apparently has not understood?” To say that the House can’t question the Deputy Prime Minister about a statement he makes as the Deputy Prime Minister, I think, begins to—frankly, it just shields him from any of the normal scrutiny that would go on someone who makes, from a ministerial position, such an accusation.

Hon Chris Hipkins: The closest example I can think of where the House has dealt with this matter before was when the then Labour Opposition was trying to question the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, about statements that he had made in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, but he had made them at his prime ministerial press conference. The Speaker of the House at the time—I can’t actually recall what the exact issue was, but I remember arguing about it—argued that he had made those statements in his capacity as leader of the National Party even if the venue in which he had made them was his prime ministerial press conference. The question is not where a statement is made or how it is cited or the title that is used in citing; it’s whether the Minister has ministerial responsibility for the matters in question. In this case, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for the issues he’s being questioned about.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I did want to rise to speak because you have taken three Opposition questions as a result of my outburst. I am, frankly, appalled that, in this House, a Minister could put a statement out with the words “Deputy Prime Minister” and then, as Speaker, you could somehow know that he wasn’t acting in his responsibility and he had mislabelled the statement. That’s why you got the outburst. I would ask you to reflect on this. It’s a very serious matter. It’s not possible, in my view, for the Speaker to know what’s inside a Minister’s head. They’ve issued a statement in the capacity as Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just make it absolutely clear to Nikki Kaye that I am quite offended by her comments then. I know what the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister are, and that’s what’s important, and I ruled that way.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: There is no comparison between the example given by the Hon Chris Hipkins and the current situation. For a start, if a person is being interviewed by a group of journalists in a stand-up situation, they may well be asked a range of questions and they may answer them without actually specifying “I am now taking this hat off and putting this hat on.” That was, you will recall, established well by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, when he sat in the chair that you now occupy, some years back. But, in this case, the Deputy Prime Minister, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s letterhead, put out a statement making an accusation against a colleague of mine, suggesting, effectively, that my colleague had got the wrong end of the stick. We’re just now saying, “Well, what was the right end of that stick?” He must know for him to have made that statement. Given that this is not a trivial matter, any suggestion that someone gets in the road of a member of Parliament doing their work—the elected work that they are sent to this place for—is a serious matter. Therefore, for Mr Peters to simply say, “Well, you know, the Hon Mark Mitchell must have got the wrong end of the stick or got the wrong meaning, etc.”, cannot just stand as a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that says, “Close off; nothing to see here.” Surely, he can be questioned about what he actually meant?

Mr SPEAKER: If, in the body of the statement, which I’m sure the leader of New Zealand First approved, it had said “Deputy Prime Minister”, I would have had more sympathy. But the fact that it has been printed by a press secretary on an inappropriate letterhead does not—[Interruption] minus another three—bring it within the Deputy Prime Minister’s responsibilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that mean that a Government press secretary should know the difference between a letterhead that says “Leader of New Zealand First” and that of Deputy Prime Minister? You can only assume that it was done through the offices that are located on the ninth floor, which are Government offices—ministerial offices—not party offices.

Mr SPEAKER: In actual fact, I think, as the member is aware, there are a number of people who are employed in those offices who are dually employed, including in his own leader’s office.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes it is, because that implies that there is some level of bad behaviour going on in the Leader of the Opposition’s office—in other words, using of taxpayer funds illegitimately, unreasonably—and that is not the case. But it would be worse if that was somehow to be the reason why there would be an excuse for the Deputy Prime Minister to make an accusation on Government letterhead, using Government resources to make that accusation, but then not come under any scrutiny in the House whatsoever.

Mr SPEAKER: I do want to, if I can, draw this to a close as soon as I can, and I want to be very careful about reflecting on mistakes made by staff members—especially a person who has had quite a history around these buildings, working for a number of parties. But it is clear to me that someone made an error in putting it on this letterhead.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve got two points of order. The first is around the process of tabling documents and the supplementary question from the Hon Paula Bennett. You, as Speaker, had then asked for the document, and yet there wasn’t a process of tabling it. So my question is: have you made a ruling, as a result of that action, that you have to sight any documents that are made by members of this House in a supplementary question before you allow them to be raised on the floor?

Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is no, and I let the member ask her question. Carry on—second point.

Hon Louise Upston: Sorry, Mr Speaker, on that first point—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the first point’s been dealt with. If the member has a separate point of order, she may raise it, but that point of order has been dealt with. Second point of order?

Hon Louise Upston: The second point of order is the assertion that you’ve made, Mr Speaker, about a staff member making an error. As a member of this House, I’m curious as to what’s led you to that conclusion, given that it is a document that’s on letterhead from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat now. If she is curious about my rulings and requires tutelage, I’m happy to explain it to her but not to take up the time of the House. I’ve made an indication to members that if they don’t understand my rulings, if I’ve not been clear enough, then I’m willing to talk to them about it, but points of clarification—or points of curiosity, as this one might be characterised—are not allowed under the Standing Orders. I’m going to warn the member: she’s disputed my ruling once already; if she disputes it again, I will view it very seriously.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of the Speakers’ ruling that you have just used, could you please bring that to the attention of the House? I’ve been listening to the comments around me and I just want to know what that ruling is, please.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think the member’s now trifling with the Chair.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My point of order is simply that if we are now to move on from this—get it all nicely resolved; everyone is happy to an extent—is it reasonable that we, effectively, lose six supplementaries because of a mistake made by one of Mr Peters’ staff members?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The six supplementaries have been lost because members on my left breached the Standing Orders.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of any molehills that have been transformed into mountains of late?

Mr SPEAKER: And three of the supplementaries have just been given back because the member knew that that was not a proper question.

NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell

An unusually contrite NZ First has apologised for what they describe as a misunderstanding over a conversation between one of their first term MPs, Jenny Marcroft, and Northcote electorate MP, Mark Mitchell.

Yesterday Mitchell put out a claim in a press release:

Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.

In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft – who said she was under instruction from a Minister – also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.

“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.

“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.

“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.

“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.

NZH – National MP Mark Mitchell: ‘Rotten politics’ from NZ First MP over regions fund

Mitchell included screengrabs of texts in which he and Marcroft agreed to meet at the Orewa Surf Club on Saturday.

A text from Marcroft at 6.10pm that night read “Hi Mark, on reflection I have considered the substance of our conversation to be incorrect and would therefore ask that you kindly disregard it. Thank you for your generosity in this matter.”

That sounds like an attempted backtrack from Marcroft.

NZ First have since responded.

Jones said he had not known about Marcroft’s alleged actions and was not the minister referred to.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. If you’re asking me am I monstering anyone over the Growth Fund, absolutely not.”

A straight denial of knowledge or involvement.

Winston Peters put out a statement:

“After the conversation had got out of hand she consulted with me late on Saturday afternoon and was advised by me to issue an apology. Ms Marcroft was not under instructions by any NZ First ministers regarding funding, and while Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point, she was apologetic over the matter, and conveyed that to him.”

Misunderstandings can easily happen in conversations. Misunderstandings are also possible when junior MPs are instructed by senior MPs.

There is no dispute that the conversation took place, just a claim of a misunderstanding, a backtrack and an apology.

That Peters advised Marcroft to apologise seems an unusual NZ First action. It looks like an attempt to dampen down the claims. Peters far more commonly uses attack as a form of defence.

Jones:

He said such political arguments did not compromise their ability to put up proposals.

“If there are National MPs promoting proposals just get ready and stand in line like everyone else and go through the bureaucratic system.”

Mitchell has asked the Prime Minister to take action. Jacinda Ardern has also responded. RNZ – NZ First MP instructed to apologise to National Party

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to be blindsided by the news when questioned by reporters at her weekly press conference this afternoon.

She said she wanted to get more details before responding, but stressed the Provincial Growth Fund was not a political process.

“The process … is not contingent on support for this government at all and there is plenty of proof of that.

It will be interesting to see how the Mahurangi River Restoration Project fares now in the Regional Economic Development fund handouts.

 

National MP claims threat from NZ First

Mark Mitchell claims that NZ First has threatened him to keep away from an electorate project, and NZ First have sent a new MP to request this and that they (NZ First) not be questioned in Parliament.

This is just one side of a story, but if it is close to accurate it is seriously concerning – akin to the Australian cricket cheating scandal, where team leaders got a team newcomer to go dirty.

Mark Mitchell (MP for Rodney):  Minister using taxpayer cash for political gain

Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.

In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft – who said she was under instruction from a Minister – also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.

“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.

“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.

“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.

“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.

“But this is rotten politics. It goes to the core of our democratic processes and the National Party will not let such behaviour stand.

“This billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund is taxpayer money and should be used to benefit New Zealanders, not buy an easy ride for the Government nor to try and convince local MPs to stop supporting local projects, because they have annoyed the Government.

“The Prime Minister needs to find out which of her Ministers is attempting to use public money for political gain and she needs to quickly explain what she intends to do about it.”

The buck may stop at the Prime Minister’s desk, but initially at least it is mainly up to NZ First to front up and explain.

If Mitchell’s claims are accurate this is more than dirty politics, it is an abuse of power and of the Regional Development Fund.

Marcroft is a first term NZ First list MP, ranked 9th. If she was instructed to do this by NZ First leadership it has put her in an awful position, a bit like the newbie Australian cricketer asked to cheat by his team’s leadership.

 

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.

“The silence of National and Labour on transparency is noted”

Neither of the two large parties, Labour or National, show any sign of following the Green Party example of transparency and a refusal to accept corporate baubles. Neither does NZ First. This is a shame, but it’s unsurprising.

The Green announcement: Green Party announces new transparency measures

Green Party Co-leader James Shaw has today announced two important new transparency measures, which will apply to Green Party Ministers, MPs and staff, to help counter the influence of money in politics.

Green Party Ministers will soon proactively release their ministerial diaries, to show who they’ve met with and why. Additionally, Green Ministers, MPs and staff will not accept corporate hospitality, such as free tickets to events unrelated to their work.

ODT editorial: Green Party transparency welcomed

Transparency is a hallmark of any functioning government and the Green Party says it will continue to aim to uphold that – in Parliament and in Government.

Green co-leader James Shaw recently announced two important new transparency measures which will apply to Green Party ministers, MPs and staff to help show what he says is the influence of money in politics.

The actions are a major step forward in transparency and one which should be held up as an example to other political parties, both inside and outside Parliament.

The power of big business over politicians has become insidious in the United States. It is possible many New Zealand voters will be surprised by the influence of lobbyists in New Zealand.

Because New Zealand is such a small country, MPs, or their staff, often move into areas of influence outside of Parliament while retaining their close ties with the parties with which they previously worked.

Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran was blindsided in Parliament recently when questioned about her relationship with public broadcaster Radio New Zealand. It was revealed Ms Curran, the Dunedin South MP, had met privately with a highly ranked staff member of RNZ.

Then, National revealed an employee of the Prime Minister’s Office promoted Government policy while participating in an opinion segment on Radio New Zealand National, only describing herself as a public relations consultant from a private company for which she no longer worked.

The silence of National and Labour on transparency is noted.

There should be no reason why big wealthier corporates have better or more access to politicians than those organisations who cannot afford to shout free tickets to the rugby or a corporate box at the tennis.

Some will view the Greens’ actions as naive. However, the party must be congratulated and voters should push hard for other ministers and MPs to also start opening their diaries.

Yes, the Greens should be congratulated on walking the transparency walk.

Pressure needs to be put on Labour in particular to front up on this. They have an agreement with the Greens to do this – their Confidence and Supply agreement:

20. Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information.

Labour agrees to work with the Green Party on these and other policy areas as may be identified from time to time, and in good faith.

There is little sign that Labour is living up to their agreement. There is one Beehive release from Associate Minister for State Services (Open Government) Clare Curran that touches on it: Continued effort needed against corruption

“While we continue to hold the position of least corrupt country, and already have high standards of conduct and integrity, we must not be complacent. These results show we are not immune to behaviour and actions that can erode the great work done by the majority of people in the public sector.

“Our focus must be on building and maintaining the public’s trust in the integrity of the public sector, a key enabler in our ability to do better for New Zealand and New Zealanders. I expect a continued commitment to transparency and the highest levels of integrity,” Ms Curran says.

“This government is also committed to reviewing and improving our access to information frameworks and is currently initiating work on human rights in the digital environment.

“Our commitment to open government plays an important role in New Zealand’s democratic system, underpinning the public’s respect, trust, and confidence in the integrity of government.”

That’s just talk from Curran – and she has been embarrassed twice in Parliament over questionable actions of herself and of Government advisor and lobbyist Tracey Bridges.

Greens have shown Curran up by committing to having open diaries and not accepting corporate baubles, while all she seems to have done is waffle and duck and dive.

If all parties currently in government establish more open and transparent procedures and practices then whenever National next gets into Government they should be under pressure to continue with similar levels of transparency and openness.

Talking of National, they don’t make it easy finding their list of MPs on their website. Todd McClay is their spokesperson for State Services – I can’t find anything from him on open government, although Nikki Kaye has called for greater transparency over Partnership Schools.

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Q&A – Peters, Bridges, Fletchers

Interviews on NZ Q&A today:

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters

As China increases its influence in the Pacific, Foreign Minister Winston has announced a “reset” in our Pacific policy, saying New Zealand must do more to maintain its leadership in the region.

He’ll explain why to Corin Dann in his first major TV interview since the election.

The panel also discuss what Peters wouldn’t – the future of NZ First.

New National leader Simon Bridges…

…talks about his new job on Q+A on Sunday morning – how will he change the National Party?

Is Bridges wearing a green tie significant?

He’s coming across ok in his answers, thoughtful and giving some insight into how he ticks politicvaally. He could grow into the job.

And Fletcher Building:

Fletcher Building is pulling back on new projects after major losses. Whena Owen talks to industry insiders who are concerned about the future.

The other new (deputy) leader – Fletcher Tabuteau

The NZ First caucus yesterday selected Fletcher Tabuteau as their deputy leader, replacing Ron Mark (who is a Minister in the current Government).

NEW ZEALAND FIRST DEPUTY LEADER VOTE

New Zealand First Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters says the new Deputy Leader of New Zealand First is Fletcher Tabuteau MP.

“New Zealand First indicated last week that it would consider the deputy-leadership position at its caucus meeting this morning,” said Mr Peters.

“After careful consideration, the caucus today supported Fletcher Tabuteau to take over the role, and I congratulate him on this appointment as deputy-leader.”

“New Zealand First extends its immense gratitude for the service of Ron Mark as deputy leader. The party recognises Ron is an integral member of the team and we look forward to him playing a key role in the current government in his capacity as Minister of Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs,” he said.

Fletcher Tabuteau has been a member of the party since its inception and is currently serving second term as a member of parliament. With the formation of the new government he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister for Regional Economic Development.

And:

FLETCHER TABUTEAU CONFIRMED AS NEW ZEALAND FIRST DEPUTY LEADER

It is my honour to announce that today I was successfully nominated as the Deputy Leader of New Zealand First.

The role comes with significant responsibility and I am delighted to have received the confidence of my caucus colleagues.

I have had the privilege of working with the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters for a number of years and I now look forward to working closely with him and my caucus colleagues as the Deputy Leader.

Having been a member of the party since its inception, this step represents my commitment to New Zealand First and its founding principles of putting New Zealand and all New Zealanders first.

There is a lot of work to get on with and I am up to the challenge with a great team of people around me.

I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my predecessor the Hon Ron Mark who has served as a loyal Deputy Leader of the Party.

It is an exciting time to be a part of the fundamental paradigm shift of a new Government as both the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister for Regional Economic Development, and now as the Deputy Leader of New Zealand First.

I look forward to being a part of the party leadership as we look to consolidate the past 25 years and look to the future as an integral part of government, mindful as ever that we will continue to grow our membership and support base.

Tabuteau is aged 47. He became an MP via the NZ First list in 2014 and again in 2017 – he was ranked fourth on the list both times, ahead of Mark (who was 9th) in 2014, but two places behind Mark in 2017.

After the formation of a Labour-NZ First-Green government in October 2017 Tabuteau was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, and Under-Secretary to the Minister for Regional Economic Development, Shane Jones.

This looks a bit like a succession plan for NZ First, but while Peters remains leader Tabuteau may have difficulty building much of a profile.

New deputy predicted for NZ First

There has never been any doubt who will lead NZ First while Winston Peters remains an MP, but the deputy spot is less secure. In 2015 Ron Mark got the numbers to oust Tracey Martin, but it looks like the knives are out for Mark, with the position up for a caucus vote next week.

Martin and Shane Jones appear to be too busy to consider going for it, so it looks like the way is open to Fletcher Tabuteau to take on some more responsibility.

Stuff: NZ First deputy leader Ron Mark looks set to be rolled at caucus on Tuesday

They say what goes around comes around and in Ron Mark’s case he’ll be hoping that’s not the case.

Mark rose to be NZ First’s deputy leader in 2015 after he challenged Tracey Martin and got enough support in the caucus to roll her.

But the party’s deputy leadership is up for grabs again on Tuesday and it’s understood the job is NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau’s – if he wants it.

Tabuteau was fourth on the NZ First list last election, behind Peters, Mark and Martin (Jones was 8th).

Mark need not worry about Martin, whose popularity amongst colleagues exceeds his, as it’s understood she’s not interested in the job due to her heavy ministerial workload.

NZ First new-comer but old-timer in terms of political experience, Shane Jones, has long been touted to take over the leadership from Winston Peters if he ever decided to throw it all in and head to Whananaki to retire.

But he’s not interested in the job either – he says he’s got one billion trees to plant and a $1 billion regional economic fund to spend, which would keep him far too busy for anything else.

So it looks like a contest between Mark and Tabuteau, if Mark doesn’t read the writing on the wall and say he’s too busy being a minister.

While he (Jones) says it’s not a “priority” for him to be deputy leader and in the short term he has a “hell of a role” he possibly also doesn’t see the deputy job as any sort of assumed stepping stone to the leadership.