Shane Jones wants to shit kick through bureaucratic brick walls

Shane Jones is promoting more power for politicians over public servants, and has claimed it takes too long to have funding allocated to projects. This is a bit scary given the amount of money he has to hand out to the regions, but it is on his personal wish list and he didn’t speak on behalf of the Government.

Stuff: NZ First’s Shane Jones wants ministers to have more power over public sector

Cabinet Minister Shane Jones, says he would like to “soften that line” between governance and the bureaucracy, including allowing ministers to appoint top officials.

In an interview on the provincial growth fund Jones, the Regional Development Minister railed against a bureaucratic system he characterised as a “treacle-riddled”, slowing down process around funding economic projects, without evidence of improved efficiency.

This is scary given Jones’ short record to date in proposing funds for shaky projects and then claiming he forgot about getting advice pointing out serious shortcomings.  See Shane Jones ‘genuinely forgot’, Sage ‘memory let her down’.

“I’m looking forward to fighting an election to change the way that politicians relate to the bureaucracy,” Jones said.

“I know we have this separation of governance and the bureaucracy, but I’m really attracted to the idea where the Aussies have softened that line, and key ministers bring in their s…-kickers to get things done. That’s always been my preference.”

I’m sure a number of ministers would like to shit kick their policies through bureaucratic brick walls, but there are good reasons to have some checks on impatient and extravagant politicians.

Jones said his comments were not Government policy and were “not consistent with the State Services Act” but were ones he would like to campaign on in the future.

Campaigning on bureaucrat bashing may win some votes from the plebs, but it should meet resistance from Parliamentary voters.

Among other things the State Sector Act gives the State Services Commissioner the power over chief executive appointments, without influence from the Beehive, at least in theory.

Unlike many other countries, public servants are required to act in a politically neutral way.

The Public Services Association warned in December that the influence of ministerial advisors, Beehive staff which are appointed to serve the interests of their minister, are undermining this neutrality.

This aim at public service neutrality may be flawed but it is very important in New Zealand. Giving more power to ministers, unfettered by public servants, would be a big risk as we don’t have checks and balances that other countries have – no Lords and no Senate to oversee Parliament.

A much more powerful Jones in charge is something we should be very wary of.

Jones followed up the interview on Facebook:

“Surely I’m not the only one who would like to see less bureaucracy in this country? Meeting high governance and probity standards should not come at the expense of efficiency and pace in my books”.

He wants to have the power to push through what he wants at the expense of probity standards?

That should be a worry with any Minister. Especially so of Jones given his record to date.

Allowing Ministers to shit kick through the bureaucracy would be a very risky removal of one of the few means of checks and balances we have.

Risky rush to hand out Provincial Growth funds

One of the big new policies quickly kicked into gear was a billion dollar a year fund for projects in the regions. The rush to hand out money was always going to be risky, and so it proved.

RNZ: Officials failed to do background checks on energy scheme

A review has found government officials failed to do background checks on the people behind a proposed waste-to-energy scheme that was to be given hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.

The funding for the feasibility study was put on hold by the Regional Development Minister Shane Jonesafter RNZ told him the scheme’s chief executive, Gerard Gallagher, had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

The internal review found officials working on Provincial Growth Fund projects failed to carry out due diligence on Renew Energy’s directors and shareholders.

If basic due diligence had been carried out then Gerard Gallagher’s referral to the Serious Fraud Office would have quickly been detected, it found.

The head of the Provincial Development Unit Nigel Bickle apologised.

“We fell below prudent standards of due diligence and we have apologised to the Minister for not getting this right,” Mr Bickle said.

“The public quite rightly expects government agencies to run a robust process before awarding contracts or approving funding – in this case we made a mistake by not completing appropriate checks on personnel associated with the Waste to Energy project.”

Mr Bickle said changes had been made and the unit would now carry out due diligence before applications were considered by ministers and announcements were made.

The implication here is alarming – that funds were announced before due diligence had been done.

The internal report, by the Business Ministry’s director of legal services, Chris Mathieson, also shows that two days after RNZ ran the story linking the new funding with Mr Gallagher’s referral to the Serious Fraud Office – he quit.

“On 2 March 2018, (Renew Energy director and West Coast Economic Development Manager ) Kevin Stratful advised MBIE, that following an emergency board meeting Mr Gallagher has resigned as CEO of Renew Energy and would be selling his shares in Renew Energy. That has now occurred,” the report reads.

Mr Mathieson said it was now up to the Provincial Development Unit to do due diligence on Renew Energy’s other owners before deciding whether the feasibility study should go ahead.

They are still considering the scheme for feasibility funding? RNZ revealed the Environment Ministry had advised the government that the project was a lemon.

Mr Jones said he just plain forgot about that advice.

Jones’ excuses sounded dodgy. Perhaps due diligence should have been done on him before giving him so much money to dish out.

RNZ: National says internal review of Renew Energy fiasco ‘alarming’

The National Party has accused the government of forcing officials working on the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund to cut corners to meet unrealistic deadlines.

Its regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said an internal review released late yesterday on the Renew Energy fiasco was “alarming”.

Mr Goldsmith said officials were under pressure from a government wanting “quick wins” for political gain.

“It’s not hard to spend $3 billion but it’s quite hard to spend $3 billion effectively, and to do that you have to have proper systems in place and clear procedures.

“And what we’re seeing doesn’t fill us with confidence at all.”

Goldsmith will have a busy time holding to account the many handouts from the fund over the course of the term.

Mr Jones said he was “disappointed by the lack of checks and balances” but he had confidence in the Provincial Development Unit.

“The scaling up process was a steep learning curve and I thank Nigel [Bickle, the head of the unit] and his team for their thorough review.”

Due diligence should have been done on the systems for deciding who benefits from the fund.

NZ First stands to benefit from generous handouts to regions given they also target provincial voters, but if the fund makes too many poor choices it could backfire.

It will also be a test for Jones, especially if he has ambitions to take over NZ First leadership from Winston Peters.

If Jones makes a big success of redistributing Government Provincial Growth funds he could have a crack at being Minister of Finance, but a bit more due diligence may be required.

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.

Shane Jones ‘genuinely forgot’, Sage ‘memory let her down’

Earlier this week Minister of Regional Handouts Shane Jones said he never received advice that a waste-to-energy scheme he granted funds to was badly flawed, but after evidence was released that showed he had been fully briefed he now says he forgot about it.

RNZ: Jones says he forgot about officals’ warnings project was a lemon

Mr Jones granted $350,000 for a feasibility study for a West Coast waste-to-energy scheme – despite experts rubbishing it.

He then had to put it on ice after RNZ told him the main man behind the scheme had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

When asked earlier this week why he had backed the scheme given Environment Ministry experts were saying the project was a total lemon – Mr Jones responded that he’d never received the advice and even if he had it would have made no difference.

“If [the Ministry for the Environment] believe that they are an authoritative source for all that kind of information, then the fact that they had one email that I have never seen, knew nothing about, suggests to me that it’s just part of the Darwinistic bureaucratic debate.”

A few hours after that story aired some public servants got in touch with RNZ and provided an email trail showing their minister was fully briefed by his official John Doorbar and he knew full-well experts considered it a lemon.

Mr Jones said he genuinely just forgot all about it.

“Obviously so busy and so many things floating around in the square head that I overlooked that one.”

Jones is at risk of appearing like a loose cannon with what he says, and a law unto himself and with the billion dollars a year he has to hand out to projects in the regions.

Another minister who has had trouble remembering who she has had meetings with is Eugenie Sage – Green Party MP changes tune on EPA meeting

Eugenie Sage now says she didn’t meet with the EPA’s chief executive Allan Freeth when she previously said she did, and doesn’t think she discussed the EPA’s controversial chief scientist with him like she said she had.

The scientist Jacqueline Rowarth resigned this year after Ms Sage, the associate Environment Minister, and others raised concerns about her conduct with Dr Freeth.

As well as forwarding a highly critical article about Dr Rowarth to the EPA, Ms Sage told Parliament 10 days ago she met with Dr Freeth and discussed her.

“I advised the EPA chief executive that my office had received correspondence expressing some concerns about media comments by the chief scientist – I was told the matter was in hand, there was no substantive discussion,” Ms Sage told the House.

Those comments led to accusations from National that Ms Sage had inappropriately interferred in staff matters at the EPA.

They have led to Dr Freeth returning to Parliament today, to explain why he told MPs he’d had “absolutely no discussions” with Ms Sage on the matter.

Now Ms Sage says she was wrong all along – and that her memory let her down.

“I was relying on my memory, and when we checked it was actually a meeting with the Ministry for the Environment – not with the EPA, so when I raised that (Dr Rowarth’s behaviour) it was with the chief executive of the MfE.”

Jones dismisses Ministry warning not to touch waste-to-energy scheme

A grant from the Provincial Growth Fund for a feasibility study for a West Coast waste-to-energy scheme was put on hold when RNZ revealed that it’s chief executive had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office, but RNZ now also reveals that the Environment Ministry had warned that it didn’t stack up financially or environmentally – but Shane Jones says that that was trivial and he would have ignored the warning and funded the feasibility study.

RNZ: Experts warned govt not to touch waste-to-energy scheme

The government announced hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for a proposed waste-to-energy scheme two days after experts advised it was a lemon.

The Environment Ministry warned the Provincial Growth Fund that the proposed project on the West Coast did not stack up economically or environmentally.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones placed the proposed scheme on ice in February after RNZ informed him its chief executive, Gerard Gallagher, had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

Now, advice obtained under the Official Information Act shows the Environment Ministry warned the scheme had enormous flaws just two days before Mr Jones announced $350,000 for its feasibility study.

Not only would the scheme undermine other incentives to reduce waste – like recycling, it would increase carbon emissions the experts cautioned.

The Environment Ministry warned the project relied upon “unrealistic expectations”.

It said those behind the scheme “do not demonstrate an understanding of the South Island waste market”, “had not secured adequate feedstock for the project”, “the business case and budget are not adequately formed”, and “the applicant demonstrated key misunderstandings of the New Zealand context including the “erroneous assumption all landfills are required to close by 2040”.

But Jones dismisses this advice.

Mr Jones said he never received the advice and even if he had it would have made no difference.

“I haven’t seen that email, but look I wouldn’t catastrophise such trivial events – the bureaucrats will constantly be trading streams of analysis among themselves.”

Mr Jones said even if he had been aware of the Environment Ministry’s position it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

“It makes not one jot of difference to me – a feasibility study should be able to flush all such information out,” Mr Jones said.

“And if the thing dies as a consequence of a feasibility study that’s why private sector and public sector should do feasibility studies.”

That’s a concern on two levels.

Funding schemes against expert advice does not look good – it adds weight to suspicions that it is more of a NZ First slush fund than genuine regional development.

And does Jones get to decide who the Provincial Growth Fund hands money out to? The Fund is supposed to have an Independent Advisory Panel:

Provincial Growth Fund open for business

“We are being bold and we are being ambitious because this Government is committed to ending the years of neglect. Nearly half of us live outside our main cities. If this country is to do well, then our provinces must thrive.

“Our first regional packages support the regions most neglected by the last government: in Northland, Tairāwhiti-East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatū-Whanganui and the West Coast of the South Island.

The last one of those refers to the waste-to-energy scheme.

“An Independent Advisory Panel has been appointed to assist the decision-making of ministers and officials, supported by a new Regional Economic Development Unit within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to work directly with regions, ensuring this isn’t a Wellington-driven Fund.

“The announcements we’re making today are just the beginning and I’m looking forward to building on this momentum over the coming weeks, months and years and realising the untapped potential of our provinces,” Mr Jones says.

I hope there is more momentum towards heeding expert advice.

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.

 

‘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.