Air New Zealand stoush highlights pitfalls for coalition government

by Jane Patterson / 23 March, 2018

Although told to reign in his comments, Mr Jones admitted he had no power to sack a board member - and then went on to criticise the airline further. Photo / RNZ

Between Shane Jones' outburst at Air NZ and the Greens handing their parliamentary questions to National, Labour must be casting a wary eye at its governing partners.

The face-off between the Cabinet minister Shane Jones and Air New Zealand has given voters a sneak peek into the pitfalls that may lie ahead for the coalition government.

Pushback from Air New Zealand over potential government interference infuriated Mr Jones, who took to the airwaves to call for a cull of the Board, starting at the top with the chairman Tony Carter.

An interview on Morning Report with the Chief Executive Chris Luxon further incensed the minister, who warned the Air New Zealand head that if he was going to "poke his nose into the political boxing ring" he should "resign and join the ranks of the National Party".

It was an extraordinary outburst, laced with Mr Jones customary rhetoric, but one carrying serious implications.

Picture if you can, the black and white tiled foyer where politicians are interviewed by reporters on their way into Parliament, with sometimes up to seven or eight 'stand-ups' going on at one time.

On Tuesday afternoon Shane Jones was in one corner issuing his somewhat sinister sounding musings on the Air New Zealand Board, admitting he had no authority to "bring into being the disappearance of anyone in the Board".

Just metres away was the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had already told her minister to rein it in, telling reporters several times he had gone a "step too far" with his threats to remove board members.

Ms Ardern however, held out no hope Mr Jones would desist from vocally expressing his opinions in the future.

While you would not describe him as contrite, Mr Jones fleetingly acknowledged his lack of authority to sack the Board, before taking the opportunity to criticise it further.

Anyone in the Board who thought they could "muzzle" him, warned Mr Jones, would be sadly mistaken.

Shane Jones is a New Zealand First MP, under leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Mr Peters heartily agreed Air New Zealand needed a good whack, and that as a company with a majority government shareholding, it should have no problem being held to account by government ministers.

The one shareholding minister, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, was trying to be the voice of calm, backing Air New Zealand as a good company, doing a good job.

But this all goes further than a spat between a boisterous minister and Air New Zealand.

Labour will be looking with a leery eye both left and right at its governing partners the Greens and New Zealand First after the past few weeks.

The Greens baffled everyone but themselves by handing over most of their parliamentary questions to the surprised but delighted leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges.

While leader James Shaw declared himself to be "crazy about democracy", other parties might have other words for him handing National a bigger stick to beat the government.

Shane Jones can always be relied upon to deliver a great sound bite, but this week his fury over Air New Zealand took him to a position that prompted a Prime Ministerial rebuke.

Not a sacking offence as Ms Ardern herself pointed out, but as Prime Minister she must be seen to be fully in control of her Cabinet.

This week Mr Jones appeared to be much more interested in channelling regional discontent than toeing the government line.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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