Flying off the handle

I was driving home last night, listening to Larry Williams interview Shane Jones, and I was appalled. Jones lambasted Williams, was totally discourteous and in general just made himself out to be a loud-mouthed buffoon who is interested in no one’s opinion except his own.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has launched an extraordinary broadside against Air NZ, suggesting the chairman steps down and CEO stay out of politics.

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.

He challenged a regional manager on the issue last week and repeated his comments on Tuesday, drawing a strong rebuke from board chairman Tony Carter.

No, no, no. This is wrong on so many levels. First of all, Mr Jones is a politician, not a business man. He knows nothing about running an airline. He knows nothing about running any type of business. Although this whole issue was discussed in great detail in 2015, the end result has been that Air New Zealand has cut some of its regional air services as they claimed the routes were uneconomic, and the decision makes sense from a business perspective.

On Tuesday Air NZ chairman Tony Carter wrote a strongly worded letter to Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who manages the Governments stake, making clear the independence of the company.

“Any appearance of a lack of commercial independence is viewed seriously by the Air New Zealand Board and is ultimately potentially damaging to the interests of all shareholders, including the Crown,” Carter said.

Hear, hear. The strategic importance of Air New Zealand being operated as an independent company cannot be overstated. They must run the airline like a business or it will either require government bailouts or cease to exist. Nobody wants that.

David Seymour, ACT Leader, went even further:

“It is simply extraordinary that a Minister who has never stepped outside a bureaucracy or quango in his life believes he can tell a publicly listed company what to do.

“Air New Zealand is a private entity and its job is to get the best financial value for its shareholders.

“If the Government feels there is a genuine public good in the regional routes that have been shut down, it could set up a government subsidy and put those routes out for tender.

“The answer isn’t for Shane Jones to try to strong-arm the Board from his bully pulpit.”

There are a couple of points here that need raising. First of all, Kapiti has a major airport about an hour’s drive away. It is called Wellington Airport. I understand that it is a little inconvenient for those who live in Kapiti to travel to Wellington, but it is hardly the end of the world, is it?

Secondly, the same thing happened to Westport in 2015. Now Westport does not have another airport an hour away. Greymouth does not have an airport, and the closest airport is probably Nelson, which is about three hours away. But, guess what? SoundsAir took over the service, underwritten by the Buller District Council, and now they offer a number of flights daily to and from Wellington. It appears to be working well. So, there are other ways of solving these problems, rather than forcing Air New Zealand to lose money on these routes.

But the outbursts from Shane Jones are rather surprising. It is completely inappropriate behaviour for a minister of the crown. He is behaving like a spoiled child and does not seem to realise how much he is bringing his government into disrepute.

I can’t help wondering if there is more to it though. Could it be a coincidence that Barack Obama has just arrived in the country, at the invitation of former Prime Minister John Key? And, is it also just a coincidence that John Key just happens to be on the board of Air New Zealand nowadays?

Whatever the case, Shane Jones is behaving like a buffoon. It is gaining him no credibility, and if he wants to be seen as a champion of the regions, he is going the wrong way about it.

He again warned off the CEO from commenting on political matters.

“Don’t jump into the political boxing ring. You are an executive,” Jones told RNZ.

“Your job is not to be a publicity officer and try and thwart the legitimate role of a Parliamentarian.”

And your job is not to try to run publicly listed companies, Mr Jones. You should take some of your own advice and keep quiet.

 

-Stuff


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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

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