By Jason Walls
New Zealand First MP Shane Jones well and truly wins the prize for the best political play of the week.
Jones, who is also the Minister of Regional Economic Development, made headlines after calling for Air New Zealand chairman Tony Carter to resign.
It was a bold move – under Carter’s watch, Air New Zealand has become one of the country’s most successful companies.
Carter’s crime? Air NZ’s canning of some of its less profitable regional flights.
Jones was not happy.
“This is a legitimate issue on behalf of those provincial areas that have been short-changed,” he told RNZ on Tuesday morning.
He went on to say Carter has more concern with “the nameless shareholders in Wall Street than he has for his fellow provincial citizens,” suggesting it was time for the chairman to hang up his hat.
The Government owns 52% of Air NZ – Jones says because of this, it has a responsibility to the people of New Zealand.
But, at the end of the day, Jones has no bearing over what happens at with Air NZ's board. That’s the Finance Minister’s job.
And Jones knows this. So why did he embark on this crusade?
“I am a champion for the provinces,” was the phrase he repeated numerous times when questioned by the media on the issue.
He would not apologise for his comments, instead using the airtime and column inches he received to reinforce his loyalty to New Zealand’s regions.
“If anyone on that board believes they are going to muzzle me as a champion for the provinces, they are sadly mistaken,” he mused.
For his outbursts, Jones received less than a slap on the wrist.
“[Jones] is absolutely entitled to an opinion, which he has shared, but suggesting anyone from the board should go is a step too far,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
That was the end of it as far as she was concerned.
In fact, she even told reporters that, as Jones was a strong defender of the regions, “[his comments] won’t surprise anyone.”
A calculated move
Jones’ grandstanding was clearly a calculated move designed to win the support of voters in the regions.
It was always going to be a win, win for NZ First.
Rolling coverage of NZ First standing up to corporate boards on behalf of regional New Zealanders – check.
Being publicly reprimanded by the Prime Minister for standing up for the people in the provinces – check.
Many voters in the provinces would have lapped this up.
The move also helped put a bit of much-needed daylight between NZ First and Labour, which have largely been a solid unit since forming the Government five months ago.
NZ First has suffered because of this. The most recent Reid Research poll saw the party’s support almost half to 3.8% – meaning without an electorate seat, it would be out of Parliament.
A subsequent Colmar Brunton poll saw the party sink even lower.
Although NZ First Leader Winston Peters has always maintained polls don’t matter, the numbers likely rattled him.
How lucky is he that Jones just happened to come across a quintessentially NZ First issue and thrust it into the political limelight?