The only consequence Shane Jones has faced for his attacks on corporate NZ is increased airtime & more column inches. Jason Walls doesn't expect him to stop anytime soon

Shane Jones cartoon by Jacky Carpenter.

By Jason Walls

Shane Jones’ attacks on Fonterra are something we should have seen coming and it’s likely his warpath against corporate New Zealand won’t stop with the dairy cooperative.

The New Zealand First MP was back in the headlines late last week after he called for the head of Fonterra’s chairman, John Wilson.

“I thoroughly believe this: as the chief executive leaves Fonterra, the chairman should in quick order catch the next cab out of town,” he told reporters when leaving Parliament last Wednesday.

He was critical of Fonterra’s investment into China's Beingmate and the subsequent losses that resulted from the venture.

Jones had been at Field Days that morning and, according to NZ First Leader Winston Peters, he had made similar comments in an off-the-record briefing to farmers.

But it is clear Jones was keen to get his message on the record and to get it on the record fast.

When speaking to reporters just hours later, he gave his views about the dairy giant unprompted. None of the reporters asked about Fonterra and, after a question about ASB’s regional scorecard, he volunteered it.

After he did, the story blew up. The Prime Minister was forced to comment, so was his leader. It seems the only party that did not comment was Fonterra itself.

Jones – the self-described ‘First Citizen of Regional New Zealand’ – was leading the news cycle by kicking Fonterra in the guts on behalf of its co-op shareholders, many of whom are angry about what happened with Beingmate.  

And was he pulled into line by his boss? No – the exact opposite.

Not only did Peters refuse to say Jones went too far, he doubled down on the comments, calling for “heads to roll,” saying the “buck stops at the top.”

Déjà Vu

The events of last week are almost identical to when Jones called for Air New Zealand Chairman Tony Carter to resign.

He made the comments, faced practically no repercussions – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern only said he went “a step too far” – and he spent two days leading the news cycle.

When this happens, it further reinforced his place as the ‘First Citizen of the Provinces.’

So why would he stop? If the record so far is anything to go by, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by shooting off at corporates that are, in his view, taking rural New Zealand for a ride.

But don’t take my word for it, take his.

“Whether it’s Fonterra losing a lot of money and never hearing anything from the chairman or whether it’s Air NZ, I think garden variety kiwis are looking for a political figure to challenge [these companies] when they’re not practising what they preach,” Jones said in April, after calling out The Warehouse Group chief executive Joan Withers.

Jones is not done with corporate New Zealand – not by a long shot.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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23 Comments

Politicians have typically stayed clear of commentating on the affairs of private enterprise. And for good reason. This lack of political interference is a cornerstone of our democratic process. Winston first and his mob seem to ignore this fact. Who is next in the firing line? Investors should be very weary.

I would have said the ability of a politician to stick their oar in in such a manner is much more a cornerstone of democracy. There's not much sacrosanct about highly paid business positions especially ones mandated by parlimement.

Well maybe they should also stay well clear of bailing them out when they get into a mess. Are we so sure that the way Fonterra are heading, that they will not find themselves in this position?

I'd say things are going fairly much to plan, as the demise of Fonterra is worked on from afar.

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@kane02. Because the big corporates infest the halls of parliament they can't claim the title 'private enterprise'. They have carved themselves a special place. Watch them run media campaigns every time there is something on the national scene that affects them.
Why then should they be protected from political commentary.
On the other hand try being in small business, then you find you are really on your own. That's where you find real private enterprise

I run a significant SME KH. No one in the current government has any industry experience so sorry your comment is a nonsense.

Corporates hardly infest the halls of parliament. They invariably want to stay well away from the place. If politicians enact legislation that affects them, then sure they will lobby as such. I don't have a problem with that.

What I believe happens all too often is business becomes too big and is allowed to monopolise industry. The government, and monopoly's commission are limp, and appear reluctant to break-up business when barriers of entry become too great to allow real competition. This is where the market falls down.
There are ways to do this without destroying investor wealth, and without politicising issues for political gain, which is exactly what Winston first, and Shane his lapdog are doing.

Agreed. There is no effective trust-busting in NZ: poster children the supermarket and building materials duopolies. Just imagine the horror in Foodstuffs and Progressive (!) if Aldi came to town....

Plus, my impression is that it's all very well gunning for the big C-class types. But business further down the pecking order watches. The Chinese proverb 'kill the chicken, but make the monkey watch' applies here. So SME's will be looking on, and thinking 'who's next, for what treatment?'. And there are straws in the wind here:

  • The IR shake-up, which is effectively collective sector-wide bargaining. Which lucky sectors go first? What is the practical effect when a bunch of Awkland sector types cave, and the same deals have to get applied in Gisborne, Patea, Hokotika, and Winton?
  • The urge to use variable GST as redistribution. I've commented here about the side effects: the foobarring of what is likely the best ad-valorem tax system in the world. But hey, omelettes, eggs, Pity about the compliance immediately foisted onto hitherto simple-to-account businesses
  • Business confidence, dodgy self-reporting though it may be, is crucial to investment, hiring and expansion decisions. SJ and WP aren't doing anything to lift That.

Common taters may amuse themselves thinking up more straws....

@kane02. I have 'infested the halls of parliament' myself and I know how it works. Just yesterday I got a call from an international corporate friend. "How do I get my guys in front of Minister X" Seriously.
Look at the lobbyists with offices in Wellington and look at the work they do with government and especially what they do through the media. Kathryn Rich is just one of many many examples.
We do agree on the monopolies though.

What happened to the “Round Table” that originated in Mudoon’s time. Big pals and cronies. Trotter, Cushing,Bidwell,Davis, and many more. To think that there is not a longstanding and serious interface between government and business is like saying that the word lobby had nothing to do with Willards Hotel during the Presidency of Grant. The last government was all about “The Corporate” and they created as best as they could, that same image for themselves. Two of the things came out of that. The tax payers in the electorate got tired of being treated like minority shareholders. The board and executive of the corporates basked in their own glorious self enrichment and proceeded to blow $millions on $millions without any notion of accountability.
eg Solid Energy, Fletchers, Fonterra.

The re-named themselves The NZ Initiative. Can often be heard extolling the benefits of our current rate of immigration.

There it is.

@KH we have a coalition of three bodies , each of whom has it in for at least one portion of the productive sector.

Labour is anti - foreign investment , anti-domestic property investment , anti-oil , anti gas , anti-small business , and want to tax everything in sight ( I hope they have the money to become landlord of both first and last resort the way they are going about it )

NZ First is anti- big business ignoring that they pay their salaries , and NZF make decisions and statements depending on which way the wind is blowing

The Greens are anti-everything , and would like us all to be living off the generous welfare of the state , riding a horse (or a bus ) and go back to the 16 Century in terms of development .

Government has no business in such blatant intereferance in business as to tell them who should run their businesses , just as they do not have the right to interfere with the Crown (Judiciary ) , or the RBNZ , or Treasury and its various functions

That was the central point of Shane Jones comment. Was it an attack? - Jones was telling the world that Fonterra regard Parliament as their man-friday to do their bidding and expect the red-carpet treatment on arrival. Fonterra spends an inordinate amount of executive effort lobbying Government. All jones was saying was Fonterra should spend more time on business matters and less time seeking favours in Wellington

The article remains silent on that aspect - selective reporting huh!

He's a political buffoon. I wouldn't want to see him stopped from expressing his every thought as it reflects poorly on the COL and shows Taxinda is not leadership material. Speak your mind Shane. The Boys doing good.

Refects poorly? Bit like using derogatory Nick names, over and over.

It's a tradition, perfected by the Left over the nine years of the last Government. The use of pejorative monikers reflects the level of respect I have for the Government and the PM, in their constitutional roles. It's free speech which is allowed in this country, last time I looked.

But to everybody outside the coalition of sore losers (CoSL) it just looks stupid and cheapens anything you have to say...

Ironic... and funny as well!

thankfully the left never did this during Donkeys reign .....

If he keeps his boxing gloves on we will know that he is not slipping back into old habits in the motel room.

Why on earth does the mainstream media even bother reporting this man's antics ?

And

Has Jones ever heard of introspection ?

Its nothing but a point-scoring political publicity stunt , and you would have thought the media had the nous to see through it, and ignore it .

Instead the media is allowing itself to be played by these geriatrics in NZ First , and they (Peters , Jones et al) ) have the last laugh .

Frankly , Shane Jones needs to be made cogniscent of 3 important elements :-

Firstly , Government does not own these businesses , the shareholders or farmers do , Jones should but -out and stick to running the country and making it easier for us to run businesses, sort out stuff like the Resource Management Act which is a barrier to development , help mitigate risks by allowing us to fire people when we need to.

His Party within the Coaltion should try an honour just one of its election promises ...... to "hit the pause button " on immigration .

Secondly , these businesses make a significant contribution to the NZ economy , employing tens of thousands of people either directly or indrectly in downstream industries or the supply chain .

Thirdly , businesses take risks , and often make mistakes , and Beingmate was a risk , and with hindsight , a mistake . Every business decision is a risk , when the Bank lends you money its taking a risk , when you open a new plant or employ a new person there is an element of risk .

Not to mention the significant contribution in all manner of taxes like GST on value add , the contribution to our foreign exchange earnings , that enables us to import fuel and manufactured and consumer goods , etc etc

The media would do well to not even report this crap , they are being led around by the nose by the wily politicians

CEOs and board members of these big NZ corporates are paid salaries and bonuses way out of proportion to what the average salary is and their pay increases far exceeds inflation.

Ordinary shareholders do not have any meaningful say in what the board members give themselves.
The majority of voting shares in these big companies are held by institutions whose board members are also members of the "cocktail circuit" and they will not want to rock the boat.

The only protection the public have against these board members are our politicians, many of whom are also in bed with these people.