PM backs away from Jones rep­ri­mand


WELLING­TON: Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern has re­fused to weigh in on Shane Jones’ sting­ing at­tack on Fon­terra’s lead­er­ship, but her deputy, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, is back­ing his man.

‘‘The com­ments that Shane Jones made, he made clear he made in a per­sonal ca­pac­ity,’’ Ms Ardern told me­dia at Fiel­d­ays in Waikato yes­ter­day.

‘‘He did not make them as a min­is­ter and it’s not Gov­ern­ ment pol­icy. End of story.

‘‘Min­is­ters share per­sonal opin­ions all of the time but what I’m mak­ing clear here is what he said is not Gov­ern­ment pol­icy.’’

She in­di­cated she would have taken ac­tion if he had made the com­ments as a min­is­ter.

Mr Jones, who is re­gional de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter, at­tacked the dairy gi­ant on Wednesday, say­ing it needed to be re­struc­tured and its chair­man John Wil­son should ‘‘catch the next cab out of town’’.

Mr Peters de­fended the com­ments and said ‘‘heads should roll’’ at Fon­terra.

‘‘I can’t be­lieve some­body re­spon­si­ble would be in the job still.’’

In March, the dairy co­op­er­a­tive an­nounced its first ever loss, of $348 mil­lion for the six months to Septem­ber.

‘‘A mas­sive hun­dreds of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars loss needs an ex­pla­na­tion . . . There needs to be some ac­count­abil­ity,’’ Mr Peters said.

He would not name Mr Wil­son but said: ‘‘It goes to the top and the buck stops there.

‘‘I can’t be­lieve some­one re­spon­si­ble would be in the job still.’’

Mr Jones said he had made the com­ments dur­ing an event ear­lier un­der Chatham House rules but they had been leaked, so he re­peated them in the af­ter­noon at Par­lia­ment.

He said he had spo­ken as a min­is­ter at the event but had pref­aced his com­ments by say­ing they were his opin­ion as a NZ First MP.

Yes­ter­day he said he did not shy from his com­ments about the ‘‘cor­po­rate aris­to­crats’’ at Fon­terra, and he re­peated them in the House when an­swer­ing ques­tions as a min­is­ter.

The at­tack on Fon­terra comes just a few months af­ter Mr Jones was told off by Ms Ardern for launch­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary at­tack on Air New Zealand.

Na­tional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment spokesman Paul Gold­smith said NZ First was in ‘‘open de­fi­ance’’ of the Prime Min­is­ter.

‘‘The last time Shane Jones got on his high horse and started at­tack­ing busi­ness lead­ers she said that that was a step too far.

‘‘Now he’s done it again — and in­stead of say­ing ‘that’s your sec­ond strike’, she’s say­ing, ‘oh it’s a per­sonal opin­ion’.’’

Mr Gold­smith said the ex­cuse was ‘‘weasel­words’’.

‘‘He is a min­is­ter of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, talk­ing about New Zealand busi­nesses . . . He’s not en­ti­tled ac­tu­ally to a per­sonal opin­ion. He’s the min­is­ter.’’

The Prime Min­is­ter’s weak re­sponse proved she could not con­trol the NZ First min­is­ters, Mr Gold­smith said.

‘‘The Gov­ern­ment has no co­her­ence and in­ter­nal dis­ci­pline.’’

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