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.’’