With the possible exception of Phil Twyford, no minister has generated more headlines over the current government’s term than Shane Jones. And a lot of them aren’t good headlines at all. So how does he keep surviving?
The charmed career of Shane Jones continued on breezily this week. Despite opening up yet another target around perceived conflicts of interest for the opposition to aim at, there has been no suggestion whatsoever that he could be on the verge of being sacked.
The full facts of this latest one are worth going through. On the face of them, they make up an interesting case. Shane Jones, the self-described First Citizen of the Provinces, has spoken up with concerns about a matter before the High Court. Semenoff Logging is facing loss of their license to operate trucks pending an appeal, based on a very large number of road rule breaches. And Jones is concerned that 1000 jobs could be lost as a result. So far, not a huge amount of drama.
Only, with every layer that gets pulled back, eyebrows get raised further. He’s the regional economic development minister, so mentioning an ongoing court case at all is questionable – he says he hasn’t commented on the working of it at all. Perhaps more importantly, he’s the associate transport minister, and the case is being brought by NZTA. Also, company owner Stan Semenoff has been a donor in the past, and they’re actually distantly related through his mother too for good measure. Finally, it’s in a region of the country where NZ First has heavily targeted both a large chunk of their electoral efforts, and big money from the provincial growth fund. Jones completely denies any conflict of interest, which makes it all an astonishing series of coincidences.
The opposition are utterly apoplectic about it, as they so often are when something seems to go wrong involving Shane Jones. But if this time is like the last dozen times something has happened that raises questions of competency or judgement, absolutely no consequences will be suffered. It might be because nothing untoward has actually happened. Or it might be because it remains politically impossible for the PM to get rid of him, whether she wanted to or not. NZ First is too powerful, and Shane Jones and Winston Peters are clearly very loyal to each other.
Does a dozen seem like an exaggeration? It’s a best guess figure for how many times Shane Jones has said or done something which might make you wonder if he’s bound by the same standards of discipline as the rest of the Cabinet. There have been enough that it’s easy to forget what most of them actually were. And in each case, there has been a rebuttal from Shane Jones.
Just in case you have forgotten any, here’s a handy list to keep track of them, from before the Semenoff saga started. Some feel scandalous. Others are just a bit sloppy. All of them have so far been survivable.
- Declared a conflict of interest in a provincial growth fund (PGF) decision, then sat in on the meeting, “giving reassurances” about the governance of the project.
- Later attacked the journalist who broke the story, Hamish Rutherford, making threats to reveal information about him.
- Had an outburst against then-Fonterra chairman John Wilson, telling him to “take the next cab out of town”.
- Also had an outburst against the decisions of Air NZ, in terms of shutting down regional routes, causing the airline to fire back that their independence would not be compromised.
- Got into a war of words with Greenpeace’s Russel Norman over appearing to support Talley’s, the fishing giant that was facing a prosecution. Talley’s also donated $10,000 to Shane Jones’ campaign during the 2017 election.
- Failed to disclose dozens of PGF meetings over an extended period of time, and had to correct 20 answers to questions from National.
- Was involved in a triangle of lobbying around an exemption for a luxury development, with the other points of the triangle being economic development minister David Parker, and enthusiastic golfer Sir John Key.
- Had to freeze a regional development initiative, around a waste to energy plant linked to someone who was in the sights of the Serious Fraud Office. Ministry officials took the rap for that one, even though they had actually warned him about serious flaws in the project.
- Not necessarily Shane Jones’ fault, but there was that time that $160,000 worth of tree seedlings for the billion tree programme had to be mulched, because the land to plant them on wasn’t good enough.
- Was attacked by National, when one of the really early things PGF money was spent on was a roundabout near Shane Jones’ house.
- Presided over just 54 jobs being created by the PGF in a year of operation, though the number is understood to be higher now. Jones contends it’s actually over 500. But of course, that’s a three year allocation for the PGF and next year, 2020, the third year of this term, would be a great year to spend up large for no particular reason.
- Boasted about plans for a “Work for the Dole” programme, making life difficult for his coalition partners.
- Speaks in weird riddles and parables at every opportunity, though in fairness that one is funny.
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