Fran O'Sullivan on business
Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: Jones shouldn't be written off yet

Shane Jones. Photo / Northern Advocate
Shane Jones. Photo / Northern Advocate

Labour Leader Phil Goff will have to work hard to maintain his poker-face as he carpets Shane Jones for his dumb-ass behaviour in chalking up porn movies to his ministerial credit card.

Jones is, after all, the only Opposition MP who John Key has confessed has sufficient of the "wild card factor" about him to potentially cause him grief if desperate Labour MPs installed him, instead of the low poll-ranking Goff, as their leader before the 2011 election,

But Goff has now got the "Jones Boy" squarely where he wants him. On the back foot. Indescribably penitent. Not just on the home front. But also in front of the women's division of the Labour Party, which according to his former ministerial colleague John Tamihere, will never forgive him for his transgressions.

Jones is clearly not now going to be fronting any leadership coup against Goff. His subterranean effort to build a constituency among other Labour colleagues - as well as influential journalists and bloggers - has been hoist on a petard of his own making.

He is not set to be New Zealand's "first Maori Prime Minister" any time soon. But Tamihere - who once described his female colleagues as "front-bums" and now labels Jones as a "repeat and serial watcher of pornography by himself in his own room" - has probably misjudged Jones' ability to tough it out.

It's too soon to say whether the former Maori business leader will decide to chuck politics and resume a private sector career. He is formidably bright and has strong patrons in the business sector, including Business Roundtable chairman Rob McLeod.

But Jones also has a string of enemies who talk darkly about dumping files on him if he ever does get within cooee of NZ's highest job. This may just be jousting. But in the gravy train that is Maori business politics anything is possible.

Jones has made other notable misjudgements as a Cabinet Minister. His decision to overrule Internal Affairs advice that free-spending Chinese businessman Bill Liu (aka Yang Liu and William Yan) did not meet the character requirements for citizenship back-fired when Liu faced charges of using fake identities.

But it's also notable that deputy leader Annette King has not put the boot in. The broad-minded King didn't come on all prissy over Jones' porn movie habits. She simply said he had "let himself down and the taxpayers down" with his ministerial spending.

She also left the way for him to recover his position within Labour after a period of penance in much the same way Helen Clark brought errant former ministers Lianne Dalziel and Ruth Dyson back into her Cabinet after they were stood down for respectively telling porkies and being caught drink-driving.

Given the mixed gender record of Clark's Cabinet on the personal transgression front, students of the Labour Party's byzantine sexual politics will be intrigued to see whether the "red-blooded" and obviously heterosexual Jones is treated more severely than his high-spending gay colleague Chris Carter.

Jones' apparent transgressions appear to have been limited to watching porn movies and raiding the chocolate supplies in his hotel mini-bar in rather lonely and obsessive behaviour ( he later repaid the sums).

But Carter - who also paid back some of the spending - racked up thousands of dollars on his ministerial card on items such as helicopter flights to tropical resorts, massages and spa treatments, and buying flowers for his male partner, Peter Kaiser.

When challenged this year over his travel costs, which were the fourth-highest in the Clark Government, Carter contended journalists had a prurient interest in his high-spending because he was gay.

This was always a ridiculous ruse, given the attention that media also paid to the heterosexual Act leader Rodney Hide's jaunts with his girlfriend at the taxpayers' expense.

In Carter's case, it is simply time Labour MPs called him in for pulling the gay bluff to evade criticism.

I doubt that Labour MPs such as Dyson and Dalziel will be too fazed by Jones' porn-watching. But some of their more purse-lipped and moralistic female colleagues will want the male MP's head.

What they do need to take on board is that Labour invented the slide rule when it comes to legality on sexual issues in this country. It was Labour that legislated to make homosexuality legal in 1986 and followed that in 2003 by legitimising prostitution.

The critical measure on which all these politicians - including National Cabinet ministers - should be judged is whether their spending was within the rules. And if within the rules was it reasonable? Jones and Carter fail on both counts.

- NZ Herald

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