Fran O'Sullivan: Jones gets a pass on the third degree

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Labour leadership contender getting away with political snow job while commentators enjoy the show

Shane Jones. Photo / Paul Taylor
Shane Jones. Photo / Paul Taylor

Why doesn't earthy Shane Jones just come out and say it? "I'm not just another Labour 'soft cock'."

"I'm for big, bold economic policies to grow the economy"; "I'm against hitting 'rich pricks' with new taxes (after all some of my best friends are just that);" "I want new mines in Northland and gas fields in Taranaki - Labour's communist mates in the Greens don't know how to promote jobs ..." You get the drift?

All right, I apologise for the tasteless introduction, but listening to, watching and reading Shane Jones interviews can do that to a "gelding" (as we women are in the Jones lexicon), you know.

Those who know the unvarnished Jones find the political snow job he is currently orchestrating during his extended bromance with TV3 political editor Patrick Gower and 3rd Degree's Guyon Espiner andDuncan Garner is more than simply comical.

None of these journalists have faced Jones with anything even vaguely like the third degree.

It's just been roll cameras; lap up the latest smutty porn-related allusions (such as Jones' comment "doing things in a soft fashion has never been really a failing of mine" on Wednesday night's road trip with Espiner to the North) and give the Labour leadership contender the kind of free ride political journalists sometimes do when the politician in question has a reputation for being a prime source.

The public now knows the open secret in political circles that Jones skipped out on his wife and seven kids for his "beauty queen".

But there was no real third degree from Espiner on how his family might have felt at being left behind to bear the embarrassment of him being publicly exposed for using his ministerial credit card to book porn movies, while Jones wandered off into the sunset.
This was disappointing as Espiner has a hard-won journalistic reputation.

Those of us who appreciate real television current affairs tune in to his Wednesday night programme to escape the mindless dross served up by TVNZ's 7 Sharp. But this week's effort did not cut it.

Jones deserves to be strongly grilled on where he really sits on major economic issues facing New Zealand. After all the chances are he will end up with a top slot on Labour's front bench and a prime shadow portfolio as a kiss-off if he doesn't win the leadership race against David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson.

Before politics, he held senior public sector roles in the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. But he was best known for his chairmanship of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission (Te Ohu Kaimoana).

Yesterday's media carried reports on Jones' graphic allusions to what he plans to do to the Prime Minister: "I'm going to tie a bungy cord around a sensitive spot and then I'm going to get those callipers and cut them and then the mercenary of capitalism can suffer what he deserves - a dead cat bounce."

All said with nary a blush that Jones himself could have been described as just such a mercenary back in the day when Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark turned a blind eye while he collected $70,000 a year as chairman of Te Ohu Kaimoana, on top of the $130,000 he earned as a Labour MP and chairman of Parliament's finance and expenditure select committee.

Get under his skin and dig deep enough and the journalists might just expose Jones as a politician of contradictions and considerable subterfuge.

But right now he is simply "too good in the copy stakes" for that to happen.

I was intrigued at how some journalists bought the story that he was the hapless David Shearer's friend and loyal to the previous leader's bitter end. But anyone who had heard Jones morosely talk of his real feelings towards Shearer after the Labour leader stood him down during the Auditor-General investigation which touched on his previous ministerial dealings would have an entirely opposite perspective.

One area where Jones has considerable political utility for Labour is his relationship with NZ First's Winston Peters. Both politicians are social animals.

But New Zealand women? Like former Labour Cabinet minister John Tamihere with his slags against the "front-bums", he could do with exhibiting some respect.

This week he said that he had always found that was very popular with women.

"I've never been at the top of the hit parade with feminists. But the women I want to appeal to are the women that read the Woman's Weekly, not Germaine Greer."

A straw vote of New Zealand women would say different.

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

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