COMMENT:

Call it simply Ardernfreude. The Prime Minister's decision to anoint Air New Zealand boss Christopher Luxon to chair her new business advisory council will be seen as more than delicious within the national flag carrier's inner sanctum.

It was only months back that Luxon was on the sharp end of one of Shane Jones' verbal sprays over the national carrier's decisions to cut services to regional New Zealand, including Kapiti and Kaitaia.

Jones' Trumpian tactics hit their mark when he went on to court fresh controversy by claiming the Air NZ boss wanted to be a National MP.

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Luxon has made no secret of his intense interest in politics. Not just national politics. But US politics. Australian politics. What's happening in China. And so on.

Any lengthy conversation with him is likely to dwell more on that subject than business at hand.

But not only has Ardern effectively made Luxon "untouchable" when it comes to jibes from her own Cabinet colleagues (particularly those from New Zealand First).

But she has also, and quite cleverly, come close to "duchessing" Luxon (for the time being) by inviting him into her tent to help her Government be more effective.

That's because Luxon is, or was, seen as a potential National Party MP and National Party leader for the future. That's if he can be parachuted in Parliament following the John Key model.

While he is a progressive, he is not in the Labour Party mould.

Predictably his appointment as chair of the new council was not welcomed with enthusiasm by National Leader Simon Bridges, who decried the whole exercise as PR.

But the tight knit corporate community will welcome its establishment.

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Put simply, business people are tired of knuckle-headed Beehive politics and Trumpian attacks.

Luxon positioned himself well to take a leadership role.

He recently hosted Finance Minister Grant Robertson to a private dinner in Auckland attended by a number of CEOs.

On the guest list were KiwiRail's Peter Reidy, Spark's Simon Moutter, Mercury's Fraser Whineray and McKinsey and Company's Andrew Grant. The Warehouse chair Joan Withers was also present.

Interestingly, Withers was also personally attacked this year by Jones over The Warehouse's tussle with a local landlord, which led the retailer to look at closing its store in Kaikohe.

The chief executives at Luxon's table are all "progressives" — interested in public policy, innovation and sustainability — and wanting to have a say and contribute to the direction of New Zealand.

Moutter led an innovation mission to Israel a couple of years ago to get a focus on the secrets to Startup Nation. Whineray led last year's Go Swiss mission by business think tank, the New Zealand Initiative which delved into Switzerland's focus on localism and vocational education — two contributing factors in that country's success.

More recently Grant has given several speeches advocating "no one must be left behind" when it comes to the digital transformation of the economy and world of work.

Reidy has recently closed an industry deal with KiwiRail's unions. Air NZ is also seen as a path finder by this Government when it comes to industrial relations.

As always there is an element of self-selection at play when it comes to advising Governments.

But it will be important that this group is not "the usual suspects" but that it does include business leaders — women and men — who can challenge thinking.

Ardern says the council's role will be to build closer relationships between Government and business, provide high-level free and frank advice to the Prime Minister on key economic issues, and to create a vehicle to harness expertise from the private sector to inform the development of the Government's economic policies.

A work programme is yet to be announced.

The credentials Ardern has set for membership is for senior business leaders "who take a helicopter view of our economy, who are long term strategic thinkers who have the time and energy to lead key aspects of our economic agenda".

She wants the group to bring new ideas to the table on how to scale up New Zealand businesses and grow NZ's export led wealth.

This initiative is not new.

After the Catching the Knowledge Waves conferences, Helen Clark set up a Growth and Innovation Advisory Board to independently advise her Government on economic policies.

It was chaired by Rick Christie, the then chief executive of Rangatira Investments, and included Peter Biggs, Brian Easton, Graeme Fogelberg, Theresa Gattung, Paul Goulter, John Hood, Neville Jordan, Emily Loughnan, Craig Soper, Stephen Tindall and Jim Watson.
This time round the challenges are different.
But many remain the same.

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