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, he did not make them as a minister and its not Government policy, end of story," Ardern told reporters at Fieldays in Waikato today.
"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.
Jones, a NZ First MP, is also a minister in the Coalition Government's Cabinet
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who will be acting Prime Minister in Ardern's absence, agreed heads should roll at Fonterra.
Speaking on his way into Parliament today, Peters said he didn't know what Jones said so couldn't judge whether he made the comments in a personal or ministerial capacity.
But he said someone should be held accountable for the losses incurred by Fonterra through poor investments.
"I think that a massive multi-hundreds-and-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollar loss needs an explanation, it needs a response in the market, there needs to be some accountability. Heads should roll and they should have rolled some time ago," Peters said.
He wouldn't name chairman John 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."
In March Fonterra reported an after-tax loss of $348 million in the first half to January 31.
The loss included a write-down of the value of Fonterra's investment in Chinese company Beingmate from $405 million to $244m.
Jones yesterday launched a verbal tirade against Fonterra, calling for Wilson to follow chief executive Theo Spierings out the door.
"The leadership of Fonterra, I believe, starting with the chairman, is full of its own importance and has become disconnected."
He said there was an absence of accountability and he'd had a "gutsful of them believing they are bigger then what they really are".
Jones said he had made the comments during an event earlier yesterday under Chatham House rules but they had been leaked, so repeated them yesterday 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 New Zealand First MP.
Today he said he didn't shy away from his comments about the "corporate aristocrats" at Fonterra, and he repeated them in the House when answering questions as a minister.
Jones was reprimanded by the Prime Minister after he made comments in March about the
board of Air New Zealand.
National's Paul Goldsmith said Ardern's response this time had been weak.
"When he talks, he talks as a minister of this Government."
He believed Jones should be on his final warning.
"We would expect that the Coalition Government should be able to manage and discipline itself and it's demonstrating at the moment that it can't," Goldsmith said.