The political power game: energy company resignations suggest the trough has been tipped

Earlier  this  month Jenny  Shipley  announced   she would step down as  chair of Genesis  Energy  at  the  annual meeting  in  October after nine years  in the role. Her decision  followed   a week  after  Transpower’s    chair, Tony  Ryall, said he had notified the company’s shareholding ministers  he will retire from the board of Transpower effective December 31.

Only  people   prone  to  conspiracy   theories    would  see anything other than a coincidence in the timing  of  these  two  announcements.

Yet those familiar  with political events   over  the   past two  decades –  or three – may recall  both Shipley  and   Ryall    share a  bit  of  history  with   none other than  Winston  Peters, who happens to be something more than Deputy PM  in the Labour-NZ  First  government and Minister of Foreign Affairs.  He also  holds  the   State-owned Enterprises  portfolio.

Shipley  was  Prime Minister   when  Peters, then the Treasurer, split  with National over the proposed  sale of the government’s stake  in Wellington   airport and  left the coalition.   Ryall   had been a  critic  of  Peters  inside the National  caucus  earlier  in that decade,  when  Peters’  membership of  the  National  caucus under  Jim Bolger  was terminated.

Moreover, in   his  years  of criticising   the  John  Key  government, Peters never  let  slip  an  opportunity  to  trot  out   the  tired   “jobs-for-the-boys”  cliché.

Take  this  press statement headed   National never out of the  trough, dated  November   18, 2016, for example :

“lt seems as though the National Party is never out of the trough with its latest ‘jobs-for-the-boys’ recipient”, says New Zealand First.

Former Cabinet Minister Tony Ryall was appointed to the board of Transpower on May 2 and on September 30 he became Chairman,” says New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters.

“What Tony Ryall knows about electricity reticulation heaven only knows, but then inappropriate appointments from National has been the order of the day.

“The National Party went ahead with the appointment despite Treasury advising otherwise.

“Treasury opposed the new appointment on the basis that the ‘national grid operator had gone through too much turnover at the top and Mark Verbiest should remain chair for longer’ (NZ Herald, November 18, 2016).

“This is yet another example of National’s unabashed arrogance and cronyism.

“Many of these candidates leave parliament quoting ‘fresh challenges’ and ‘new opportunities’ but come back to dip into the public purse, thanks to their National Party connections.

“In short, they are long on free enterprise and the market until it comes to their own egregious self-interest.

“ Ryall joins a long list of National Party appointments, including: Phil Heatley, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (Board); Eric Roy, Landcorp Farming (Board); Wayne Mapp, Law Commissioner; Georgina Te Heuheu, Maori Television (Board); Kate Wilkinson, Environment Court (Commissioner); Jenny Shipley, Canterbury earthquake roles, Genesis Energy (Chair); Katherine Rich, Apec Business Advisory Council, Health Promotion Agency, Agriculture Emissions Trading Scheme Advisory Committee; Michelle Boag, Middle East Business Council (Executive Advisor); and many, many more.

“The real issue here with some exceptions is how many had no qualifications for these positions before they came to parliament, gained no experience that improved that limitation whilst in parliament, and are now beneficiaries of the public purse to the extent that it would make a rabid sponger embarrassed.

“This is just a short list, there have been hundreds of other appointments made purely for political preference and not for ability and experience, and not for contributions to the industries and businesses affected”.

 Peters  ended that  statement  with a warning:

“New Zealand First intends to tip their trough upside down.”

What  might  strike  observers   as  odd   is   that the sauce applied  to the goose   is not  necessarily  appropriate for the  gander.   A  string  of   jobs has been  found  by the  current  government for  former Labour ministers, notably   Dame Annette  King, Sir Michael Cullen,  Margaret  Wilson,  Mark  Gosche,   Marian Hobbs  and   Steve Maharey.

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