Jones job offer 'not shot at Labour' - PM

MICHAEL FOX, VERNON SMALL, STACEY KIRK AND GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 12:47 23/04/2014
Shane Jones
Shane Jones makes his maiden speech as a Labour MP in Parliament in 2005.
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Prime Minister John Key is denying Shane Jones was shoulder-tapped primarily to disrupt the Labour Party.

Labour was scrambling last night to co-ordinate after news broke of Jones' resignation from the party he's served since 2005.

He is set to take up a government economic development role in the Pacific, focusing on fisheries - a role created by Foreign Affairs Minister and key National Party strategist Murray McCully.

The announcement was described by political pundits as a disaster for Labour. The party was shown to be in disarray when it became clear in the hours after the news broke, that key senior MPs within the Labour caucus had no knowledge of Jones' decision.

Key said the role was an important one to which Jones was "perfectly suited".

"He's got considerable skills, he sees a real future in terms of economic development within the Pacific, and I think he can see that the Government is very much on the right direction in terms of building a strong profile in the Pacific."

"We didn't break his arm to do it, he voluntarily made the decision he wanted to come and join the efforts of the National Government as we try and develop the Pacific."

Key was "pretty confident" the story wasn't leaked by a member of the National Party.

"I got a phone call from a journalist yesterday morning who said they were working on the story over the weekend. I don't know their sources but in the end that's an irrelevance really."

He said he knew about the job offer for Jones for "quite some time".

"Look, we were aware that we were looking to fill that role, if Shane hadn't have taken up the position then someone else would have.

Key wouldn't be drawn on the wider implications Jones' announcement might mean for Labour in the lead-up to the election.

"I wouldn't want to speculate on that, in the end there are many members of the Labour caucus and they'll need to reflect and take stock of their own issues."

Key said he did not know exactly how long Jones had been in discussions over the role, but "it's been months not weeks".

He said McCully had been working on the development of the job for "quite some time".

DEPARTURE 'NOT A KNIFING FOR LABOUR'

Jones said it was unfair to pin Labour's most recent misfortunes on him.

But he did not think it was entirely leader David Cunliffe's fault either.

Speaking on Nine to Noon, Jones said his imminent departure from the party he's served for nine years was not a knife in the side of Labour.

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"I think if we step back for a moment the person that's likely to replace me is also from the north. It's Kelvin Davis and I wouldn't write off his ability to connect with lots of earthy voters in the North.

"He's also Maori and he brings great credentials in an area that I was never particularly interested in, which is secondary schooling etc."

Jones said the party was still in a strong position to pull together a coalition after the election.

"I don't really think it's reasonable to pin on me the hopes and or anxieties of Labour. I wanted to do the heavy lifting since the leadership race," he said.

"Just as you can't hold me singularly responsible for the highs and lows of Labour, I don't think it's fair to link everything to David Cunliffe either.

"Labour's got a number of performers in its ranks and it needs to be firing."

Jones stood by past comments he had made about Labour ally the Green Party, but said it was up to voters to decide whether they wanted a change of government at the election.

"I was never a great enthusiast for the Greens. I never had those views; I accept those views were a source of irritation to some of my colleagues," he said.

"But I've always felt that the way to treat the public is to go out there and place your own credentials before the public and convince the public to back the Labour waka.

"I think the election result will be tight, but it will be a result that has nothing to do with me other than my single vote."

COSGROVE: 'LIKE LOSING MCCAW'

List MP Calyton Cosgrove, a close friend of Jones, said he was "gutted'' his mate was leaving and admitted it would hurt the party five months out from the September 20 election.

The pair have been close for several years. Both came from business backgrounds before joining politics and had worked closely together on many issues, latterly Labour's attack on supermarkets.

"I am gutted he's going. He will leave a massive hole in our movement because he had such an appeal,'' Cosgrove said.

But he said he respected the call Jones had made.

Cosgrove would not comment on whether he was aware of Jones' move beforehand but conceded the resignation would not help Labour.

"It definitely takes away one of our big hitters. Shane was like a ballistic cannon when he fired. When you lose anybody that's a talented bloke ... it would be like losing Richie McCaw from the Crusaders. It makes your job a bit tougher.''

The one good piece of news, he said, was Jones' likely replacement, Davis.

"He's a fantastic guy.''

Davis, a close friend of Jones, had been unaware of his decision.

JONES DENIES NATIONAL INFLUENCE

Jones denied the National Party had a hand in his resignation, despite crossing the political divide to take a job created for him by the Government.

He had been an MP for nine years "and I don't want that life anymore", he said last night.

"To go on needs an enormous amount of energy and commitment ... and I've reached a point that I really want to do something else with my life."

At 54 he could not commit to another term, which he said MPs should be able to do going into an election.

McCully admitted last night that Jones had been headhunted for the job.

However, Jones said this morning that ultimately the decision had been his.

"In politics there's both a professional role to play, but also on a deep personal level you've got to be honest with yourself," he said.

"The honest truth is the ebb and flow of Labour's fortunes have at the margin a bit to do with me, but at a deeper level have a lot to do with winning the hearts and minds of Kiwis, and to do that they need people who are dedicated ... I just admitted to myself that's not the space I'm in."

Jones said he had discussed the role with McCully this year.

However, it was on a parliamentary trip to the Pacific Islands a few years ago that he decided he would like to move to a role in the region should he depart politics.

He did not yet have a contract for the job, but it was an area he had long been interested in and he felt he could contribute to it. He denied he had sprung his announcement on the party, saying there had been discussions behind the scenes.

But many of the party - including several senior Labour Party MPs - were gobsmacked by the decision when it was broadcast last night.

The decision is a serious blow to Labour, which loses one of its strongest performers in election year as it struggles to make headway in the polls.

However, Labour veteran and Christchurch MP Ruth Dyson applauded Jones for his decision.

Jones clearly did not want to commit to another term so it was "a really good decision" on his part, she said.
"If your heart's not in, you should be out of there."

She rejected claims his departure would harm Labour.

"It's not damaging. He is just one member of a team."

When former Greens co-leader Rod Donald had died suddenly, many believed that would spell the end of the party "but they survived".

CUNLIFFE: THE TIMING WAS A SURPRISE

Cunliffe, who met Jones last night at Waipu Hotel, said Jones was likely to depart in about a month.

"He's a much-valued colleague and he has made the decision that he needed to make for his own reasons.

"We respect that and we'll be sorry to lose him."

Jones had conveyed his final decision yesterday morning, he said.

Speaking at the Avondale RSA on Labour's support for the Veterans Support Bill today, Cunliffe said he hoped to remain good friends with Jones.

Earlier Cunliffe said Jones had made an "honourable" decision.

"The timing was a surprise to everybody.

"We totally respect Shane's reasons, which were personal, for making the decision; he didn't feel he could give 1000 per cent to the campaign and to the next three years so he's made an honourable decision to step aside.

"Having said that the timing was a surprise and, of course, he could have stayed through to the election," Cunliffe told Firstline.

Cunliffe said Jones' decision itself "did not come as an entire surprise" though.

"There were personal reasons why he was reflecting on his roles."

However, he hinted that National's move to poach Jones was Machiavellian.

"It's interesting the National Party has offered an inducement to him, I guess they're going to run out of embassies at some point," he said.

"He's made this decision for personal reasons, he's made it in the context apparently of an offer from the National Party and you'd have to ask them for their reasons for doing that.

"Whether it's about Mr McCully in East Coast Bays, or the [UN] Security Council bid, or whatever it is."

McCully denied that suggestion.

"Nobody else is going to make Shane Jones' personal and political decisions for him, certainly not anybody who's part of the National Government," McCully said.

"I've been very clear about the importance I place on this role. We sat down and made a list of the people who we thought could do it, and he was by far the top of that list," he said on Firstline.

A start date for Jones' new role had not been discussed, but McCully said  he was keen to firm up the contract.

"Guys like him are going to have choices, so I don't consider this a done deal yet.

"I very much want him to pick up this role but all those questions now need to take place."

- The Dominion Post

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