Brownlee offers to resign over airport drama

18:19, Jul 24 2014
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Gerry Brownlee, left, David Barker, Chairman, Forte Health, Sia Aston, acting chief press secretary, and Prime Minister John Key during the opening of the Forte Health Building in Christchurch in February.
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Prime Minister John Key, with Bill English, Gerry Brownlee and Paula Bennett, on the 9th floor of his Beehive office in April.
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Gerry Brownlee heads towards the House of Representatives in Parliament Wellington, for the 2014 Budget.
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Gerry Brownlee, Kaumatua Rangikotuku Rukuwai and MP Jonathan Young turn the first sod for the Vickers to City Waiwhakaiho upgrade in Taranaki in July.
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Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee scoops up a load of earth begin construction of the McKay's to Pekapeka section of Transmission Gully in December 2013.
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Cera chief Roger Sutton (left) and Earthquake Recover Minister Gerry Brownlee in Christchurch's City Mall in August 2011.
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Richard Holden and Gerry Brownlee perform in the Star Search talent quest final at the Russley Hotel in 1980.
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MP Gerry Brownlee as the Hororata Highland Games Chieftain, carrying the ceremonal sword to open the games in November 2012.
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November 2012, and Gerry Brownlee listens to a promotional video onboard the SCIRT Christchurch rebuild job bus which would travel the South Island recruiting labour for the rebuild.
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Gerry Brownlee takes a ride in 2008.
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Gerry Brownlee takes a phone call as the new Deputy Leader of the Opposition, way back in 2003.
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Gerry Brownlee, all smiles in 2001.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee's office has confirmed an investigation is under way into today's airport security breach.

Brownlee has denied barging past airport security, in an incident he has offered his resignation over.

Did you witness the incident? Email us at newstips@stuff.co.nz

Sent written questions about the incident at Christchurch International Airport, a spokesman for Brownlee said he could not answer questions while the matter was being investigated.

"The matter is being investigated by the relevant authorities and he's got no further comment at this time," the spokesman said in an email, without immediately providing details of who was investigating.

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GERRY BROWNLEE: 'Running late for a plane is not an excuse for bypassing a security check'.

However, this evening the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed it was conducting an investigation into the security breach.

Graeme Harris, Director of Civil Aviation, announced he was launching an investigation into "an alleged security breach at Christchurch airport" this morning.

"It has been alleged that the Minister of Transport and two of his staff did not go through normal security screening.

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"The CAA was advised of an incident at Christchurch airport this morning and I have launched an investigation into what occurred," Harris said in a statement.

"The primary focus for the CAA is to determine the facts of the incident and take action to prevent something like this happening again.”

Key accepted it was not a good look for a transport minister but he had considered "whether six years of incredibly hard work should all be washed away because of one really silly action".

No-one was trying to brush off the mistake, Key said.

"He was in a hurry, he wasn't really thinking about it and I don't think he quite realised what was happening, but nevertheless, lots of people are in a hurry and run the risk of missing a plane. That's not an acceptable excuse." 

In a statement, Brownlee said he had been running late for a plane at Christchurch Airport and "without thought breached airport and airline security rules by entering the gate lounge through a door usually used for exit only".

"Running late for a plane is no excuse for bypassing a security check," he said.

"In doing this I have broken aviation rules and put individuals who hold responsible positions in upholding public security in a compromised position.

"My actions were thoughtless and I unreservedly apologise to those people who felt, and were, compromised by my actions.

"No-one else is to blame. I have offered my resignation as the Minister of Transport to the prime minister."

A spokeswoman for Key said the prime minister had spoken to Brownlee and indicated disappointment in his actions.

"He has reflected on the significant contribution Minister Brownlee has made over time and decided on balance, not to accept his resignation," the spokeswoman said.

Brownlee denied he barged past security or that he had acted in an arrogant manner.

He said he "never gave it any thought".

"It was just we were in a hurry to get on the plane, I wanted to get back here," referring to Wellington.

He said one airport staff member was at the door but did not challenge him. Brownlee denied he used his influence to get past.

"We knocked on the door and I said to the guy 'look we're in a terrible hurry, can we get through here' he said 'okay' but in reality I should never have done that ... it's not that guy's fault. I'm the one to blame here."

He denied allegations he told the man the rules had changed.

"I've got to accept that when a person who's got a role like that sees a minister turn up they sort of think it's probably going to be okay, so I really don't want that guy getting in trouble."

He said he had offered his resignation because he had put the staff member and the airport in a tricky situation, and because he was responsible for aviation security as minister of transport.

Brownlee said he knew that under current regulations all the people on the plane should have been taken off and re-screened, because he had not gone through security.

"I didn't think about it ... that's the trouble," he said.

"It was a thoughtless act on my part and I'm not making any excuses for it."

He said he had never done it before.

Brownlee revealed that two staff members came with him through the door.

"It gets worse and worse, as you put it," he said.

"Look, we fly all the time it was just one of those things where I thought right, I want to get to the gate, I'm in a hurry and crazy.

"I shouldn't have done it. I accept that."

He was not aware that he had broken the rules until someone from the Civil Aviation Authority contacted him.

"I hadn't considered that there was a particular problem," he said

He did not think the door had any markings on it but he could not be sure. He did not know how much time he had saved himself by avoiding security.

A spokeswoman for Christchurch Airport said they had no comment to make as it was an issue for Aviation Security.

Aviation Security said they were investigating the incident and would have more information to release later.

Labour's transport spokesman Phil Twyford said Brownlee should be subject to the same legal consequences as a member of the public for breaching aviation security.

Brownlee should be held accountable, Twyford said.

"I think that this is ultimately an issue for the Prime Minister and he has to be held accountable to his promise that he was going to hold his ministers to a higher standard of accountability, so I think if the aviation personnel were compromised by this and anyone does lose their job then I think the public would take a pretty dim view of that."

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