The applause from his colleagues ought to be long and
loud when Shane Jones arrives for Labour's weekly caucus
meeting at Parliament next Tuesday.
This week was Labour's by a country mile, thanks to Mr Jones'
carefully-conceived, astutely-timed and precisely-targeted
blitzkrieg-style offensive against Countdown, the
Australian-owned supermarket chain.
In the space of just a few minutes in Parliament on Wednesday
afternoon, Mr Jones made an extremely serious allegation
regarding Countdown's business practices. In doing so, he
also entrenched Labour as the White Knight on the front line
of the Supermarket Wars.
It is all about repositioning Labour more firmly in voters'
minds as the consumer's friend who will confront big business
greed rather than being a corporate lapdog like National. It
is about ensuring the economic debate at this year's election
concentrates on prices, wages, income inequality and child
poverty - not economic growth forecasts, budget surpluses and
debt repayment, where National has a huge advantage.
Mr Jones' virtuoso solo performance was but one episode in
yet another extraordinary week in New Zealand politics. The
week also witnessed behaviour varying from the simply bizarre
- the Prime Minister confirming he is not a ''reptilian
alien'' - to the constitutionally stupid - Greens co-leader
Russel Norman revealing his party would probably veto any
order made by the courts to extradite Kim Dotcom to the
United States - to the plain silly - Winston Peters insisting
he has been placed under surveillance by the Security
In fact, it could have been the perfect week for Labour, had
David Cunliffe not wasted an opportunity to nail the Greens
to the wall, thereby making it very clear to the public who
is going to be the boss in any Labour-Greens coalition
Mr Norman's musing aloud on the Greens' stance on Mr Dotcom's
fight against extradition was a major gaffe.
The Greens seem to believe that the wide discretion that the
law gives to the Minister of Justice amounts to carte blanche
for the minister to pick and and choose who goes and who
That discretion in the law is obviously there to deal with
any anomalies or unforeseen circumstances.
Mr Norman's mistake was to talk about blocking Mr Dotcom's
extradition if given the chance, while in almost the same
breath referring to Mr Dotcom not going ahead with the launch
of his Internet Party, which would have dragged votes off the
Greens and other left-leaning parties.
Mr Norman might argue that he was talking about two very
But it was inevitable Mr Key would link them and declare the
Greens, who have attacked National's electoral accommodations
with minor parties, were about to strike a far more dodgy one
of their own.
Mr Norman can rightly argue that at least he had been open
about his meetings with Mr Dotcom. At times, the Greens pay a
price for such transparency.
Mr Norman's embarrassment, however, is a timely wake-up call
for a party that can guarantee, with the forthcoming election
its best chance yet of making it into Government, that every
word uttered by its leaders and MPs will be scrutinised for
inconsistency, and where at all possible, deliberately
Mr Peters does not have that problem, as he is the only
person in New Zealand First who is allowed to talk to the
media. He remained silent about his Dotcom meetings - at
least until Mr Key stirred the pot and wound up Mr Peters'
paranoia levels by telling him how many he had held with the
Mr Peters' subsequent press statement asking how Mr Key had
become aware of that figure and suggesting he (Mr Peters) was
now being monitored by the intelligence agencies looked like
a fit of pique for Mr Key getting one over him.
At the end of the day, why would the SIS be bothered with
Unless, of course, Mr Peters has plans to join the Syrian
rebels to try to oust the Assad regime. Mr Key confirmed on
Monday such recruitment was being monitored by the spooks.
Much of all this was rightly overshadowed by Mr Jones'
ripsnorter of a speech, which lashed Countdown for allegedly
mistreating the company's New Zealand-based suppliers by
demanding suppliers make special retrospective payments for
past losses suffered by the company, with the threat of their
products being kept off the shelves of Countdown's 200-plus
supermarkets in New Zealand.
It is the habit of Opposition parties to call for an inquiry
when something goes wrong or things are seen to be seriously
amiss. The habit of governing parties is to ignore those
calls unless things are so serious or the public so incensed
that one cannot be avoided.
A measure of Mr Jones' success was that by Thursday lunchtime
- less than 24 hours after he spoke in the House - Mr Key
could see which way public opinion was shifting in response.
It was trademark Key behaviour - agree to hold an inquiry and
thus get the matter off the front pages. as swiftly as
The Commerce Commission got the message. By the end of the
day it had announced it had received a complaint from Mr
Jones and outlined what steps it would take to ascertain
whether Countdown has been in breach of the Commerce Act.
Countdown has ''categorically'' rejected Mr Jones'
allegations. It has promised to co-operate fully with the
Commerce Commission investigation. Those assurances will do
little to help it win the public relations battle.
There is already public indignation that Countdown is party
to the ''Buy Australian'' which has forced some New Zealand
products off supermarket shelves across the Tasman.
Mr Key had raised that the week before during his talks with
Tony Abbot, his Australian counterpart, but got nowhere. It
was Mr Jones who provided the retaliation which has otherwise
been limited to scattered informal customer boycotts of
Patriotism may be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but no
New Zealand politician has ever lost votes in criticising the
diggers over the ditch.
- John Armstrong is the political correspondent for
The New Zealand Herald.