Opinion: Jones' blitzkrieg against Countdown worthy of applauses

Shane Jones
Shane Jones
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 Intelligence Service.

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 government.

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 stays.

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 different things.

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 misinterpreted.

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 giant German.

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 bugging him?

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 possible.

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 Countdown stores.

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.

So what?

You think that because someone is left wing they are not telling the truth? Grow up. 

This behaviour is happening here in NZ because the right wing are only in interested in profit, not other peoples health or wealth.

John A

John Armstrong is a left-wing political commentator

Fruit in grocery stores

Mostly all supermarkets suffer the same consequence.  However if they used growers closer to home we wouldn't have that problem.


After having watched a few of the NZ Master Chef programmes a friend and I decided to see if we could buy all of the items 'proudly sponsored' by Countdown in Dunedin.

Of the 30 items required for the chosen dishes we could only find 8 items in any of the Dunedin stores. And the more exotic fresh produce was non existant.

I have also noticed that of late the fresh produce at Countdown is less than fresh. Over-ripe is the charitable description.

What's being sold here?

Woolworth owned supermarkets sell their house brands here in NZ, do you think if they are Aussie only for sale over there those same cans magically get filled with something else when they're shipped to NZ?

Buy Australian

It's not the promotion of "Buy Australian" I object to as NZ has a similar promotion, it's that fact they are removing our products giving customers no choice. At the height of our campaign it wasn't even considered to stop stocking Aussie brands.

If as Progressive states "They act in the interest of Kiwis here" then they should have taken the same action to promote "Buy NZ Made" but I don't see them blocking Aussie brands here.

Also apparently they are bulling our suppliers into giving them backdated cheques because they didn't make enough profit.

Once you have agreed to purchase at a set rate it's up to you to resell at a profit, it has nothing to do with your supplier, if you make a loss then you renegotiate when the next term is around or then stop purchasing if you can't get a price that both sides agree to. [abridged]

Harsh behaviour

It is harsh behaviour but because there are no laws governing this behaviour how does one police or hold account?

Everyone wants their product at eyeline and there are too many products competing so they get to be bully boys, like other giant milk companies who bully farmers.

There are no laws governing attitude only the term "best practices" which means having no methodology in place.


So just because it's "just business" do we accept it in schools? In the home? I believe it is unacceptable anywhere. And I despair if that's the sort of NZ we are prepared to accept.

Dr Norman's defence

In defence of Russel Norman, please read the Extradition Act of 1999, section 30(3) d and e. MP has the last word, not the courts. It is not a legal issue but a political one.

Under Section 30 (3) (d) & (e) of the Extradition Act 1999:

The Minister may determine that the person is not to be surrendered if …

it appears to the Minister that compelling or extraordinary
circumstances of the person including, without limitation, those
relating to the age or health of the person, exist that would make it
unjust or oppressive to surrender the person; or

for any other reason the Minister considers that the person should not be surrendered.

- See more here 

Bully tactics

I am sure if you looked hard enough you would find this code of ethics in many more businesses.

I mean what do you call the way milk companies negotiate with the organic dairy farmers? Or the way manufacturers deal with our wool growers?

Anytime you have shelf space or a climate for vendors to compete with one another you are going to have another business go hard at it to get the best price for his/her company.

We call it bullying but that's the climate in this global open market

It's "just business".

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