Flying high as PM solves problems with a special deal

An Airbus A321 takes off from Dunedin Airport. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
An Airbus A321 takes off from Dunedin Airport. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
At the used plane yard

"Good morning, sir. After a plane or just tyre-kicking?"

"I need a plane. No doubt about that."

"Don’t I know you? You look like that All Black prop of a few years ago."

"Well, every All Black prop looks like me."

"Got it. You’re ‘Lucky’ Luxon. The businessman’s friend. Now, what are you after? A wee flyabout for the wife? Some lovely little Cessnas over here. One beauty just traded in. Only used by a little old lady flying to church on Sundays. Had to give it up. Lost her licence and belief in God at the same time. Poor old thing."

"No, it’s not for my wife. It’s for the air force. They’ve got a Boeing which is costing about $20 million a year in repairs."

"Good grief! Time you got rid of it. Can’t offer you much as a trade-in, though. The yards are full of clapped-out Boeings. It’s a good thing you came to me. We’ve got a nice used Airbus A321 and it’s yours for just $50m. A new Boeing would set you back maybe $140m. So, ask yourself."

"Yeah, new is out of the question. But this Airbus comes with all the bells and whistles I presume.

"Absolutely. You should know that. Air New Zealand uses them."

"Yeah, I spend half my life on the damn things but they seem to get where there’re supposed to on time and that’s a bit of a novelty these days when we’re using the old Boeings to impress the world on these trade junkets."

"Indeed, sir. Plenty of seating in the A321, up to 200 or so passengers, though you wouldn’t need all those for a trade delegation, surely?"

"Don’t you believe it. Breathe a word round the Beehive that there’s an overseas junket and there’s 200 journos kicking on your door. Still, any publicity is good publicity as Winston Peters assures me."

"No worries, then. Room for all of them. Right. I’ll put that pre-loved Airbus to one side for you. Free tank of gas and a voucher for a weekend at Taupo comes with the deal. Now, what about payment? $50m plus GST. I know you’re not a poor man, sir, but I’m not sure a credit card would cover that.

"No. I’ll need to talk to my people. I’ll get back to you tomorrow."

At the Cabinet meeting

"Right, I’ve called this special Cabinet to sort out the plane business. I’ve found a nice little Airbus that should do the trick. They want $50m but we could maybe beat them down a bit or get a new set of tyres thrown in. It’s all about deals these days. Any thoughts, Judith?"

"Look, as Minister of Defence I’ve already gone public on this not being the time to spend millions on new planes."

"Indeed, you have, Judith, though we could have done without your comment that planes are viewed by the public as ‘de facto private jets for the Prime Minister’. But this secondhand plane for $50m is the way to go. The public know that a new machine would cost twice that so this cheap deal will convince the voters that we are a caring, fiscally responsible government."

"Maybe, Prime Minister, but the country’s still broke. Where’s the $50m coming from?"

"That problem is already sorted, Judith. That’s what dynamic and decisive prime ministers are for. I’ve talked to the Minister of Health and he has come to our aid here. Shane, perhaps you could outline your scheme?"

"It’s simple really. I was in Dunedin on Thursday and gave them the old soft soap. ‘We would return and refit those parts of the new hospital back to its original description’ was how I put it, so plenty of wriggle room there. If we cut another $50m off the budget for the hospital, we’re on a winner. They’ll lose a ward or two and some so-called vital technology hospitals are supposed to need and they’ll squeal a bit, as usual. But we’ll have the money for a plane that actually works without stuffing up the budget."

"What about the patients? We’ll never win a Dunedin seat now."

"Yes, we will. The air force won’t be able to afford to fly the plane and the trade junkets take up only 18 days a year and for the rest of the time the plane will be based at — wait for it — Dunedin Airport! Ten new jobs for Dunedin making up for the many more the town lost in the great public service downsizing. From Dunedin the Airbus will fly plane-loads of happy patients free to northern hospitals which have the facilities we won’t be providing at Dunedin hospital."

"Thanks, Shane. Brilliant, eh?"

"Yes, Prime Minister."

— Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.