Gordon Campbell on the Shane Jones departure

Shane Jones has left Parliament in the manner to which we have become accustomed, with self interest coming in first and second, and with the interests of the Labour Party (under whose banner he served) way, way back down the track. The timing of his departure – five months before an election, with Labour’s new team still struggling to get traction – could hardly be more damaging. But then, the MFAT job that has been hastily created for Jones by Foreign Minister Murray McCully was probably dependent on this timing, and this impact.

Presumably, Jones’ new salary is going to come out of either (a) the MFAT foreign aid budget or (b) the MFAT diplomacy budget. Reportedly, the role being designed for Jones will be at ambassadorial level. If so, this means that not only scant MFAT resources but the processes around the granting of diplomatic status and credentialling are to be contorted so that National can score political points in an election year. No one will be surprised that Jones has risen to the bait, but the cynicism of the exercise is breath-taking. In effect, MFAT now operates as the Minister’s personal fiefdom, and as a political slush fund.

True, appointing Jones to a roving ambassadorial role to stimulate economic development in the Pacific is consistent with McCully’s view that the foreign aid budget should be less about the alleviation of poverty at the grass roots, and more about being a venture capital fund for the region’s business elites. The trouble is, no one knows whether Jones’ salary will be money well spent, since McCully has plucked the role, the job description and the salary range out of thin air, apparently before any scoping work had been done as to whether (a) the job needs to be done and (b) whether the opportunity costs in raiding MFAT’s current budget to pay for it are justified.

Back to Jones. On his track record, Jones seems to deliver what his paymasters would expect of him. Sealords used to employ him, and they donated to Labour, big time in the 2011 election. Subsequently, Jones came to Sealord’s defence and attacked the Greens over what had been a Greenpeace spoof of a Sealord advertisement. Barely 48 hours ago, came the revelations that National Party grandee Wira Gardiner (the husband of Cabinet Minister Hekia Parata) had donated to Jones’ bid for the Labour leadership last year. So had NZ Oil and Gas board member Rodger Finlay. Not that we should read any significance into Jones’ strong public support for mining, and his heated attacks on the Greens for expressing concerns about the safeguards. No way.

Mr Jones is known for his strong pro-mining stance in Labour but said he had never met Mr Finlay before his cash offer. He is now Labour’s economic development spokesman and has a leading role in forming the party’s mining policy. He denied the donation would have any effect on that or that it had prompted his attacks on the Green Party, saying his views on mining were longstanding and he had always been critical of the Greens’ position.

Mr Finlay had not indicated he had any expectations.

In recent months, Jones has seemed wide open to job offers. There were strong rumours that he was considering jumping to New Zealand First, as a possible heir apparent to Winston Peters, when the old warrior finally steps down. There were also rumours that Jones was the mystery MP reportedly engaged in talks with Kim Dotcom, until Dotcom began negotiating in earnest with the Mana Party. If there were any grains of truth in those rumours, they have now been trumped by the job offer from National.

Obviously, Jones’ departure looks like a case of the rats leaving a sinking ship. Labour has been done no favours by Jones timing his departure at a point that can only feed that perception. On the upside, at least his exit spares Labour from trying to manage Jones during the election campaign, during which he would have almost certainly engaged in attacks on Labour’s partners on the centre left. Like Tau Henare, Shane Jones has now found his true home; working for National, on MFAT’s ticket, in furthering the interests of multinational fishing companies in the South Pacific.