22 Mar 2018

Obama dinner could be awkward for politicians

10:22 am on 22 March 2018

Barack Obama may not notice, but the dinner event for the former US president could be a touch awkward for politicians tonight.

Barack Obama and Shane Jones

Barack Obama and Shane Jones Photo: AFP / RNZ

It is being co-hosted by Air New Zealand which has been under attack by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern intervened after Mr Jones suggested the airline's chair and some members of the board should be sacked for abandoning regional routes.

Mr Jones said Air New Zealand should stop "short-changing" services to regions, and questioned why money was instead being spent by the national carrier to bring Mr Obama to this country.

The airline, which is 51 percent owned by the government, abruptly withdrew its service into Kāpiti earlier this month. Three years ago it stopped flying to Kaitaia, Whakatāne, Westport and Taupō.

The attention today will be on a dinner for Mr Obama in Auckland this evening to be attended by 800 people including members of the business and Māori communities and young leaders.

Mr Jones said he had many ties to the United States and would not be put off attending.

"I was the president of the New Zealand-US Parliamentary friendship group and I was the recipient of the Harkness Fellowship as a lad, and I'm a graduate of an American university so no one should be surprised that I am going to go and tautoko Obama being in New Zealand."

Mr Jones said he would be there as a representative of the government.

"As a proxy for the 52 percent owner for Air New Zealand, I'll go where I like."

Several senior MPs, including Ms Ardern, will be at tonight's dinner.

New National Party leader, Simon Bridges and Deputy Paula Bennett

Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In Parliament yesterday, National Party leader Simon Bridges said the attack by Mr Jones was economic vandalism.

The party has also criticised the Regional Economic Development Minister for attending the dinner for Mr Obama.

Mr Bridges said Mr Jones was recklessly bullying the airline for political reasons and businesses should be worried.

Mr Obama will be formally welcomed at Government House later today, after which he and Ms Ardern will hold an informal meeting.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs