Winston Peters says he believes the state should subsidise regional airports, which is in tune with his pre-election support for an industry proposal that the Government spend $32 million to upgrade 12 regional airports.
Peters’ comment came after the news that Air Chathams will take over the Paraparaumu to Auckland service after Air New Zealand pulled out.
The Air Chathams deal has been sweetened with a $50,000 marketing investment in the airport from the Kapiti Coast District Council, which has been matched by Air New Zealand.
At Monday's post-cabinet news conference, Peters was asked whether he would look at state support for struggling regional airports.
He gave a typically cryptic answer.
“In the United States, with a different economic philosophy than us, whether you are Republican or Democrat, they see regional airports as a federal Government responsibility.”
Peters has backed state support for regional airports before.
NZ Airports Association launched a campaign last year to seek $32 million in Government funding to plug a funding gap at 12 smaller airports. Peters backed the campaign in a statement in September.
Mind the hat
But Peters, currently Acting Prime Minister was also quick to point out that he was not speaking in the name of the Government.
“I can’t speak for the Government on a question like that,” Peters said.
“I’m not going to foreclose my cabinet colleagues making an input,” he said.
New Zealand First has been in trouble for speaking out of turn on sensitive business subjects.
When Air New Zealand first pulled out of Kapiti, New Zealand First MP Shane Jones said the regions were treated better by used car dealers than the national airline and called for the chairman to resign.
Jones later called for Fonterra chairman John Wilson “catch the next cab out of town".
Jones was given a gentle dressing down after both incidents and after the attack on Fonterra, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that Jones had been speaking in his “personal capacity,” not as a minister.
Perhaps Peters’ very explicit claim to not be speaking on behalf of the Government is harbinger of further corporate interventions to come, only now it seems New Zealand First MPs will indicate more clearly whether they are wearing their personal or ministerial “hat”.