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Cullen press conference Premier House 26 September

Cullen press conference Premier House 26 September 2001

The press conference was in response the suspension of Air New Zealand shares being traded on the stock exchange, following the Prime Minister's answers to questions on Air New Zealand yesterday.

Please note – the questions are not verbatim – they are best guess.

MC…..I want to make certain points clear, many in media keep asking certain questions which you don't really expect an answer and every time an answer is given there seems to be a tendency to beat up those answers into extraordinary headlines which distort the intention of the original statement.

Yesterday the Prime Minister expressed confidence in the viability of Air New Zealand and its future. That is a view shared by the rest of the government and indeed I have said on many occasions that the government is determined to try and ensure that a viable Air New Zealand will continue into the future.

I am told that also Air New Zealand will shortly be issuing a statement that will make it clear that in their view the Prime Minister was not effectively underwriting the market and any conclusions drawn in that respect would be false ones.

I might also say that according to the best inquiries we have been able to make it is not correct that the PM's office was seeking to test certain reactions within the market for certain possibilities and certainly no one was acting on the instructions of the Prime Minister.

Q. Why are you speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister?

Normally I do speak on this matter. The Prime Minister was asked a question after she was talking, I think, to the PPTA. She wasn’t actually giving a speech about Air New Zealand; the PPTA has other concerns. You all keep asking questions like will I guarantee tickets and various other silly questions to which it is not possible to give a good answer.

Q. isn't it up to the Prime Minister though to explain why she made those comments?

The Prime Minister said she thought that Air New Zealand has a viable future, I would have thought that as a New Zealander you wouldn't think that was a question she wouldn't want to respond to.


That was …. Indication from the Prime Minister that she thought Air New Zealand has a viable future. If you didn't want to get an answer why do you ask that kind of question. That's the question I am putting to you as media, why ask a question which you then want to clobber someone if they give any sort of answer or indeed, clobber them if they give no answer at all.

The Prime Minister refuses to assurance Mum and Dad shareholder was the alternative headline which you probably already had written, depending on the answer you were given.

Q. Wouldn't it be better not to comment on it at all?

I think it would be better not to ask that question in the first place if you don't like any answer which is given.

Q. Stock exchange….

The stock exchange was reacting to the media reports of the comments. They have received a copy of the actual transcript of the interview and I think you will find that they also are satisfied that the Prime Minister was not effectively underwriting the market.

Q. So why did they take that extreme measure?

They took that extreme measure because they were reacting to a beat up series of headlines and stories. That is why they were reacting to that. That's why you have to think very carefully about how you write any aspect of this story on Air New Zealand. It's why I have been telling my staff to tell you that we are not making comment. And you keep coming back extremely dissatisfied with that response and demanding that the public has a right to know every detail of whatever negotiations are occurring. Well you don’t have that right, I am afraid. The important thing here is that the government is doing what it can to save our national carrier. And I wish everybody else in the country acted with the same interest.

Q. Did the Prime Minister not tell small shareholders to hang on to their shares yesterday?

The Prime Minister said when she was asked a question - at the PPTA conference, I have to say – "What's your recommendation to mum and dad shareholders at the moment, in terms of "anything to report to day?" "Nothing to report. I'd recommend they hang on to them because I am absolutely convinced that Air New Zealand has a viable future".

Now she was not in that respect, indicating anything about the future structure of Air New Zealand and I am confident Air New Zealand itself will confirm that fact byway of press statement in the near future.

Q. Is the government open to legal action.

No. We are quite convinced of that, having had advice and also having been in contact with the stock exchange.

Q. What's your advice to shareholders today?

My advice is not to read the Herald.

Q. Do you think you have been sent in to undertake damage control?

No, I think I have been sent in because I chair the cabinet minister's ad hoc committee and I normally am the spokesperson on these matters.

Q. When did the Prime Minister receive her most recent briefing on Air New Zealand?

I am not going to respond to that. I have no idea when her most recent briefing was because she doesn't tell me every briefing she gets. I mean I get briefings about every half-hour to an hour on Air New Zealand.

Q. Have government officials been testing the market reaction to …..Air New Zealand?

No. No.

Q. Where did the story come from then?

I have no idea. I do know that some sharebrokers have indicated that there is strong patriotic support by ordinary people participating but we have not been initiating consultation with them, we have not been testing the market.

Q. Is the Prime Minister now not going to comment on Air New Zealand?

I am sure the Prime Minister will continue to express confidence in the viability Air New Zealand. But I do suggest you need to think carefully about the kinds of questions you ask for example the silly question I keep getting asked, "will you guarantee tickets I don't guarantee tickets to the opera, the ballet or anything else.

Q. Are you saying the Prime Minister is not up to answering the questions?

She certainly is up to answering the questions but you've got to decide whether you are asking sensible questions and then when you've got an answer you have a responsibility, given what we are talking about here, to publish the reports carefully and not to beat them up into the Prime Minister effectively going much much further than she did in that statement.

Q. So it’s the media to blame?

It’s a matter for you to think very carefully about how you ask these questions and how you report the answers.

Q. Well, she should think carefully about her answers.

Well I am sure that is true and she does think very carefully about her answers but I think you have to decide what your job is in this respect. Is your job to try and pull Air New Zealand down or is your job to let the government get on working with Air New Zealand to try and arrive at a solution that saves our national airline, and not everything can be done in the public arena blow by blow.

Q. …already bringing Air New Zealand down with comments she made on Monday?

No. I think somebody had long since reported the statutory management option, some had reported that that was the most likely option. There has been enormous speculation. The …aviation analysts have been wheeled into studios to report on their musings on what has been going on. And one of the problems for me, as the Minister responsible for all of this, is not being able to respond and correct blow by blow and statement by statement the nonsense which has been reported……

Q. When will the shares start trading again?

That's a matter for the stock exchange. I wish you wouldn't ask me questions that are other people's responsibility – that is part of the problem all the way through this.

Q. ???

The government's first priority and the government's first responsibility is to ensure the viability of an Air New Zealand – a New Zealand national carrier. Its what I have been saying now for two weeks and I hope the message is getting through.


Oh, my goodness me, here we go again! Let's try and work through negotiations bit by bit in the public arena. There are negotiations with Air New Zealand there are negotiations with other people….in negotiations across the Tasman,… is not appropriate to try and carry those out blow by blow through the media. That's a way of ensuring nothing works.

Q. The Prime Minister not being able to front…?

I think the Prime Minister is perfectly capable of responding but I am the Minister responsible for the ….of Air New Zealand. If the Prime Minister had a microphone shoved under nose at a PPTA meeting, the Prime Minister usually tries to answer questions – whereas I am notorious for not answering them.


No, I can't comment on that but don't draw any conclusions from that answer either.

Q. Does that justify……..shareholders?

Well, you tried to ask the same silly question yesterday. I have complete confidence in the viability of an Air New Zealand, that’s the only answer I am prepared to give.

Q. How can you be sure the government isn't liable..legally?

Because we have had legal advice.

Q. Do you think this situation arose because of the lack of information in the market about Air New Zealand.

No I don't. I think this is a situation where Air New Zealand can't put out fuller information into the market because its involving difficult negotiations. And its been a changing situation and we're not liable. We have had legal advice from the Solicitor General.

Q. How long had you and the Prime Minister been meeting?

I couldn't even contemplate that. Some where between one minute and one hour.

Q. Is the Prime Minister clarifying her comments to the Stock exchange herself?

Air New Zealand is putting out a statement I understand which will clarify the position. The stock exchange will then have to determine how it reacts to that statement. It is a matter for them entirely.

Q. Has the Prime Minister had any contact with the securities commission?

No. The Prime Minister has not. There has been contact from someone in the government with the securities commission because we sent to the commission a copy of the actual transcript.

There is nothing like letting the facts get in the way of a headline story.


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