3 Apr 2019

Shane Jones denies conflict in comments on Semenoff Logging court case

8:51 pm on 3 April 2019

Shane Jones is defending claims that comments he made about a court case against a Northland trucking company amounted to a conflict of interest.

Shane Jones Budget Day 2018.

Shane Jones Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Jones, the Associate Transport Minister, is related to former Whangārei mayor Stan Semenoff of Semenoff Logging.

The company, which carries an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the Northland log trade, faces court action over alleged safety breaches.

Speaking to NZ Herald yesterday and despite the matter being before the courts still, Mr Jones said he was concerned about the economic implications of the case for the region.

The matter was raised again in Parliament this afternoon, and Mr Jones stood by his comments and said he was not speaking in his capacity as a Minister.

In the House, he played down his relationship with Mr Semenoff, who gave him a $2000 donation and who has previously been reported to be his "mother's cousin".

"Stan Semenoff's great, great grandmother is my mother's great, great, great grandmother," he said.

He was also asked why, after he said "constitutionally I must not comment on the High Court case", he then proceeded to do just that.

"The principles of comity and privilege are important constitutional privileges that define our system," Mr Jones said.

"But there is no stone ... that should be put upon the tongue of the champion of the regions to talk about the implications of decisions that our government may from time to time be held accountable for."

Stan Semenoff.

Stan Semenoff Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Mr Jones also confirmed he had briefly spoken to the chief executive of the Transport Agency about the case, but said he was not involved in any agency decision.

Speaking to journalists outside the House, he continued to defend his comments about Semenoff Logging.

"My focus is on the issues - the supply chain impact - in the north in the forestry and logging. I have not commented on anything to do with the innards of that court case."

He also pointed out that the court case has not yet started, and said he had not been speaking as the Associate Transport Minister.

"I said those remarks as the Minister of Regional Development.

"I have no delegations for safety as Associate Minister of Transport. I have never once discussed this issue with Julie Anne Genter, who is the safety transport minister."

It comes less than a month after Mr Jones was accused of having a conflict of interest when he sat in on a meeting in which $4.6 million was granted to build a culture, heritage and education centre in Northland.

Mr Jones himself declared the conflict when he became a minister in November 2017.

22082016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucas run. Paul Goldsmith

Paul Goldsmith Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

National's Paul Goldsmith called Mr Jones "too loose, far too cavalier" and "arrogant" in the how he was going about his ministerial duties.

"He shouldn't be commenting, he shouldn't be pressuring in any way in NZTA around their regulatory responsibilities.

"Second, it's worse given that there is a connection with the person involved.

"He might say it's distant - he referred to Stan Semenoff as his mother's cousin when he gave a donation a few years ago to him. So there's a connection there.

"Now, all I'm saying is he's got some serious questions to answer to reassure New Zealanders that he is behaving appropriately as a minister."

Mr Semenoff and the Transport Agency declined to comment while the case was before the courts.

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