Wide body jets for Wanaka referenced in QLDC documents

by Peter Newport - Feb 07, 2020

The Media Council has ruled that this article breached two Media Council Principles because of a lack of balance and there being no clear distinction between fact and comment. The Media Council ruling is at www.mediacouncil.org.nz

As we reach the half way point in the QLDC's airport expansion consultation process, transparency is in short supply. So much so that QLDC won't release to Crux a document that declares plans for wide bodied jets at Wanaka airport and the need to charge ratepayers for shifting wastewater facilities to make room for a new wider runway.

The reference is made in a draft QLDC business case on how to manage the expansion of Project Pure, the name given to Wanaka's sewage system that is based at the current airport.

The section of the draft business case that references the introduction of wide bodied jets to Wanaka.

Crux understands that the reference to wide bodied jets caused some alarm within the council when it was first noticed last year. Subsequent conversations are believed to have categorised the reference as at first "future proofing" and then more recently as "an error."

The QLDC's Gatekeepers. Senior managers Naell Crosby-Roe (left) and his boss Meaghan Miller control the QLDC's comms, marketing and governance. They decide what information gets released to the media and the public. Ms Miller, a 20 year council veteran, also controls a whole raft of other vital council functions under the umbrella of "Corporate Services."

Crux asked to see the full document in late January but this was refused by council comms people with the following response:

“These have been withheld as commercially sensitive under consideration of LGOIMA, section 7, part (2) (b) (ii):

“would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information”

This response makes no sense at all as it is QLDC themselves who commissioned the business case, so they seem to be saying that releasing the document would prejudice the commercial position of themselves - the council.

QAC Chief Executive Colin Keel - on a $550,000 salary but almost invisible to the community.

In the absence of any other information about the airport consultation process Crux has been pushing the Queenstown Airport Corporation for details around a potential conflict of interest involving QAC Chief Executive Colin Keel and his partner Ian Jackson.

For the first two years of Mr Keel's work as Chief Executive of the council 75% owned QAC, Mr Jackson held what has been referred to by aviation industry observers as "the third most powerful job in Qantas" - Qantas of course being the owner of Jetstar and arch rival to our national airline Air New Zealand.

Mr Jackson was Executive Manager - Customer Operations for Qantas for the period between 2016 and 2018. Before that he was Head of International Operations for the Australian national airline.

QAC comms boss Sara Irvine "no conflict seen with Ian Jackson's Qantas role."

Crux received the following response from the QAC comms team boss Sara Irvine when we asked how a potential conflict of interest was handled, especially in the context of Mr Keel negotiating crucial Queenstown landing slots and pricing for competing airlines.

"Colin Keel’s partner Ian Jackson was formerly a senior executive with Qantas. Mr Jackson resigned from that position in 2018 and is no longer employed by the Qantas Group.

"Mr Keel’s relationship with Mr Jackson was disclosed to the QAC Board when he was appointed as Chief Executive in 2016."

"All potential conflicts of interest of QAC directors and executives are required to be disclosed and are managed appropriately by QAC."

Crux had asked for further details of how the potential conflict was handled but QAC did not provide these details. We then asked if Mr Jackson had done any consulting work for QAC, and this was the response.

"Mr Jackson has not at any time worked directly or indirectly for QAC. Mr Jackson is a private citizen. There are no conflicts of interest."

Ian Jackson and Mayoress Karen Boult at a social function in Queenstown late last year. Image: LWB.

Since 2018 when Ian Jackson left Qantas there is no evidence of him taking up another position in Australia or New Zealand. It seems unusual for someone to have reached such a senior role in the international airline industry and then "retire" at a relatively early age. Mr Jackson was seen as a high flyer at Qantas, being frequently referenced as a natural leader in industry media coverage.

Mayor Jim Boult and his wife Karen are known to be good friends with both Mr Keel and Mr Jackson.

Crux will continue pushing for more news on the conduct and cost of the current airport expansion consultation process. For a public exercise, it has so far proved to be a disturbingly private affair.

Of course, the level of public trust in the social and economic impact study will dictate whether it is accepted by the community as valid. Things have not got off to a good start with attention increasingly focussing on Mayor Jim Boult and the question of whether he is influencing the way QLDC interacts with QAC.

Mike Theelen and Jim Boult. Too close for comfort?

Our newly elected councillors are understood to be increasingly concerned at the control being exercised by the Mayor, the CEO and the executive leadership team at QLDC as public information is increasingly being shut down for "privacy" and "commercial sensitivity" reasons. Crux understands that during the induction of the newly elected councillors, the broad guidance was "don't talk to the media." The actual words might have been more sophisticated - but that was the drift of it.

Main Image: Wanaka airport will need a high volume of jet traffic to justify the $400 million cost, according to Protect Wanaka. Image: Animation Research.



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