August 16th, 2007
NZ PM 'appalled' at Air NZ's Iraq troop flights info
| Furious Government ministers are demanding answers from Air New Zealand after it admitted carrying Australian troops to and from the war in Iraq. |
The state-owned airline admitted yesterday that it had flown two charter flights, using Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft, to commercial airports in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates carrying Australian Defence Force personnel.
The two countries are staging posts for commercial flights ferrying troops into and out of Iraq. The flights were in May this year.
A third flight took place from Darwin to Hiroshima to return United States defence personnel to their base in Japan after a training exercise.
The airline says it has made $18 million from charter operations in the past year, including the troop flights.
Air New Zealand is a commercial company, of which the taxpayer is the major stakeholder, owning 78 per cent of the airline.
Its general manager of airline operations and planning, Glen Sowry, said the airline had made no secret of the troop flights, which had been "widely publicised within the company" and discussed in the international aviation marketplace.
He said government officials were advised before the charter operations were committed to and operated.
But Prime Minister Helen Clark, Defence Minister Phil Goff and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said they knew nothing of the charter flights until just before Question Time in Parliament yesterday.
It appears the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) was told of Air New Zealand's plans but did not think it necessary to alert the Government.
A spokesman for Clark said yesterday she was "appalled and furious" at the airline's actions.
Goff told Parliament that under the Companies Act, the Government could not direct the airline in its commercial decisions, but its actions were contrary to the views of the Government and probably Parliament.
He said he would tell the airline's board that the Government deplored the carrier's actions and found them "totally inappropriate".
The troop-carrying revelations, contained in an article to be published in Investigate magazine today, are deeply embarrassing for the Government, which has made political capital from its opposition to the Iraq war.
In the past week, Goff and other ministers have hammered National Party leader John Key for statements he made in 2003 as a junior backbencher in which he indicated support for the Coalition of the Willing and said New Zealand should lend its support if asked.
Deputy leader Bill English said the Iraq issue had blown up spectacularly in the Government's face. "This is a foreign policy embarrassment on a scale not seen in years."
Peters said his initial discussions with Mfat indicated it held preliminary talks with Air New Zealand about the possibility of carrying troops. The airline had contacted the ministry in January to ask whether carrying troops was against Government policy.
Ministry head Simon Murdoch told the company it depended on who the airline was transporting and for what purpose. He asked the airline to get in touch if it went ahead with its plans.
well, it's the first big scandal in the wind-up to our elections, and it involves the war in iraq. now, I consider myself against the iraq war, and even i cant see what everyone is bitching about with this