No-fly order grounds MPs days before election

WELLINGTON • New Zealand MPs faced a no-fly order yesterday, just days before a general election, in a bid to minimise fallout from a fuel shortage that has crippled the country's largest airport.

With Auckland Airport struggling to cope after a broken pipeline cut its jet fuel supplies by 70 per cent, Prime Minister Bill English said his government has swung into action. "We are taking the issue very seriously... we are working to minimise disruption," he told reporters.

A pipeline breach, apparently caused by an errant digger working on a rural property, has forced the cancellation of dozens of flights since Sunday, with knock- on effects across the country.

Mr English said military trucks and a naval tanker have been assigned to transport fuel around the country and help ensure supplies for motorists are maintained.

And in a major embarrassment for the government, he told his MPs to avoid flying ahead of Saturday's election to reduce stress on air transport services, with public servants getting similar orders.

Mr English denied the ban would prevent government MPs from campaigning effectively during the final days of the cliffhanger polls. "Most of our ministers and MPs are in their electorates. I have advised them not to do any unnecessary travel," he told reporters. "They should be in their electorates campaigning (anyway)."

Whether the fuel crisis will have an impact on New Zealand's election remains unclear.

Opinion polls put the ruling National and the opposition Labour neck-and-neck, but it has been a volatile campaign marked by sudden shifts in voter sentiment.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who yesterday revealed that her grandmother had died the previous night, gave her party a huge boost when she took over as leader last month.

 

But Mr English has clawed his way back by portraying his 37-year-old rival as inexperienced, and saying that only he could be trusted to run the country.

Ms Ardern has now questioned Mr English's competency, saying his government was warned about the risks surrounding the pipeline in 2012 but failed to act.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'No-fly order grounds MPs days before election'. Print Edition | Subscribe