Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters took a sideswipe at Christchurch Press journalist Colin Espiner at the opening of a local office by French defence, aerospace and security company Thales this month.
The arrival of Thales has raised hopes for research and development deals in New Zealand and even for the company to manufacture here for export.
The company launched its office in Wellington with a staff of three under general manager Stephanie Guigou. She says proposals for joint projects have already been made by local industry. Some of the early work is likely to be in upgrading equipment that Thales (formerly Thompson CSF) already has installed in New Zealand, such as that on the Navy’s frigates.
Guigou says she sees no reason why local research should not progress to local manufacture. “There is a knowledgeable workforce here,” she says.
Customers at an official launch function, however, expressed doubts, expecting the company would follow the industry trend of doing the knowledge work in countries like New Zealand and the manufacture in Asian nations where labour is more economically priced.
About 50% of the Thales’ business is in defence electronics, with 25% in aviation and 25% in more broadly focussed security applications, says vice-president Michel Georgin.
Perhaps eventually, Thales-developed equipment could be exported from New Zealand, he says.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters gave an address at the launch that managed to include a reference to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and a strike at a personal bete noir, journalist Colin Espiner.
Peters expressed confidence in a more substantial and genuinely co-operative relationship between Thales and New Zealand industry than the allegedly inflated expectations promoted by US-based Lockheed Martin in a planned US air-traffic control joint venture with the Airways Corporation in early 2001.
Peters accused Espiner of playing a role in unrealistically raising hopes at that time and of failing to acknowledge a free trip to the US financed by the bidders.
Espiner acknowledges he took a flight to the US, paid for by the Airways Corporation, but this was approved by the then editor of The Press and strict editorial independence was observed, he says. Airways’ contribution was acknowledged in a footnote to the story.
Asked about Peters’ impression that the story was unduly positive, Espiner says “I called it as I saw it.”
The deal, for air-traffic control services in US airspace, looked like a very good opportunity for a government-owned NZ corporation, he says.
In the event, Airways, even with Lockheed Martin as a partner, did not win the contract.
Thompson CSF renamed itself Thales (pronounced Tar-lays) in 2000, after Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher of the sixth century BC, credited with inventing the scientific method.
• Computerworld is published by Fairfax, which also publishes the Christchurch Press.