Cath O'Brien

Managing Principal
Auckland Office

Cath has 15 years’ experience shaping public policy and working in and around regulated industry. With a particularly strong understanding of the electricity, gas and aviation sectors, Cath is adept at getting to the heart of complex issues, finding solutions, and then framing them simply.

Cath is known to many in government for her partnership approach, her commitment, and her well-informed contributions. As a trusted advisor she has built strong relationships with leaders both in government agencies and in corporate New Zealand. She’s regularly sought out when organisations need to understand risks and take advantage of opportunities for growth and success.

Cath joined Martin Jenkins in 2021, after five years leading Air New Zealand’s Regulatory Affairs function. Most recently this meant navigating the airline safely through Covid-19, including dealing with international border closures, health restrictions, freight security, and quarantine-free travel zones.

Outside the Covid response, Cath worked on Air New Zealand’s behalf in policy areas such as the Civil Aviation Bill and aviation security settings. She advocated successfully on matters relating to New Zealand’s air services agreements, and for beneficial changes to Civil Aviation Rules.

Cath has also worked in the regulated electricity and gas sectors, spending 10 years at Vector Limited with a key focus on pricing and regulatory functions. Her contributions included ensuring Vector’s leadership had a meaningful understanding of their information disclosure obligations.

As well as being adept at detailed analysis, Cath writes compelling reports and submissions. She’s also a lively and engaging public speaker – recently she spoke to the graduate programme at MFAT Auckland on the partnership of diplomacy and industry, and to students on challenges facing women in leadership. She is also a regular presenter for the Executive Education Programme at Auckland University School of Business.

Examples of Cath’s work

  • Air NZ’s Covid-19 response – Cath worked closely with the airline, union leaders and government agencies throughout the developing Covid response. Much of this involved helping agencies to understand aviation issues and solve policy challenges.

  • Pacific focus – She represented Air New Zealand to Pacific governments on issues ranging from business operations and compliance, to air services agreements and market access.

  • Global focus – Cath represented Air New Zealand on a range of international issues both at home and overseas – this included working with MFAT to assess new markets in South America and broker discussions with agencies and airports.

  • Price-setting reviews, airport companies – She made a substantial contribution to Air New Zealand’s responses to price-setting reviews for airports under the Commerce Act. She led ongoing discussions with agencies on regulatory settings for airports that would achieve positive long-term outcomes for New Zealanders.

  • Civil Aviation Bill – Cath led Air New Zealand’s submissions on the draft Civil Aviation Bill, which proposes substantial changes to the Airports Authorities Act and Civil Aviation Act.

  • Review of price-setting processes – With Vector Ltd Cath led an internal review of the company’s processes for setting distribution prices, to assess whether Vector was meeting regulatory requirements. This project included developing a new best practice pricing cycle.

Cath’s qualifications

Cath has an MA in Art History (Hons) from Auckland University. She has also completed executive education on “Theory and Practice of Regulatory Frameworks” at the London School of Economics and Politics, and on “Reimagining Strategy” at Harvard Business School.