‘Rotten politics’ accusations over provincial fund

A New Zealand First MP has been accused of threatening to withhold government funding from a regional project unless the Opposition agreed not to ask questions about it in Parliament.

National's Rodney MP Mark Mitchell has accused Government ministers of using the billion-dollar Provincial Growth Fund for political gain - but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says he may have misunderstood the point after a conversation with a New Zealand First list MP "got out of hand".

Mitchell said he had been approached by New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft, who told him she had been sent to tell him the Government would not back the Mahurangi River Restoration Project unless he stopped his advocacy for it.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.”

Mitchell said Marcroft had also told him the Government did not want Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones to be asked questions about it in Parliament by his shadow counterpart, National’s Paul Goldsmith.

“Finally, she implied my work as an opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.”

Mitchell said he immediately told Marcroft her behaviour was unacceptable, and asked her to name the minister who had told her to approach him - a request she refused.

In a media release, he attached screenshots showing that Marcroft had asked him to forget their conversation.

A text from New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft to National's Mark Mitchell. Photo: Supplied.

“This is rotten politics. It goes to the core of our democratic processes and the National Party will not let such behaviour stand.

“This billion-dollar Provincial Growth Fund is taxpayer money and should be used to benefit New Zealanders, not buy an easy ride for the Government nor to try and convince local MPs to stop supporting local projects, because they have annoyed the Government.”

The incident bears a resemblance to Associate Housing Minister Alfred Ngaro’s threats last year to withdraw government support for a charter school if its backer, Labour MP Willie Jackson, were to “bag us” on the campaign trail.

Asked about the issue at her weekly press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was unaware of what had happened, but said applications went through “a very rigorous process”.

There was no requirement that applicants were “silent on opposition to the Government”, and funding had already been given to some projects backed by former National MPs, Ardern said.

In a statement, Peters said Marcroft had apologised to Mitchell following a conversation about the application process for the Provincial Growth Fund.

“Ms Marcroft apologised to Mr Mitchell for the misunderstanding in their conversation. After the conversation had got out of hand she consulted with me late on Saturday afternoon and was advised by me to issue an apology.”

Peters said Marcroft had not been given any instructions by New Zealand First ministers regarding funding, and Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point.

“New Zealand First does not seek to constrain opposition MPs from criticism of the Government,” he said.

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