Jacinda Ardern condemns 'cynical politics' amid criticism of $50 billion COVID-19 'slush fund'

The Prime Minister is condemning "cynical politics" amid criticism of the Government's $50 billion COVID-19 relief package described by the Opposition as a "slush fund". 

Some of the fund has already been spent on COVID-19 relief, and a further $15 billion has been allocated in Budget 2020, and it leaves $20 billion to be spent in the months leading to the election.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges labelled it a "slush fund", while National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett described the remaining money as "$20 billion set aside for campaign bribes". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected the notion, telling reporters on Friday the fund will only be used to grow jobs, support skills and trade training, and help struggling sectors like tourism. 

"I have to say, I just see that as cynical politics," Ardern said. "To dismiss it in that way I think does a disservice to the people who need it. It is called a COVID response and recovery fund and that is explicitly what it is for."

The Prime Minister also defended a law passed earlier this week setting out the legal framework for alert level 2, which whipped up fear over police being given powers to enter private properties without a warrant. 

"These are specific to enforcing the restrictions that we have to manage the pandemic, so they are not going to be used outside of an environment where we are trying to look after people's health," Ardern said. 

"They have a two-year period but that is not the length of time we anticipate being at level 2 and they are only for those purposes - so very, very constrained."

Labour MP and Attorney-General David Parker has justified the legislation by pointing out that it will be less intrusive than the three laws the Government relied on throughout the lockdown period that enabled civil liberties to be intruded on. 

"Despite claims by some critics, the powers of the police will be narrower from midnight tonight than they have been for the past seven weeks," he said on Wednesday, after the law passed its final reading in Parliament. 

"Under this Act, police will only be able to enter private homes to break up gatherings that violate the rules on the numbers of people assembling, whereas under the previous powers they could do so for a number of reasons."

But with New Zealand no longer in a state of emergency, the Opposition thinks it's time for restrictions to end, especially now that case numbers are low. 

The law also spreads the responsibility to issue orders to Health Minister David Clark, instead of just Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, meaning a democratically elected MP gets to make the decisions. 

But National MP Gerry Brownlee argued it puts "too much power" in the hands of the Prime Minister, because it's unlikely the Health Minister will act on anything without her approval. 

With the election coming up in September, National isn't holding back on its criticism, with Bennett suggesting the Government is using its daily COVID-19 press conferences to whip up support from the public. 

"The daily broadcasts have gone from important health information to a party-political broadcast and ads on TV that feature ministers are no longer appropriate," she said on Friday.

Bennett, who is National's campaign chair, said with the country now at alert level 2, there should be "a level of respect for all political parties entering into the campaign period".