Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis is facing backlash from Opposition MPs accusing him of skipping an appearance before the COVID-19 Epidemic Response Committee for a Facebook Live.
Davis will appear in a Facebook Live with Finance Minister Grant Robertson at 1pm on Wednesday, and while Davis has not confirmed that's why he missed his appearance, Opposition MPs have made the connection.
"So, just to be really clear, the Minister of Tourism is not appearing before the Epidemic Response Committee so he can do a Facebook Live?" ACT leader David Seymour asked committee chair Simon Bridges in the opening remarks.
"That's right," the National leader replied.
Seymour said it was "very unusual" for Davis not to appear before the committee when every other minister had, except for the Finance Minister who pulled out last week the day before Budget 2020 was unveiled.
"He, I suppose, had a somewhat better excuse with the Budget," Bridges said of the Finance Minister. "Minister Davis has a Facebook Live with Grant Robertson... I don't think that's a good enough reason."
Bridges said the committee was set up to keep the executive accountable on all matters related to COVID-19 and the Government's response, particularly after a $50 billion fund was announced last week to help New Zealand's economic recovery.
"We were going to hear from minister Kelvin Davis, we invited him to come, he's not coming before the committee, and I for one am very disappointed about that."
Newshub has requested a statement from Davis' office to clarify the reason for his absence.
Leader of the House and Labour MP Chris Hipkins said in a statement to Newshub that the COVID-19 committee was set up to scrutinise the Government during lockdown when Parliament was not sitting.
With the lockdown now "effectively ended", he said all MPs are able to return and the House is "functioning largely as it usually does" with all regular select committees now able to "resume full scrutiny of the Government" in their subject areas.
"All Ministers will be available to appear before select committees as part of the regular Estimates Review process. Question Time has resumed. General debates are now being held. Things are more or less back to normal and the usual channels of scrutiny can resume."
Bridges and Seymour were similarly outraged on Tuesday after two senior Treasury officials pulled out of appearing before the committee at the last minute.
The Opposition leader said he was advised just before 9am on Tuesday morning that Treasury Secretary Dr Caralee McLiesh was unwell and that Acting Deputy Secretary Bryan Chapple was on leave.
Dr McLiesh appeared before the committee at 12pm and apologised to the MPs for not showing up on Tuesday, reiterating that she had been unwell.
Labour MP Michael Wood cautioned against criticism of Davis and Treasury officials, telling committee members: "I can't speak for the minister on this occasion, but I'd just caution everyone from imputing motives to anyone.
"We had statements yesterday that the Treasury was refusing to appear for the committee and what's transpired in fact was that they couldn't and rearranged it for a day later. I accept people's right to make their comments but I just wouldn't impute motives to people."
Seymour shot back, saying Treasury has more than 500 employees, and that pulling out after up to four days' notice from the committee, meant he could "call that refusal".
Wood said, "They're here today David, so I don't think you can call it a refusal."
Bridges said he thought the only reason Treasury rescheduled to appear before the committee is because "they've been embarrassed into appearing".
"They thought they could get away with it but in fact, the media has held them accountable and we appreciate that and so they are now coming back today... better late than never I suppose."
Davis has been criticised for not being responsive enough as Tourism Minister during the COVID-19 crisis. National's tourism spokesperson Todd McClay described him on Wednesday as a "part-time minister".
"Kelvin Davis has cancelled his appearance to the Epidemic Response Committee today where he was expected to answer questions on the Government's plan for the tourism sector following a lacklustre Budget announcement last week.
"This is disappointing for the tourism operators from across the country who are taking the time to appear and who have a lot sacrificed enormously to help the Government's COVID-19 response."
Davis even seems to be on thin-ice within his own ranks. He appeared to frustrate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a visit to Rotorua on Tuesday when he kept her waiting.
The tourism industry was given a $400 million fund in Budget 2020.