NZ Election 2020: Shane Jones fends off 'tawdry' outrage over $100m PGF boost for marae close to election

National's Paul Goldsmith (left) and ACT leader David Seymour (right) are outraged over Provincial Growth Fund funding - overseen by NZ First's Shane Jones as Regional Economic Development Minister - being given out so close to the election.
National's Paul Goldsmith (left) and ACT leader David Seymour (right) are outraged over Provincial Growth Fund funding - overseen by NZ First's Shane Jones as Regional Economic Development Minister - being given out so close to the election. Photo credit: Getty

NZ First MP Shane Jones is fending off "tawdry" outrage over a $100 million boost for marae from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) set to be announced less than two weeks from the election. 

Jones, who is Minister for Regional Economic Development and oversees the $3 billion PGF, is set to officially announce the funding later this week, which has been described by the Opposition as an election bribe. 

"Less than two weeks out from the election, NZ First and Labour are using a slush fund of taxpayers' money to try to buy votes," ACT leader David Seymour said on Wednesday. 

"Shane Jones is going to announce $100 million of spending, which will include funding for the electorate that he's standing in. While Mr Jones might think it will buy him votes, New Zealanders can see right through it."

Jones is campaigning to win Northland from Matt King, the National MP who currently holds it. A Colmar-Brunton poll in August showed King on 46 percent, Labour's Willow-Jean Prime on 31 percent and Jones on 15 percent. 

Jones told Newshub Seymour's "headline-hussy approach" is "not worthy of a response other than it's tawdry and it's negative".

He said the funding "signals the final major event of Provincial Growth Fund development strategy, and the fact that it's in the north I don't think should give rise to these tawdry accusations that it's being pursued for local political purposes".

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith described the $100 million of PGF money as an "outrageous use of taxpayer funds" so close to the election. 

"There is no reason why this funding couldn't have been announced weeks, or even months ago. Shane Jones must be very worried about the fate of his party. Announcing this amount of funding this close to an election could also breach Cabinet convention."

Jones disagreed, insisting the Cabinet rules have been followed. 

"Obviously the applicants have all been through a Cabinet-sanctioned process and the approvals have all been issued well within the Cabinet mandate."

Otago University Law Professor Andrew Geddis said it's a "wee bit complicated" because in the pre-election period, there is no general requirement that the Government park its business while the campaign is running. 

"There is a weak expectation expressed in the Cabinet Manual that some sorts of decisions get put on ice before the election, but these are things like appointments, etc. where a new Government might have wanted to take a different path," he said. 

"I would think spending like Jones is proposing falls outside even that weak expectation... If National gets elected, it is free to reverse the promises!"

He said the real issue is that the announcement "feels a bit like bribery with our own money" or 'pork barrelling'. 

"We don't really have constitutional rules against this... Instead, it's left to the political bullshit detector... People can see what is going on and decide if it's a good spend-up, or if it smacks of desperation and a last roll of the dice." 

In other words, it's more a question of political ethics than constitutional rules.

Labour MP for Napier Stuart Nash defended the funding when pressed on it during an interview with Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking. 

"Why shouldn't Māori and marae receive it?" Nash asked. 

Hosking responded: "Because we've got better things to do with our money and it doesn't create the jobs you said it would or turn out to be the jobs-machine promised."

Nash said his understanding is that it will create about 3000 jobs. 

"There are a number of marare that are incredibly important community facilities which are in a state of disrepair and I think this is a fantastic way to create jobs," he said. 

"I'm a provincial MP... Nine years under the previous Government, there was no investment in the regions. What this Provincial Growth Fund did was allow the Government to go around the regions and invest in facilities and programmes."

Labour recently revealed its plan to replace the PGF - a NZ First policy - with a $200 million fund, as part of its election manifesto.   

Existing PGF projects would be progressed over the next term if Labour governed alone - which would be possible on Newshub's latest poll - but unallocated PGF funding would be reconsidered. 

NZ First leader Winston Peters said Labour copied the idea, but with far less money promised, shows they were never for the regions. 

"When we launched the provincial growth fund in Gisborne, they insisted that their leader come down to launch it and they've been to every one of our launches all round this country," he said. 

"Here comes the real test of sincerity and generousness where the provinces are concerned. They're going to abandon them again."

NZ First was on 1.9 percent in Newshub's latest poll.