Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March admits he was "rightfully declined" an emergency spot in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) and says he was prepared to be stuck in Mexico for months.
Menéndez March is currently finishing off two weeks in MIQ after spending seven weeks in Mexico to be with his father who recently underwent major surgery and his step mum who has been battling breast cancer.
Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson say Menéndez March sought approval to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic and followed the correct procedure - but questions have been raised about why he sought an emergency spot in MIQ.
Spaces in MIQ are currently "extremely limited" due to high demand, according to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which oversees MIQ operations. The MIQ website shows spaces booked through until May.
Menéndez March told RNZ's Morning Report on Thursday he was "rightfully declined" an emergency spot in MIQ. He tried his luck by submitting an application, despite Kiwis across the globe desperately trying to get home.
"The emergency voucher is one that many New Zealanders apply and one that I was rightfully declined as most people who apply are. I was exploring the avenues that were possible and ended up using the MIQ website like everybody else does," Menéndez March said.
"I think it's reasonable that people have an opportunity to apply and I think I was very grateful that I was given no special treatment and that my application was simply sought on the merits of it."
Menéndez March went on to admit that he did not have a space in MIQ booked before he travelled to Mexico, meaning he could have been stuck there for months, missing out on a large chunk of the parliamentary year as a new MP.
"The MIQ spot was secured a few days beforehand. It took several hours of collective refreshing... and this is something that many people go through," he said. "MIQ spaces open up on a regular basis based on cancellations."
Menéndez March would "not get into hypotheticals" and confirm if he would have resigned as an MP if he was stuck in Mexico for months.
"If it had been the case that I was required to stay with family and I was not able to come back, I would have very much been prepared for that possibility, because the difficult decision for me was being able to spend this critical time with my family to ensure that I would not regret spending what could have potentially been the last days of my step mum."
National leader Judith Collins said on Wednesday she would not allow her MPs to travel during a pandemic and that Menéndez March should have known better.
"We know as MPs we deal with people who are undergoing tremendous amounts of hardship either because of family circumstances or even actually their employment situation, and they can't get places in MIQ," she said.
"They understand there are no special rules, and we've had people who are stuck in other countries and can't get back here... I think MPs have to set a better example."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she sets a high bar for Labour MPs to travel overseas given the risks associated with COVID-19.
"It is fair to say we would hold a very, very high bar for anyone in our team leaving New Zealand right now," she told reporters. "We haven't had a situation or circumstance that has justified that at this stage."
The Government introduced a payment scheme for MIQ last year, meaning those who leave New Zealand after the regulations came into force on August 11, and return at a later date, must pay a fee of $3100.
Menéndez March paid for his travel and MIQ stay.