National leader Judith Collins has ripped into Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March over his recent travel to Mexico, saying MPs must "set a better example" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Menéndez March was born in Mexico and recently travelled there for a "serious personal family matter", a Green Party spokesperson told Newshub on Wednesday.
The Green MP, who was elected to Parliament from the party's list in October, arrived back in New Zealand on February 1, meaning he is near the end of his mandatory two-week stay in a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility.
Menéndez March's decision to leave New Zealand goes against the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), which encourages Kiwis to not travel overseas at all, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent forecast by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - the Government department that runs the MIQ facilities - showed spaces are "extremely limited" until March.
"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," Collins told reporters on Wednesday.
"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."
Collins said she understands Menéndez March applied to MBIE for an emergency allocation that would allow him to enter MIQ sooner but the request was denied.
"Something needs to be answered here."
Greens co-leader James Shaw said the chief executive of MBIE, Carolyn Tremain, phoned him in mid-January to inquire about Menéndez March's MIQ application. Travellers to New Zealand must secure a spot in MIQ before they can book a flight.
"I had a conversation with the chief executive of MBIE in mid-January when he was exploring how to do the return trip, and basically said under no circumstances should he receive any treatment differently to anybody else," Shaw said.
"He was exploring all of the possible avenues for coming back, like anybody else, and ultimately the chief executive of MBIE has sign-off on some of those options."
Shaw did not expand on the circumstances that led to Menéndez March's travel.
"It's his family issue and so I don't feel it's my place to disclose what's going on inside Ricardo's family. It's not really my business to do that... Obviously the summer recess was a better time to travel than any other," Shaw said.
"He had no special treatment. He just went through exactly the same process that anybody else doing the same thing would do.
"I think everybody has to make that choice based on their own set of circumstances. Ultimately, I have to take him at his word - if he says there is a very serious family situation which he has described to us, I take him at his word."
The Green Party's internal process is that if an MP wants leave they must go to one of the two co-leaders - Shaw and Marama Davidson - and chief whip Jan Logie. Shaw said Menéndez March spoke to Davidson and Logie last year and they approved his leave.
"It was a serious family matter," Davidson told reporters. "He had to make that decision, a tough decision, but it was a serious family matter."
Davidson said Menéndez March left on December 13 and arrived back in New Zealand on February 1.
ACT leader David Seymour stopped short of criticising Menéndez March.
"I'm not aware of his family's circumstances," he said. "As I understand it he's had some sort of grievance. I've had a lot of constituents who are in similar situations. I wouldn't judge a person who may have had a family event. I think we should have an open mind about that."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there is a high bar set 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.
Collins also took a jab at Menéndez March because he's allowed to wear a Mexican bolo tie in Parliament while Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was punished by the Speaker for wearing a hei-tiki taonga and no tie.
"He has allowed a Green Party MP [to wear something that] to me doesn't look anything like a tie and yet that's acceptable. I would say the Speaker is now between a rock and a hard place," Collins said.
Waititi also highlighted the unfairness of the Green MP being allowed to wear a Mexican bolo tie while he wasn't allowed to wear a hei-tiki taonga.
Ardern supports MPs not having to wear neckties.
"I have absolutely no objection to that whatsoever. We've always been in favour of modernising the way that we work here in Parliament," she said.
"But I've also said that I'm pretty sure most New Zealanders don't think this is the most important thing for public debate, so we should resolve it ourselves."