Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refuses to say if she thinks Mike King's Gumboot Friday should be Government funded

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to defend the Government's progress on mental health as advocate Mike King pursues his push for more funding for vulnerable young people.

Last week, the Ministry of Health rejected funding pleas for Gumboot Friday - which was founded by King and provides free counselling for young people. The ministry said Gumboot Friday's funding application was outside the timeframe for procurement, meaning it could not be funded. 

But King, who last month returned his New Zealand Order of Merit medal in protest against the state of New Zealand's mental health services, said the "excuse" was a "red herring" and accused the ministry of having a personal grudge against him. 

Ardern agreed there was still an issue with the "overburdened" mental health system and said it would take time to fix.

"In those areas of primary mental health care, we have been building a system that didn't exist before," she told The AM Show on Monday.

"I'm not arguing we have a perfect system - we don't. I know that Mike gets the front-end of that and so one of the things we've been talking about, the ministry and Mike's team at Gumboot Friday is, is there a way they can support some of the work that he's been doing?"

Ardern agreed that sustainable options were needed, but asked by host Duncan Garner if she thinks Gumboot Friday should be Government funded - the Prime Minister would not say.

"I think we need to clear our waitlists," she responded. 

"Do you agree or do you not agree that they should be funded?" Garner repeated.

"I'm answering the question - I'm just disagreeing with you," Ardern said. 

"No you're not, Prime Minister," Garner interjected.

Ardern added if the mental health system was just funded through Gumboot Friday, it wouldn't necessarily solve the issues.

"So, it's a no?" Garner asked.

"No," Ardern replied. "It's a… there is a way through, I'm sure of it. I just want to spend a bit more time on this problem because it's nationwide.

"One-off initiatives won't necessarily solve the problem when we need to solve our problem… I want the Ministry of Health to keep talking to Gumboot Friday and they are… I'm not sure, necessarily, that that is the best long-term way to do it but we're still talking to them.

"It's not my job to make those decisions and nor would it be right for me to, because there's a number of people that go through those tender processes."  

King last week said he'd tried to engage with the health ministry for many years but has run into bureaucracy at every turn. 

The ministry came under fire last month after it was revealed just 0.2 percent of $235 million set aside for building mental health and addiction facilities, part of a $1.9 billion mental health package announced in 2019, had actually been spent. 

Health Minister Andrew Little subsequently ordered a review and claimed last week more had been spent than what was previously reported.