'There is a vindictiveness': Simon Bridges accused Ministry of Health of withholding contracts from critics

National MP Simon Bridges says Mike King is right to think he's not getting multimillion-dollar contracts to run mental health services because he's too outspoken.

King, a former comedian now best known for his work in mental health, this week criticised the Government for not funding his 'Gumboot Friday' initiative - he wanted $5 million but got nothing, calling it a "truly sad day". 

"It absolutely is personal, they want to get rid of me, they really do," he told The AM Show on Friday. "They don’t want a dumb, uppity comedian running in there with no School Certificate telling them how to do their job - but the irony is the person best qualified to find a bad joke is a comedian and the Ministry is a bad joke."

King last month returned his NZ Order of Merit medal, saying he no longer felt comfortable wearing it because of what he called a lack of progress in the mental health space, despite hundreds of millions in funding being allocated in 2019.

Appearing on The AM Show immediately after King, Bridges said he had a point.

"I disagree with Mike on 85,000 things right, but I hugely admire his courage and perseverance. It would be easy for him to walk away from all of this - the guy could do well and get gigs and everything else, so I admire him… 

"But there is a vindictiveness there in the Government. If you're the guy speaking out, you don't get the funds. I personally believe there is something in that, because you see it, You see it in all the other outlets. There's one or two notable exceptions, but they take the money and then they stay shtum."

Labour MP David Parker, appearing alongside Bridges, said the decision is left to Ministry of Health officials, who would have looked at King's application "pretty carefully" before making a decision. 

He dismissed Bridges' claims officials reject applications from organisations and individuals who criticise the ministry. 

"For that to be true, you'd have to effectively be saying that's the motivation of the officials that make those decisions within the Ministry of Health… I think that's a pretty rough accusation. I think just about everyone goes to work well-motivated to make a difference, just like Mike King does."

Ministry of Health spokesperson Robyn Shearer told Newshub in a statement Gumboot Friday's application "was unfortunately sent outside the planned procurement processes" so it couldn't be funded.

"Procurement rules are designed to make sure there is a transparent, fair and equitable process, and to make sure there can be robust evaluation of applications."

She encouraged King to put in another application early next year as " part of the formal [request for proposal] process for youth services". 

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584
Bridges and Parker.
Bridges and Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show