National MPs campaigning for votes with Kiwis in Australia on parliamentary-funded travel

Three National MPs have travelled to Australia.
Three National MPs have travelled to Australia. Photo credit: Newshub.

A trio of National Party MPs have used parliamentary-funded travel for a trip to Australia for infrastructure and housing meetings - but also to campaign for a change in Government.

It's raised concerns with Labour campaign chair Megan Woods, who said it would be inappropriate to use parliamentary travel to do party campaigning. 

Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown and Simon Watts flew to Sydney on Sunday to meet New South Wales ministers and companies involved in infrastructure to "talk about innovative funding approaches to get infrastructure built sooner, faster and more efficiently".

However, while there, the MPs have also been campaigning for National. 

A statement from Bishop, the party's infrastructure spokesperson, last Friday said the threesome would meet with Kiwis in Sydney "interested in changing the Government" for drinks.

"Next year, National will be encouraging overseas-based Kiwis who are fed up with New Zealand's direction under Labour to cast their party votes for National for a better future."

Bishop also posted to Instagram last week calling on New Zealanders across the ditch to "come and hear about the campaign to win government". 

A National spokesperson confirmed to Newshub on Wednesday that the MPs travelled "on Parliamentary Service approved travel for infrastructure and housing meetings".

"During a free evening on Monday they were hosted by local National Party members for an event for members and supporters. All costs of the event were covered by the National Party."

MPs are entitled parliamentary-funded travel if "the travel is for parliamentary purpose" and the MP gets approval from the Speaker and their party's leader or whip. They must show details of the parliamentary purpose and details of any personal purpose for their travel.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB on Wednesday morning about his colleagues' trip, National MP Mark Mitchell said there previously hasn't "been high levels of engagement offshore off with Kiwis living overseas" and "we're trying to change that from a party perspective".

He said it followed a massive response to a petition launched by Bishop last year to end the managed isolation and quarantine system which was causing difficulty for Kiwis wanting to return home to New Zealand.

Asked if it was a waste of money, given a report that National MPs may also head to other cities abroad as well, Mitchell said: "It is not just solely for that purpose."

"There is going to be other parliamentary roles and meetings and things going on. But we have decided that when we are in these places that we would make an effort to reach out to our Kiwis over there and try and engage them in the political process."

Also appearing on Newstalk ZB, Labour's Woods said she hoped Mitchell wasn't saying National would use parliamentary-funded travel to do party campaigning.

"It sounded very close to the line," she said.

Mitchell jumped back in, saying Woods was being "misleading".

"As ministers, you guys travel all over the world. In fact, you just recently did that. I am sure that if you had the opportunity to engage and speak with Kiwis overseas, you are going to do that," he said.

Woods said she wouldn't be campaigning for Labour.

"It would be a misuse of taxpayer funding for me to be working on the Labour Party campaign while I was doing that. That certainly wouldn't be something I'd be doing because that would be wrong."

On Monday, the Sydney Morning Herald published an interview with Bishop in which he said overseas voters normally favoured left-leaning parties, but National's "goal for 2023 is to change that". 

"Labour turned the country into Fortress NZ and the Prime Minister's rhetoric about the 'team of 5 million' didn't extend to the 1 million Kiwis living offshore, and she has never apologised for the anguish and the misery," he's reported as saying.