"Helpful" if Shane Jones had left funding meeting, but no harm done, says PM
By Pattrick Smellie
March 11 (BusinessDesk) - It would have been "helpful" if the minister responsible for the Provincial Growth Fund, Shane Jones, had not been in the room when a decision was made to fund a Far North District Council Maori tourism initiative with a $4.6 million PGF loan, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
But while Jones had not managed "perceptions" of a conflict of interest well in a final meeting on the proposal, Ardern insisted that he had taken all appropriate steps to inform the Cabinet Office and to ensure that another minister - in this case, Finance Minister Grant Robertson - had decision-making authority rather than himself.
"It would have helped for him not to be in the room" at the time other Cabinet colleagues on the PGF funding decision sub-committee made a call on the Manea Footprints of Kupe project, Ardern said under questioning at her post-Cabinet press conference. She had spoken to Jones about the "perception issue" created by his providing advice on the project to Cabinet colleagues at the decision-making meeting.
Jones declared a conflict of interest when the PGF received a funding application in November 2017, ensuring that any PGF funding decisions be made by other ministers. He had lobbied for the project in 2014 as a Labour MP and knew a prime mover in the project who had since died.
Jones was also reportedly being promoted as a possible chairman for the entity that would run the new enterprise, although Jones claimed that was just a hope, not a prospect.
"After all, everyone wants Sonny Bill in their team," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report. "That doesn't mean I was the chairman or director. It means I was at a random meeting five years ago."
Jones claimed to RNZ that Stuff business journalist Hamish Rutherford was only aware of the potential for a conflict because he had accepted Jones's hospitality and stayed at his home in Northland while reporting issues in the Far North.