An announcement for more money for marae across the country is the last hurrah for the Provincial Growth Fund, but National is crying foul over a pledge this large taking place after advance voting has already started

A Provincial Growth Fund announcement on a large amount of marae funding has been termed “outrageous” by National, which has accused Shane Jones of using the fund as a campaign tool. 

Finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith accused Jones of “holding back” Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) announcements so they could be rolled out for maximum effect on the campaign trail.

“To be sort of choreographing the announcements in an overtly political way just before the election sends a very clear message of what it’s [the PGF] all about.”

Newstalk ZB reported a major PGF announcement would be made on Friday in Kaikohe (one of the townships that make up the Northland electorate Jones is contesting) to allocate over $100 million to marae around the country. It will be one of the largest allocations made from the fund.

If the opinion polls prove correct it will also be the last. Both Labour and National have pledged to scrap the PGF while NZ First’s future is in doubt after a series of poor polling results.

Minister Shane Jones is standing by the announcement being made so close to the election date and believes it violates no convention informal or otherwise. He asserted it largely affected voters who were on the Māori electoral roll and wouldn’t be able to vote for him. 

“I think all fair-minded Kiwis realise that in a host of the rural areas often it’s only a marae that is present that functions as a hub. We’ve tried to bring them into a more modern form of relevance through digital connectivity so that educations services can be offered there and they can fulfil valuable community infrastructure purposes.

“The entirety of the process has taken place within a cabinet-sanctioned envelope. The maraes are all over New Zealand. It’s been an exhaustive process.”

While a caretaker convention exists in the cabinet manual, it largely only comes into force after an election within the interim period between the previous government being disestablished and a new one being formed. 

Goldsmith says this latest announcement goes beyond normal conventions. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The convention requires the outgoing government to defer major decisions or only make them in consultation with other political parties.

“I remain a minister until I am enrobed for a second go or disrobed through democracy,” Jones said.

Goldsmith said parties could roll out funding promises close to election day, but here Jones would be turning up to a must-win electorate (Northland) and announcing funding that had already been allocated.

“It seems to us to be sort of beyond all of normal political conventions to be announcing big spending literally eight days before the election.

“It’s not something you would expect or is appropriate.”

Not only would the announcement be made a few days before election day, but it would come after advance voting had already started. 

“You can debate the merits of $100m going to marae …. but to be doing that, I think, with public funds just emphasises the whole ‘slush fund’ narrative that I don’t think has been helpful to the country and certainly hasn’t been well-received amongst the general public to be honest and that’s why New Zealand First is struggling.”

Jones said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was opening a PGF project in Northland on the same day (the Hundertwasser community hub) and questioned why Goldsmith had singled out his announcement above hers.

Other announcements from the PGF had been rolled out over the past few weeks and attracted little attention.

“All I’m saying is that in Northland there are actually two important announcements. One’s in Kawakawa from the Provincial Growth Fund and the second is in the poorest part of Northland – Kaikohe – where you’ve got the highest problems with gangsterism and all sorts of other social ills.

“And if they want to receive me and have a day of celebration then the North, I think, will see that it’s a very positive and uplifting event.”

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