22 Jan 2020

Shane Jones on funding conflict of interest, forestry meeting

9:00 am on 22 January 2020

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is hitting back at fresh criticisms of a conflict of interest saying he can meet with whomever he likes at Parliament's restaurant, Bellamy's, and he's not going to stop doing that.

Auckland Port's days are numbered - Shane Jones

Shane Jones Photo: RNZ / YouTube

When NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) applied for Provincial Growth funding - a $3 billion pool Jones oversees - the company was asked whether the $15 million project had been "previously discussed" with the government.

Brian Henry - close friend and lawyer to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters - and his son David Henry, are involved in the company.

It was David who in April last year ticked the 'yes' box saying a presentation had been made to Jones during a 15-minute meeting in Wellington.

The application form said the presentation was about its forestry and wood processing plans "including descriptions of the applicant".

Jones told RNZ he met with David on at least two occasions, possibly over dinner, but denies any prior knowledge of the application.

"Was I ever in a position to influence the outcome of this particular application? No.

"Was any public money received by them? No."

Brian Henry and Winston Peters entering the High Court in Auckland

Brian Henry and Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

David had previously said he and the minister had a conversation about forestry.

"We had a discussion with Shane. I think it was about a 15-minute chat. Whether you want to call it a briefing or a presentation - it was a short discussion generally about the New Zealand wood supply chain and what we personally believed," he said.

While the application form states details of the company were discussed, David told RNZ on Monday the bid for public funding didn't come up with Jones.

"It wasn't a discussion about NZFFP,'' he said.

He couldn't recall when the meeting was, where it was, who else was at the meeting or who set the meeting up. He also could not recall whether this was the first meeting he'd had with Jones or whether he mentioned the name of the NZFFP company.

Jones defended any conversations the pair may have had.

"Just a discussion about forestry and Northland and Gisborne and Christ knows wherever else, is a general palaver and shooting the breeze," he said.

He said he had met Brian on multiple occasions sometimes over dinner inside and outside the Beehive, but never to discuss the PGF application.

"I can meet with anyone in Bellamy's, but I encourage people to come and meet me and then I send them to the bureaucracy, I'm not going to stop doing that," he said.

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett told Morning Report the minister's answers to Parliamentary questions needed more scrutiny.

"It's not so much if he's meeting, it's about him being open about it.

"He answered questioned in Parliament that now we would ... say were not factual, where he's categorically said he that hasn't met and now we hear that he has.

"It's around a conflict of interest, we all have them - New Zealand is a small country, so in that aspect there are rules around how they are disclosed and he has not done that appropriately.

"From what I have seen it looks like he has misled Parliament, it's leading to more questions with fewer answers coming from the minister."

Bennett said a perceived conflict of interest was as important as an actual conflict for ministers, who had an extra responsibility to be open and transparent.

Jones had declared a conflict of interest in October last year and stepped aside from the decision on NZFFP's application for a Provincial Growth Fund loan. The bid for funding was ultimately unsuccessful, with the government declining the forestry company's application.

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