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Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross has used Parliament’s question time to grill Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on whether any government minister would be allowed to use official overseas travel to seek party donations.
It was the first primary question Ross has asked since his return to Parliament as an independent MP after his falling out with the National Party in October last year.
Ross asked how many overseas trips for official purposes Ardern or the Cabinet had approved for ministers since October 26, 2017, and how many had personal travel attached.
Ardern responded that 150 trips by ministers for official business were approved and taken, two of those with personal travel attached. A total of 38 trips were for personal travel, she said.
“Is it a policy of her Government for a minister to be granted approval to extend an overseas visit outside the formal itinerary if the purpose of doing so is to meet a foreign national to procure or attempt to procure a political party donation,” Ross then asked.
Ardern said she expected any personal travel to be within the guidance of the Cabinet Manual. “Beyond that, I won’t speak to hypotheticals,” she said.
Ross then asked what action she would take if it was found a minister had sought her approval to depart from a formal itinerary while on an overseas visit to meet a foreign national to procure a political party donation.
“Again, my expectation would be that I would approve all leave within the guidance of the Cabinet Manual, but I will not speculate on hypotheticals. I will deal with information that is provided directly to me.
It is not clear what Ross was referring to in his questioning and he said little afterwards.
But Ross is an expert in the area of political donations, having been heavily involved in fundraising for National for many years, and he has also emerged as a vocal critic of foreign donations.
In an interview with The New Zealand Herald last week, he backed former colleague and National MP Nick Smith’s recent comments about banning foreign donations.
Ross said donations from foreigners could easily be hidden by being funnelled through a New Zealand-based company or organisation.
“It’s a New Zealand company, but you have no way of knowing where the source of the funding has come from. The party only has to declare the donor. It files a return in line with the law if it declares the company.”
He said thousands, of dollars in donations were put through this way and complied with the law.
“New Zealand political parties should be funded by New Zealanders."