With an Air Force plane on standby to take the Prime Minister to Nauru tomorrow, why not drop by Bali and pick up critically ill Kiwi mum Abby Hartley, Finance Minister Grant Robertson was asked on TVNZ1's Breakfast today.
Pointing out that an 8200km round trip to Nauru for the Pacific Forum is estimated to cost $80,000 in extra fuel costs, host Jack Tame also asked the Minister why Jacinda Ardern didn't opt instead for a commercial flight when she realised it wouldn't be feasible to travel there earlier with the rest of New Zealand’s delegation.
"It's not actually any additional cost to the taxpayer," Mr Roberston responded. "This is an aircraft and a crew who would be working anyway. We allocate a certain amount of money to them each year, so it's either this flight or another flight.
"And the Prime Minister, as everybody knows, has a young baby. Neve's not in a position to go with her — she hasn't had her vaccinations. This is a way of making it work."
But with that reasoning — that a plane is on standby anyway, ready to be put to work at no additional cost — it seems like "a match made in heaven, in some respects" to use it for Ms Hartley, Tame suggested.
Mrs Hartley has been in a coma after she fell ill during her second honeymoon on the Indonesian island last month. A twisted bowel saw her suffer several infections, a collapsed lung and kidney failure. While she had travel insurance, the company is refusing to cover the meedvac because she had pre-existing conditions.
Mr Robertson said today that he has great sympathy for her and her family, and he is grateful that private citizens have stepped up to fund her flight home. But it's a "quite different situation" to the Prime Minister's flight, he said.
"There's a longstanding policy around whether or not the Government pays for people who are in certain medical situations in countries, and that’s been a policy of many, many governments," he said. "I don’t think this is an apples and apples situation.
"The Prime Minister is out there doing her job representing us at a really important event. Our relationships with the Pacific are critical. New Zealand is a big player in this region, and I think if New Zealand didn’t go to a big event like the Pacific Island Forum, she’d probably be criticised for that rather than the cost of actually getting there."