Parliament has seen a number of heated exchanges this week, with the National Party accusing Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones of having a conflict of interest over a $4.6 million funding boost for a Northland organisation.
Meanwhile, National was put under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office over the party's handling of political donations.
Mr Jones and National deputy leader Paula Bennett joined TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning to discuss the contentious week in politics.
Mr Jones explained, "I certainly didn't willingly mislead Parliament, but the reality is … I have long associations in Northland. The key interests, which I've really got to be conscious of, is the fact that I’m an unfettered advocate of provincial champions, so from time to time, I'm going to be bruised."
"There's been a few bruises and scratches – it’s called politics."
However, Ms Bennett said Mr Jones knew there was a conflict of interest so he should have known it would be "much safer to leave the room, leave those discussions."
"He knew he had a conflict of interest, otherwise, why declare it? And so he did know it is much safer to leave the room, leave those decisions. New Zealand's a small place, we all have connections and we all have family and so there's a reason that's all put in, particularly when you're a minister, and particularly when you're dishing out so much money, Shane. Come on, you're dishing out that dough," she said.
"We have a great reputation in this country for being above all of that stuff that happens overseas and some other countries, and we need to have the perception as well as our actual actions."
Mr Jones fired back, "You've got to be balanced, and we’re going to really vest on perception when the National Party then comes to terms with its old policy bootcamp because this year, we’re going to see a lot of bootcamp over the Serious Fraud Office."
He noted that he came from the school of thought where "you declared an interest, you didn’t necessarily leave the meeting", adding that a "little bit of common sense" was needed over the issue.
"Professionally, I came back from the background where you tended to follow the institute of directors – you declared an interest, you didn’t necessarily leave the meeting, and that perception of interest was declared," he said.
"The Cabinet manual probably requires people like me to have a more sharper approach, but that's not the background I came from … Just because I know people, or just because I've been a volunteer, never received money for anything, that I'm hardly in any meetings, so I think a little bit of common sense has to prevail."
Ms Bennett added, "The reality is, you can't sit in a meeting where they’re deciding $4.6 million to people that you've already said that you do know, and there not be a perception that they’re perhaps getting a favour they shouldn’t be getting. You remove yourself so the decision stands on its own merit."