Manukau mayor accepts Lee's apology for 'regrettable' remarks

Manukau Mayor Len Brown says he's accepted Melissa Lee's apology for disparaging comments she made about south Auckland.

The National MP told a Mt Albert by-election candidates meeting that a new motorway could stop criminals coming from south Auckland and committing crime in Mount Albert.

Prime Minister John Key today labelled the remarks as "stupid".

Mr Brown said he put the comments down to the heat of battle, and accepted Ms Lee meant the focus to be on criminals rather than south Auckland.

Ms Lee, a list MP and National's candidate in the June 13 Mt Albert by-election, made the comment at a candidates' meeting last night.

There was heated debate at the meeting on the New Zealand Transport Agency's $1.4 billion motorway proposal, announced by the Government on Tuesday, which will use a combination of above ground and underground sections to make up the 4.5km Auckland motorway extension between Waterview and Mt Roskill.

Ms Lee told the meeting people drove to the electorate from south Auckland, and that the new motorway extension could divert some of that traffic and criminals from Mt Albert.

Mr Key told reporters this morning it was "absolutely appropriate" that Ms Lee had apologised for her comments.

"It was a regrettable statement, probably one made in the heat of a by-election campaign," he said.

Asked if Lee's comments were racist, Mr Key said he did not think they were, but added that it had been a "stupid statement to make".

"The fact that she herself has apologised gives you a sense that she regrets that statement," he added.

Ms Lee this morning toned down her comments.

"I didn't say all of South Auckland was doing this. I said the criminals who travel from one city to the next," she said.

"If South Auckland people (find) my comments offensive, I apologise. It wasn't about them. It was about criminals.

"By nature, people are travelling from one town to another. If we actually have a motorway, those people who might possibly be driving through and committing crime in Mt Albert might be diverted off."

Ms Lee said police officers had voiced that view to her, saying motorways helped channel criminals away from suburbs.

But Auckland police are not rushing to back her comments.

Auckland central police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty told NZPA police would not comment on Ms Lee's comments publicly.

"Criminals travel just like anyone else in the country. Where they choose to get on and off (motorways) is their choice."

Meanwhile, Ms Lee was this morning adamant no taxpayer money was used to make a video made by her company for the National Party.

Ms Lee continued to work for her broadcasting company, Asia Vision Ltd, after announcing she would stand as a list candidate in last year's election.

Labour said the company received $1.2 million from New Zealand on Air last year, including money used in October for an election special.

Ms Lee said she had not presented or taken part in producing the programme, though Labour said staff members had said they felt pressured by her.

A promotional video, which was posted on YouTube, "wasn't made by my company, actually, it was made by a couple of individuals who actually volunteered their time".

"The equipment belongs to me, yes," she told Radio New Zealand.

"Look, the video was actually made by a couple of individuals, it was a fun thing to do, we uploaded it straight on to, I think it was YouTube or Facebook.

"There was no cost involved, people volunteered their time. There is no money involved."

Ms Lee labelled the issue "ridiculous".

But Labour leader Phil Goff said staff had a different view.

"Their view quite clearly was equipment and staffing paid for through NZ on Air was misused to produce the National Party election video."

NZ on Air chief executive Jane Wrightson said Ms Lee's candidacy was known to NZ on Air and the conflict of interest had been managed.

"We are looking into the allegations, but we haven't decided on whether to hold an audit," Ms Wrightson said.

Ms Lee had gone off screen and an independent producer had been brought in.

"She had no editorial control."

Mr Key told reporters this morning he had addressed the issue of the video with Ms Lee yesterday and she had assured him no taxpayer funds had been used in its creation.

"I accept that," Mr Key said.

- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF

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