Tauranga MP Simon Bridges has come under fire for travel expenses he racked up in Northland in the lead-up to the by-election there in March.
Mr Bridges' domestic travel and accommodation expenses were the fifth highest of all the ministers during the first three months of the year at $26,203. Of that, $6519 went on flights and Crown limos in Northland.
The only ministers to rack up larger bills were Prime Minister John Key, Jonathan Coleman, Te Ururoa Flavell and Nick Smith.
Tauranga-based New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell said his expenses were down for the last quarter because he spent March in Northland campaigning but paid for it out of his own pocket.
His domestic travel and accommodation expenses dropped from almost $19,000 between October and December last year to $6750 between January and March.
Mr Mitchell said Mr Bridges' use of taxpayer money to fund his time in Northland was "questionable". "That's an unfair representation. It's cheeky really. It's very questionable ... We [New Zealand First] fully funded our own campaign. It's no different [from] the general election."
Another factor that had contributed to the drop in Mr Mitchell's expenses was he had found a small flat in Wellington to rent that was cheaper than where he had been staying since he was elected late last year. He said taxpayer money should be spent with the same care anyone would spend on his own income. "That's the way I run it, like it's my own business. You try not to make unnecessary trips."
Mr Bridges said his ministerial role took him all over New Zealand. "My main portfolios - Transport and Energy - have a strong regional focus and I endeavour to visit different regions on a regular basis. In the first quarter of this year, the regions I visited included Auckland, Northland, Waikato, Canterbury (including Christchurch and Timaru), Taranaki, Nelson, and today I am in Southland. My wife and children have not accompanied me on these trips," he said.
Speaking about his Northland trips, Mr Bridges said: "Clearly ... some of what I did was party political but I also did a significant amount of Crown business and I think that was important work.
"I think ultimately ministers of the Crown have to operate like ministers of the Crown and that involves significant travel throughout New Zealand and that's the case whether it's a by-election or not."
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller's spending also dropped from $14,437 to $13,158 between the two quarters since he was elected to Parliament. He said travel was a large part of the job but about 90 per cent of his travel was between Tauranga and Wellington.
He had also travelled to Christchurch twice and Northland.