Controversial Cabinet Minister Shane Jones told a forestry awards ceremony they needed to vote for him or miss out on the billions he's handing out for provincial growth, it has been alleged.
One person present labelled Jones' comments as an inducement to "bribery" and another thought the minister - responsible for forestry and the $3 billion provincial growth fund - was "buying votes".
But Jones says New Zealand can expect him to remind it over the next 12 months that votes for New Zealand First are needed to ensure it continues to fulfil promises in its coalition agreement with Labour.
"When you get a retail politician like myself - a son of the north - you've never going to take the politics out of the politicians."
At least one formal complaint has already been made with the Northland Wood Council, which organised the Northland Forestry Awards ceremony in Whangarei this month. A feedback survey circulating with sponsors is expected to see further complaints made.
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The Herald has spoken to a number of people who were close to the podium from which Jones was speaking.
One said: "It's about foresters and loggers and he hijacked it looking for votes."
He said Jones' pitch to the audience was: "You fullahs, I'm going to look after you. If you guys want to continue what you've been getting, you've got 12 months to get your vote in."
Another person who paid close attention to Jones' speech said he was angry and shocked at the political approach.
"Some of the things he said I didn't particularly like. [It was] he had this big pot of gold so make sure you keep voting for me. There were direct comments along those lines."
He said the industry was wrestling with significant issues that needed the focus Jones appeared to place on getting elected again.
"I thought it was inappropriate to be so blatantly electioneering and buying votes." A third person who objected to Jones' comment said it detracted from the intent of the evening, which was to celebrate excellence in forestry.
"It should never have been a political rally, which is what he made it. He was saying 'if you don't vote for me, you won't get any share of the billion dollars'. He said you've only got a few months of me here, so you'd better vote.
"It's just bribery. I thought that was pretty disgusting."
Another person present said: "It wasn't a political forum. He didn't do himself any good. He just made a complete idiot of himself."
Those interviewed did not want to be named, citing the influence of Jones' Provincial Growth Fund and concerns speaking openly could have a personal and financial impact.
Some of those present were concerned over Jones' focus, after he took the liberty of speaking at times he was not scheduled to do so.
"He was certainly quite sparky and quite loose in some of his commentary," said one person.
Jones' first encounter with the crowd came after a welcome offered by the industry kaumatua. Jones is said to have ascended the stage to remonstrate with the industry for failing to respond in a culturally appropriate manner.
During a later visit to the stage, when presenting the highest award, Jones diverted to address the 550-strong crowd about its voting habits.
Asked about his focus, Jones said it was a "robust affair" without scheduled speaking time during which "wine and food was flowing freely". "I'm about 120kg. It takes a lot to knock me over."
He "didn't resile one minute" from the claims guests made about his comments to the crowd.
"I have worked my ring off to rehabilitate the fortunes of forestry. I said, so show some respect to my leader and myself. If you want this sort of policy… then get your act together. We've got 12 months then we're in the boxing ring again.
"If you want this sort of leadership, then you've got to back it."
He said he had pushed for local employment and skills development for forestry - "getting the [nephews] off the couch" - joint venture deals with the Crown and simplifying overseas investment rules.
He said those overseas companies - with one exception in Kaitaia - had not recognised or passed on thanks for the efforts.
Jones said he told the crowd they had asked him to get the support of NZ First leader Winston Peters, which he had done.
"This is reciprocity. If you want it, back it. You can expect to hear me say that every week from now on. Does it violate constitutional principles? I don't think so."
He said the focus on the forestry industry had been of benefit to consultants working in the industry.
"You can't stand up with your hand out to be paid the consultancy shilling by the Crown and not be prepared to be reminded how this policy originated."
Jones said he had told the forestry sector he would bring money and support - for example, standing with it against the farming industry.
"I'm the champion of forestry."
He said he wasn't personally and singly in charge of payments made out of the Provincial Growth Fund; an "entire administrative system" was responsible for making sure payments were appropriate.
Jones also confirmed he remonstrated forestry leaders from the stage over protocol, following an opening welcome by a kaumatua. He said his message was: "You guys make a fortune off the trees that grow on Maori land. Show some respect to the Maori land owners."
Jones said he planned to stand for election next year in a seat north of Auckland, although had yet to decide exactly where. Last election he unsuccessfully stood in Whangarei.
National MP Chris Bishop, the party's spokesman on issues relating to the provincial fund, was taken aback at the account of Jones' comments and the politician's position.
"New Zealand First seems to think it's purpose of being in government is to extract money from the Cabinet, which it then showers around to try and bribe voters."
Victoria University political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said Jones' approach was strikingly more direct about the relationship between interest groups and politicians.
"Shane Jones is putting things more bluntly than what other politicians might say in a more sophisticated way.
"It does make it sound as if he's using the Provincial Growth Fund as a way of distributing the spoils of victory to those who continue to provide the politicians with power."
The upset from the forestry awards follows anger from the military veterans' community after comments by Defence Minister Ron Mark, for which he was reprimanded by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Mark was captured in a video telling the No Duff charity: "If all the Defence Force family threw us their party vote we'd probably be at 15 or 17 per cent. The reality is, I could be the bum in the next election. So it is important to me that I get as much done as I possibly can in the short space of time that's available."