"To the winner goes the booty".
That's how Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones described how he ended up with a billion dollars to spend in the regions.
Jones was in front of a parliamentary committee this morning answering questions on expenditure in his portfolio in the coming financial year.
National MP Paul Goldsmith questioned how it was that 60 per cent of funding distributed so far through the Provincial Growth Fund had gone to Northland, where New Zealand First MP Mr Jones and his party leader Winston Peters are based, while the rest of New Zealand had received only 40 per cent.
"How do the people of New Zealand have confidence that this fund is not just a slush fund focused on political gain for a party that is well known to be focusing on Northland," Goldsmith asked Jones.
Jones said the fund came about as a result of the political process in creating the Coalition Government.
"There's rule No.1 in politics - to the winner goes the booty. The booty in this case is to all the surge regions, and the best organised surge region ... has proven to be the leadership of the North."
Surge regions are those identified as needing early investment. They include Northland, Bay of Plenty, East Coast, Hawkes Bay Manawatū/Whanganui and the West Coast.
It emerged during the hearing today that up to $61 million had so far gone to Northland while $42m was distributed to other regions, plus $7.5m to the Howard League for nationwide driver licensing.
Goldsmith said Northland had got more than asked for while the rest of the regions got only a fraction of the $240m asked for.
"How do you justify one region getting more than half of the total spending so far, and more than they asked for, and the rest of the regions of New Zealand making do with only a tiny fraction of what they asked for, and less than half ."
Jones credited the advocacy and preparedness of former National MPs Far North Mayor John Carter and Murray McCully for Northland's success.
"It just came to pass that first up, best dressed."
Although Jones said there was an "extensive programme" planned for the South Island and other surge areas, Provincial Growth Fund head Nigel Bickle told the committee that only 15 per cent of applications being progressed were from the South Island.
Asked why there were so few South Island projects being green-lighted, Jones said that the quality of applications from the South Island was not high enough.
"I would say to the South Islanders ... the fund needs to see applications and proposals of a higher quality than the dregs of John Key's cycleways down in the South Island that never got funded.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Goldsmith said there was a clear bias in the decision-making.
"It's the arrogance and shamelessness about the political nature of the fund that is of concern to us. We're talking about $3 billion being spent here, it's a lot of money and it requires good clear processes and there's a complete absence of them."
Jones told reporters it was "tawdry and amateurish" to suggest that because the focus had been on the North that other regions would suffer.
"The people of the South Island, they're anxious to for me to get down there. They're conscious that there is putea (funds) to meet their proposals, they've just got to groom them up in a fashion that passes muster with our officials.