Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross has used Parliament's question time to grill Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on whether any Government minister would be allowed to use official overseas travel to seek party donations.

Watch video here

It was the first primary question Ross has asked since his return to Parliament as an independent MP following his falling out with the National Party in October last year.

Ross asked how many overseas trips for official purposes Ardern or Cabinet had approved for ministers since October 26, 2017, and how many had personal travel attached.

Advertisement

Ardern responded that 150 trips by ministers for official business were approved and taken, two of those with personal travel attached. A total of 38 trips were for personal travel, she said.

"Is it a policy of her Government for a minister to be granted approval to extend an overseas visit outside the formal itinerary if the purpose of doing so is to meet a foreign national to procure or attempt to procure a political party donation," Ross then asked.

Ardern said she expected any personal travel to be within the guidance of the Cabinet Manual. "Beyond that, I won't speak to hypotheticals," she said.

Ross then asked what action she would take if it was found a minister had sought her approval to depart from a formal itinerary while on an overseas visit to meet a foreign national to procure a political party donation.

"Again, my expectation would be that I would approve all leave within the guidance of the Cabinet Manual, but I will not speculate on hypotheticals. I will deal with information that is provided directly to me.

Ross is an expert in the area of political donations, having been heavily involved in fundraising for National for many years, and he has also emerged as a vocal critic of foreign donations.

In an interview with the Herald last week, he backed former colleague and National MP Nick Smith's recent comments about banning foreign donations.

Ross said donations from foreigners could easily be hidden by being funnelled through a New Zealand-based company or organisation.

Advertisement

"It's a New Zealand company, but you have no way of knowing where the source of the funding has come from. The party only has to declare the donor. It files a return in line with the law if it declares the company."

He said thousands, of dollars in donations were put through this way and complied with the law.

"New Zealand political parties should be funded by New Zealanders," he said.

Ross told media afterwards that he raised questions last week about overseas political party donations.

"I think it's important there's a framework in place that's very transparent. Our political donation framework and laws in New Zealand do have some holes in them. Nick Smith raised some holes earlier this year, and I think it's important that the House holds governments past and present to account for how their ministers act overseas."

Ross would not say whether his comments were aimed at National but said he was seeking more information through written questions to ministers that would "back up things that I've seen in the past".

Ross has asked 13 written questions of ministers and the Prime Minister about the overseas travel of ministers, specifically to China, going back to 2009 - just after the beginning of the previous National government's term.

Among the questions are how many times the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Minister Responsible for the GCSB and SIS Andrew Little, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker have been asked for advice about travel to China each year of the period 2009 to 2018.

Ross has also asked how many times ministers, and which ministers, had departed from their ministerial schedule while in China.

Ross said that in his eight years as an MP, he had seen a lot of what happened with political donations. "I think the public is interested to know that our politics is owned by New Zealanders and that if any individuals, particularly those holding a ministerial warrant or overseas, if they're meeting with foreign nationals they should not be involved in procuring political party donations."

Asked whether National leader Simon Bridges and the party should be worried, Ross said "I think they've got lots of things to worry about, but apparently they don't talk about me any more."