COMMENT:

If the story of Shane Jones and the conflict of interest over a tourism venture in Opononi has taught us anything, it is that more MPs watched the movie The Castle than they did Fatal Attraction.

The Castle references to the vibe, the pool room, and the serenity have been used by MPs from David Parker to Judith Collins.

But Shane Jones' use of the term "bunny boiler" to describe a journalist puzzled some - not least the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

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When she was first asked what Jones had meant by it, she said she did not dare to try to interpret Jones' musings.

By the next morning, she ventured to RNZ that she believed the reference was sourced to Fatal Attraction .

It refers to the horrific moment the leading man gets home to find the family's pet rabbit boiling in a pot on the stove, placed there by his spurned lover.

It remains unclear exactly what Jones meant by it - possibly he was referring to the journalist's dogged pursuit of the Provincial Growth Fund rather than in the sense it is usually deployed.

This all came to pass after questions were raised about Jones' conflict of interest in funding for the Manea Footprints of Kupe project from his Provincial Growth Fund.

Jones explained his involvement dated back several years to a time when he was not an MP and the group had a dream he would be their chair.

Jones became an minister instead, with a fund the group wanted money from.

Jones duly declared a conflict and withdrew from any decision-making, but stayed in a meeting at which ministers discussed it and offered a positive view on the oversight and management of the group.

Jones declared he had shown "an excessive display of probity" by declaring it, since his links were historic and slim. However, he said he had to be like Caesar's wife and seen to be beyond reproach.

He also said he still supported it and described its critics as being "like sea anemones, often difficult to tell the face from the rear end". No, I'm not sure what that means either.

Cabinet rules require ministers to declare both actual and perceived conflicts of interest.

That is in their own political interests, as well as in the interests of preventing corruption. It is far worse to be caught out in a conflict than to front foot one.

Shane Jones on the Northland tourism proposal and any perceived conflict of interest. / Mark Mitchell

Jones was right to declare and recuse himself from any decision-making. Whether he was right to stay in the meeting when the matter was discussed - and put up a defence of the company's oversight and management structure - was another matter.

He was certainly not right to give the impression he had not attended any meetings in his responses to written questions on the matter.

Ever since the Provincial Growth Fund was created, Act's David Seymour and National's Paul Goldsmith have set about ensuring a miasma of suspicion settles around it and the man in charge of it.

Every small incident like this simply adds another layer to that fug. Jones' rambunctious defences do little to dispel it.

It is not without reason that National has dubbed it the NZ First Re-election Fund, since Jones makes it abundantly clear where the loot is coming from and NZ First's role in securing it.

That means it will always be under a lot of scrutiny.

It did not help matters for NZ First that as all this was going on, another NZ First MP also inadvertently stepped up with an apparent funding-for-votes suggestion.

A tape was released from last December in which Ron Mark, the Defence and Veterans' Affairs Minister, could be heard scolding veterans for not voting for NZ First.

Mark was speaking to No Duff, a group which supports veterans. He could be heard telling them the funding the group got was "courtesy of me".

He went on to say that the reality was "I could be out on my bum after the next election" but if all the Defence Force "family" voted for NZ First, it could be at 15 or 16 per cent.

It had more of a tone of begging than threatening, but it did not take much for National to draw the conclusion Mark was suggesting future largesse might be contingent on votes.

The likelihood this type of approach will be successful for them brings to mind another reference from The Castle : They're dreaming.