It's not about politics, minister, it's about you and your behaviour.
That's the stinging retort from frustrated forester Pat Cox, who was one of those who criticised Minister of Forestry Shane Jones for electioneering at an industry awards ceremony.
"If he wants to have a scrap with me, then bring it on," said Cox. "Bring it on Mr Jones, I'm the bushman you are looking for."
Cox - and others - had told the Herald they were angered by Jones' behaviour at the Northland Forestry Awards, during which he told the 550 people attending they needed to remember to vote for NZ First if they wanted continued access to funding its policies had brought.
Cox originally spoke to the Herald anonymously but was prompted to come forward after reading Jones' response to the criticism.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Jones off but the fast-talking minister instead went on the attack, accusing those who criticised him as being politically motivated.
He said he was "personally going to deal to these National Party sympathisers who thought that it was a smart idea to try and have me quivering in a corner by racing to the media".
Cox said he wasn't politically motivated but driven by frustration over Jones' behaviour at awards.
"I'm there for the logging industry. I'm passionate about it. What can he do to me? Nothing. He's just digging a bigger hole."
Cox, 68, said Jones needed to recognise the awards - which had been running a handful of years - were a celebration of achievements in forestry and the enormous work which had gone into improving health and safety conditions.
"There was no intention for there to be a political rally. He hijacked it and there's no way around that. The night was about the forestry industry - nothing else, end of story."
The criticism Jones faced from himself - and others who spoke to the Herald - was valid, said Cox.
"Nobody at that function the other night did anything wrong and he's coming out fighting like a mongrel. Well, tell him to put his boxing gloves on. I'm waiting for him."
Cox, who now writes on forestry for the machinery and truck sales publication Deals on Wheels, said the forestry industry had made considerable changes in its recent history which deserved recognition. It also needed a long-reaching industry-wide plan, which he didn't see in the current push to plant a billion trees.
He said it included understanding workforce pressures and putting in place long-term solutions. "We can't get people into the industry now."
Jones was less than his loquacious self when contacted for comment. "I'm a professional politician and I'm moving on from this issue."
He confirmed he did not know Cox, or have any knowledge of how he might vote. "If he's not a National Party supporter, then as a retail politician I can see him as an undecided voter."
The Prime Minister's reprimand of Jones follows an earlier reproach to Minister of Defence Ron Mark, who told a veterans group voting for NZ First would result in better support.