Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says an applicant for Government funding who is known to the minister signing it off doesn't necessarily mean there's a conflict of interest.
She was commenting on the Ngā Whenua Kaikohe project, for which ministers approved $1.532 million of Provincial Growth Fund money in the last parliamentary term.
The delivery of the funding was conditional on certain risks being addressed. Currently only $80,000 has been paid out.
One of the co-landowners who stood to benefit from the funding used to work for Shane Jones who, as Regional Economic Development Minister last term, was one of the ministers who signed off on the application.
Jones has said he cannot recall whether he knew his former staffer, Tracey Dalton, co-owned some of the land that the project aims to develop into vineyards, nor can he remember whether the potential conflicts of interest he declared at the time were about this project.
National Party leader Judith Collins has asked for a review to ensure everything was managed appropriately.
At her post-Cabinet press conference today, Ardern said she had only recently been made aware of the issue and wanted to take more time to consider whether it should be reviewed.
Ministers' potential conflicts of interest are managed with Cabinet Office advice, she said.
"In not every scenario if someone is known to someone - and I say this as a general principle - does it necessarily represent a conflict of interest.
"As you can imagine, New Zealand being a small place, it's not unusual for someone just to be known to someone who applies."
Asked what she would do if she was asked to approve funding for a project that a former staffer of hers stood to benefit from, Ardern said: "If it was someone who worked for me 10 years ago, I would ask the question and get some guidance."
On January 28 last year, Jones and other ministers - including Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Trade Minister David Parker - approved funding for the Ngā Whenua Kaikohe project.
The application, from the Omapere Rangihamama Ahu Whenua Trust, was on behalf of the owners of four blocks of Māori land to develop 5ha of vineyards under the Whenua Māori allocation of the PGF.
One of the blocks of land, according to trust documents, is a 2ha block and is owned by Kenneth and Tracy Dalton.
Tracy Dalton worked for Jones for three years in his Kaikohe office when he was a Labour MP in the 2000s. She later worked for Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, who is now the party's deputy leader.
Jones declared two potential conflicts of interest over that period relating to his Regional Development portfolio, but they are from April and May 2020 - months after the ministerial approval.
He may not have known about Dalton co-owning a block of land in the application; the document ministers signed off doesn't appear to list the landowners, though some sections have been redacted citing commercial sensitivity.
Jones told the Weekend Herald: "A person who worked for me in 2005 to 2008 shouldn't be stigmatised if they've gone through a process with the bureaucracy and ticked all the boxes
"Those decisions have been fleshed out by the bureaucracy, and I have no interest in examining the bureaucratic bed bugs."
A member of Dalton's hapu, Ben Dalton, is chief operating officer for the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) and did declare a conflict of interest when the PDU senior leadership team met to assess the application.
A spokesperson for Regional Economic Minister Stuart Nash said PGF conflicts of interest involving MBIE employees were for MBIE to manage.
"MBIE has robust processes in place to manage conflicts if and when they arise."