New Zealand's participation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow has devolved into a partisan fight, fuelled by the country's COVID-infused politics.
Kiwi climate change minister and Greens co-leader James Shaw is leading a contingent to the landmark COP26 meeting in November.
He will become just the second NZ minister to head overseas during the pandemic, after trade minister Damien O'Connor earlier this year.
However, by travelling overseas, Mr Shaw and his team need to spend a fortnight in quarantine on their return.
Places in NZ's quarantine regime (MIQ) are limited to about 2000 a week, with no exemptions for government ministers.
Opposition parties National and ACT have seized on the minister's travel, labelling it indulgent, hypocritical and at the expense of everyday Kiwis trying to access MIQ.
“He has to explain himself,” opposition leader Judith Collins said.
“It is astonishing that the Minister is going to COP26 in the first place, let alone taking up 10 MIQ spots for himself and his onshore staffers when they return.
“We have heard countless stories of New Zealanders wanting to come home but who are locked out because they can't get MIQ spots.”
Hard luck stories of overseas Kiwis who cannot travel home for important occasions or to see dying loved ones are plentiful.
Showing the incredible demand for MIQ, on Monday, more than 31,000 New Zealanders registered for 3200 rooms in the latest release of MIQ places.
ACT leader David Seymour, the only MP to vote against the Zero Carbon Act in the government's last term, has labelled Mr Shaw as “Captain Planet” and “James Off-Shore”.
Mr Shaw pleaded with Kiwis to put climate change above the political fray.
“This conference is probably the most important since the Paris Agreement (in 2015),” he said.
“If we are not represented in those talks the weight of the conversation could go the other way and it's very finely balanced.”
Travelling sports teams, including New Zealand's Olympians, Paralympians, and world Test champions the Black Caps, have also been criticised in recent months for taking MIQ places.
“We have provided a very small fraction of the number of MIQ places for sports teams, cultural visits and essential workers,” sports minister Grant Robertson said.
“It's about ensuring New Zealand can compete on the world stage and having events here in New Zealand people can go to and enjoy.”Internet Explorer Channel Network