New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has faced accusations of abuse of power for allowing two Malaysian friends to go on a taxpayer-funded trip to Antarctica. Peters said Chew Bee Lin and her daughter Kwek Su Arn went on the trip as part of efforts to raise NZ$50 million (US$33.3 million) from donations to redevelop Scott Base, the country’s only Antarctic research station. They have not yet made any donations to the programme. New Zealand PM sacks immigration minister over office affair The incident led David Seymour, leader of the minor ACT opposition party, to say sending the women on the trip “was absolutely an abuse of power by Winston Peters”. Finance Minister Grant Robertson was initially meant to go on the trip from February 7-10, but had to pull out because of New Zealand’s national day and parliamentary commitments. Emails released under the Official Information Act show that Peters insisted the two women replace Robertson for the trip, leaving officials scrambling as there was only one visitor spot. Antarctica New Zealand, which runs Scott Base, had initially warned that science programmes or essential staff may have to be cut to make room for one more visitor, but were eventually able to fulfil the request without disruption. New Zealand MP quits after sexting scandal rocks opposition In an interview, Chew told Radio NZ she was a good friend of Peters and his partner Jan Trotman. Defending his move, Peters called the criticisms about the women’s trip “an appalling, racist attack” on two people who could be helping the Scott Base programme. I despise this racist attack on innocent people Winston Peters “I despise this racist attack on innocent people,” he said. Peters said he presented cabinet with a proposal last June for a NZ$250 million redevelopment of Scott Base – of which NZ$50 million was to be raised from public donations. He was asked by reporters if the women would have been invited if they were not his friends. “I’ve had countless people and members of parliament in their droves have been down there,” he responded. “Dare I say it, I’ve seen 14 journalists go on the trip. Could you please tell me what they did for Antarctica? At least my plan has a hope of finding the NZ$50 million.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had not spoken to Peters about the women’s trip but would be seeking assurances from him about the integrity of the Antarctica programme. “It’s clear though that there’s no interest for the minister here. He wants the redevelopment in Scott Base, it obviously comes at a reasonable sum and they’re drawing on a range of sources for that,” she said. Seymour, the ACT party leader, said the trip constituted an “abuse of power” by Peters and should be investigated – but that was unlikely before the election. “Winston Peters has just become a joke. That’s taxpayer money for a good purpose and he’s just laughing at the New Zealand taxpayer. I think that’s why he needs to be gone,” Seymour said. “That taxpayer money is for exploring relationships in Antarctica, not for him to give jaunts to his mates.” New Zealand has several interests and research projects in Antarctica, including a claim to the Ross Dependency.