Acting Prime Minister Bill English was a no-show as a petition arrived at Parliament to oppose a controversial roadway in his South Island electorate.
The plan to bore an 11km tunnel beneath Mount Aspiring and Fiordland national parks would halve the nine-hour bus trip between Queenstown and Milford Sound.
Mr English, who is the MP for Clutha Southland, had earlier promised to receive the 25,000 signature petition and deliver it to the Clerk of the House.
However he was nowhere to be seen on Thursday morning, leaving fellow National MP Eric Roy to explain his absence.
"Apparently the acting Prime Minister has just been caught up with something that's captured his time and he's asked me to accept it on his behalf - which I'm very happy to do. We kind of work together a bit in the South."
Mr English's office says he pulled out at the last minute because the Government must be seen to be objective, and he would meet petition organisers later in the day.
One of those behind the petition, Trish Fraser, says opposition to the tunnel can't be ignored.