Collins admits dinner with Oravida boss

  • Breaking
  • 11/03/2014

By 3 News online staff

Justice Minister Judith Collins has apologised for not telling media about a dinner she had with the heads of Oravida during a trip to China.

However, asked whether she'd given any thought to resigning, Ms Collins responded: "don't be ridiculous".

She had previously only talked about visiting the headquarters of Oravida – a Shanghai-based company in which her husband is a director, and which has donated money to the National Party in the past.

Speaking to media this morning Ms Collins said the dinner had come up in conversation with the Prime Minister's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson last night, who asked her if there were any other meetings with the directors and management of the company during her October trip.

She has now confirmed she had dinner in Beijing with her "close personal friends" Stone Shi and Julia Xu, who run the milk and food export company.

The New Zealand Ambassador to China was invited to the dinner, but did not attend. Mr Shi and Ms Xu invited one of their friends, a senior official at China's border control agency. Ms Collins' senior policy advisor was also there.

The minister considered it a private dinner and no official business was discussed. The taxpayer did not pay for the dinner, she says.

"In hindsight…when I have very close friends who I'm with a lot in New Zealand and who are my two friends I have in China…it would have been better if I had not treated it like a private dinner, which it was, but had reported it through as a formal report in the Cabinet paper," she says.

She said she was not trying to mislead reporters who grilled her last week – she was just answering the questions she'd been asked, but should have "broadened it out".

"If anyone feels that I've done something then I would apologise."

She says it "would have been wise" to say no to the dinner.

"But having said that, when you're invited to dinner by close personal friends it's very difficult to say no, but nowadays I probably would because it's too difficult."

Ms Collins says while there is no point crying over spilt milk, she would not do the same thing again.

"It's a distraction for the Prime Minister."

Ms Collins has been under fire over her relationship with Oravida, which deals in New Zealand dairy products. The company posted a message on its website in Chinese that read: "Ms Collins personally tasted Oravida's products, giving her full endorsement," and said she was "full of praise".

On Monday, the Prime Minister told media the Cabinet Office had cleared Ms Collins of a conflict of interest after translating those comments – but it emerged yesterday that the office had only read an English language version of the website, which did not contain the statement.

By then, the minister had asked Oravida to remove the Chinese post from its website, which the Cabinet Office considered an appropriate remedy.

Labour leader David Cunliffe says New Zealanders will be "dumbfounded" the meetings were not revealed earlier.

"John Key is well aware how bad this looks. This belated admission of favours for the big end of town is business as usual for the National Party."

Ms Collins' excuse of saying she was not specifically asked about the meetings show how "conniving" she is, Mr Cunliffe says.

"If Judith Collins can’t understand the extent of her conflict of interest during her trip to China, then she is not fit to be a minister."

Cunliffe: Collins should lose her job

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Mr Cunliffe accused Ms Collins of telling "untruths" and said if he was in charge, she would lose her job.

"I would actually be guided by the precedent that Helen Clark employed when the honourable Lianne Dalziel fell foul of the issue of veracity, and was found to have said an untruth to a journalist – she lost her portfolio. She was sacked," Mr Cunliffe said.

He even suggested Prime Minister John Key might want to look at sacking himself for his own "untruths" on the matter.

"He said that the Cabinet Office had had regard to the Chinese translation of the Oravida website in which Ms Collins endorsed their products. The Cabinet Office then said they had not, they'd only looked at the English version; he had to correct himself and the question is, will he sack himself?"

Mr Cunliffe says the Oravida controversy makes Labour's own ructions appear "pretty trivial". He's had to have a chat with firebrand MP Shane Jones, following comments Mr Jones made at a university debate about international students and calling Green MP Gareth Hughes a "mollyhawk".

3 News

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