Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Collins: Oravida attacks 'humanised' me

Judith Collins. File photo / NZ Herald
Judith Collins. File photo / NZ Herald

Opposition attacks on Judith Collins and her husband over the Oravida affair have "humanised" her, the notoriously combative Justice Minister said this afternoon.

Ms Collins this week faced a final salvo of questions from Labour MP Grant Robertson over her dinner in Beijing in October last year with her friends and bosses of milk exporter Oravida and an unnamed Chinese border control official.

For two weeks Ms Collins has faced Opposition claims the dinner was intended to smooth the way for Oravida's exports to China, which had been hampered by the fall out from the Fonterra botulism scare.

This afternoon in the last session in Parliament before Easter and a two week Parliamentary recess she again refused to identify the official she dined with, and said she did not know of Oravida's difficulties in the Chinese market ahead of the dinner.

Afterwards, Mr Robertson said despite the relief of a two week Parliamentary hiatus, Ms Collins was not out of the woods.

"I think there's still a significant amount more information that could come out about the visit and I think given the various stories that she's told and changes of story that we've had and the way information's had to be dragged out, I suspect there may be very significant details about this that are still to come out.

"For instance questions about the involvement of the Ambassador in the dinner, and what she might have told him about the dinner."

NZ Ambassador to China Carl Worker was invited to the dinner but declined.

Ms Collins has consistently avoided facing the media pack on the way in and out of Parliament this week but has made a point of fronting for one-on-one interviews later.

She told the Herald this afternoon she didn't believe she had talked about the dinner with Mr Worker beyond an initial discussion beforehand where he said he would not attend.

Whether the affair had damaged her politically was for others to judge, she said.

"But I think most people see that this is a situation where having my family attacked like this and brought into it in some way humanises me because I've never been seen as someone was particularly human."

Ms Collins' husband David Wong-Tung is one of Oravida's directors and it was originally planned that he would accompany her to China for her visit late last year but he withdrew.

Meanwhile, following claims by NZ First Leader that Oravida received preferential treatment from government departments following the botulism scare, NZ Trade and Enterprise confirmed the company received over $26,000 in funding.

That included $6,529.33 from the "Market Connections Fund" which was open to NZ registered companies who suffered adverse impact as a result of the botulism scare. The fund covered up to 50 per cent of travel costs for New Zealand based employees, up to a maximum of $20,000 per business. Thirty-nine businesses had received support from the same fund.

Oravida also received $20,000 under NZTE's China Programme, which provides support for companies NZTE was working with intensively on market entry in China. Oravida is one of 38 companies across a variety of sectors to have received that support over the past three years.

Mr Robertson this afternoon tabled an email showing Oravida was invited to attend an Export NZ workshop on Chinese border control agency AQSIQ's standards on dairy imports just three days before Ms Collins' Beijing dinner.

It is not clear whether Oravida attended the workshop.

Oravida has so far not responded to the Herald's request for comments on matters around Ms Collins' Beijing dinner or the company's use of Prime Minister John Key's photo in one of its advertisements for scampi in a Chinese in-flight magazine.

- NZ Herald

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