Collins told to take a break from Parliament

By Adam Bennett, Audrey Young, Newstalk ZB

Justice Minister Judith Collins during the party conference at the weekend. Photo / Dean Purcell
Justice Minister Judith Collins during the party conference at the weekend. Photo / Dean Purcell

Prime Minister John Key has told his embattled Justice Minister Judith Collins to take a few days off from Parliament once she has answered Opposition questions over the Oravida affair over the next two days.

Mr Key spoke with Ms Collins yesterday about her attack on TVNZ political reporter Katie Bradford which he has labelled inappropriate and says is a sign of the pressure she is under over the long running affair.

"What I've suggested and I think makes sense is that she's going to be in Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday this week... but I actually think she should have a few days off and we'll be encouraging her late this week and early next week just to take a few days off."

Labour continued to turn the screws on Collins today, pointing to MFAT documents which showed her visit to Oravida's Shanghai offices was "to increase the profile" of the company.

Ms Collins has faced weeks' of pressure over trip to China last year where she visited the office of the company which employs her husband, and has donated more than $65,000 to the National Party.

Labour, which is calling for her resignation over what it claims is a conflict of interest around her Oravida visIt and Beijing dinner with the company's bosses, took another shot this afternoon.

While Ms Collins has denied he visit to Oravida's Shanghai offices was for the purposes of promoting the company, Labour pointed to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) briefing paper for the visit which lists its purpose as "To increase the profile of a successful importer and distributor of New Zealand products into China."

The Cabinet Manual states "A conflict may arise if people close to a minister such as ministers family.. might derive or be perceived as deriving personal, financial, or any benefit from a decision or action by the minister."

It also states a minister should inform any organisation which is hosting them that "it may not publicise the event in a way that could be perceived as an endorsement of the organisation, or its products and services".

Labour MP Grant Robertson said the MFAT docments "released cynically on a Friday afternoon, confirm what Labour has been saying all along; Judith Collins went out of her way on a taxpayer-funded justice trip to promote her husband's company".

"The Minister can no longer continue with her absurd claims she popped into Oravida's Shanghai office for a 'cuppa' on her way to the airport. Or her farcical claim she had a 'private dinner' in Beijing with company boss Stone Shi and a Chinese border control official.

"The revelations in these documents have put Judith Collins under huge pressure because she knows they prove she has a conflict of interest for which she must resign from Cabinet", Mr Robertson said.

There was a pattern of Mr Key's ministers "believing they are above the rules when it comes to helping their mates".

"It is time the Prime Minister dropped the double standards. John Key demanded Maurice Williamson's resignation from Cabinet. He needs to do the same with Judith Collins," Mr Robertson said.

Mr Key was this morning backing Ms Collins after having "long and meaningful" discussions with his embattled Justice Minister over her attack on a Parliamentary reporter.

Ms Collins publicly apologised to Bradford last night after attacking her on Twitter and telling a rival channel Bradford had inappropriately approached her when she was Police Minister.

Mr Key, while clearly unimpressed with Ms Collins' attacks on the journalist, expressed confidence in her when asked if he had unequivocal confidence in her.

He again stated he had confidence in her this morning, and told Radio New Zealand Ms Collins had felt under pressure over the Oravida affair and the media's scrutiny of former Cabinet colleague Maurice Williamson's involvement with Chinese businessman Donghua Liu.

"She's close to Maurice, and Maurice has clearly also been under a fair bit of pressure, and I think she's felt a bit for her friend. Fair enough."

Mr Williamson appeared visibly shaken by the events last week when he appeared for television interviews over the weekend but it is understood that while he would have been allowed to take leave, he will be in Parliament this week and is receiving support from his colleagues.


Katie Bradford. Photo / NZ Herald

Meanwhile, Mr Key said Ms Collins had "over-reached" with her comments about Ms Bradford.

"My view, she has probably learnt a lesson from the experience and I don't think we'll see it again."

He had "long and meaningful" discussions with Ms Collins yesterday, but did not ask her to stand down.

"What I did do is make it quite clear that I think in the end we need to deal with this situation better. I think she's a very good minister and she can do that."

Ms Collins needed to "take a moment" to reflect on her Oravida dinner and her actions yesterday.

"At the end of the day ministers should avoid at least the perceptions of conflicts of interest. She unfortunately didn't ... and she has had to wear the brunt of that.

"But in the end you do need to soak up that pressure as a minister. I think she will and I think you won't see what you've seen in the past."

Being in politics was a tough business, but politicians knew that when they signed up to being a minister, he said.

A spokeswoman for Ms Collins said she had acknowledged she shouldn't have brought Bradford into the discussion.

"She's apologised publicly and is hoping to talk to Katie shortly. Going forward, anything else she has to say on the matter will be with Katie herself which is the most appropriate thing to do."

According to Bradford's TVNZ boss, John Gillespie, Ms Collins admitted to him that Bradford had never asked her for help.

Before apologising on Twitter to Bradford, Ms Collins hinted in an interview with TV3's Brook Sabin that she could dish up more dirt on the press gallery.

"You might just find I get recall on all sorts of things. We'll just wait and see. I think it is very important when the media want to raise issues about behaviours, they need to understand that they sometimes can be very inappropriate as well."

Ms Collins' parting shot after the interview suggests she blames the media for Mr Williamson's fate, rather than Mr Williamson himself or the Prime Minister, who asked for his resignation.

"Let's see if you hold your own people to account after you've done what you've done to Maurice," she said to the TV3 reporter.

Mr Robertson said Ms Collins threat to the rest of the press gallery "shows the Minister is erratic and unpredictable".

"The behaviour of Judith Collins is now a liability for John Key's Government."

When Ms Collins was asked yesterday to comment on a Herald on Sunday story about Labour MP Ross Robertson approaching her about his police officer daughter's leave, she told TV3: "It's just like when a member of the press gallery approached me about how her then husband was having difficulty in becoming recruited by New Zealand Police.
She said this was a problem and she had been told that her husband wasn't going to be acceptable as a police recruit because of her family connections."

Bradford's mother is the veteran protester and former Green MP Sue Bradford.

Ms Collins tweeted last night: "Katie, I was answering questions about wider public engagement. Yr example came to mind. Reflected on that. Shouldnt have. Sorry."

Katie Bradford said she'd had a good working relationship with Ms Collins but had never asked for a personal favour and was completely surprised by the comments.

"Back in 2010 my ex-partner was considering applying for the police force - at the time it had been suggested to him that he might have an issue with being accepted.

"I recall that this came up in an informal conversation between the minister and me but I never asked her to intervene."

Her partner never formally applied to join the police.

On Friday night Bradford told the television audience she hadn't seen Ms Collins at the National's northern conference in Auckland. Ms Collins had been there and took to Twitter on Saturday night accusing Bradford of being biased and demanding an apology.

He added that Ms Collins' "bizarre and unwarranted attack" on Bradford proved she has lost all perspective. To then threaten the rest of the press gallery shows the Minister is erratic and unpredictable.

"The behaviour of Judith Collins is now a liability for John Key's Government.

Official documents show the purpose of Judith Collins' visit to her husband's company in China was to "increase the profile" of Oravida, Labour MP Grant Robertson says.

"The paper from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade even acknowledges Judith Collins' husband David Wong-Tung is one of two directors of Oravida.

- Additional reporting Newstalk ZB

- NZ Herald

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