Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Peters' knockout blow on Collins dimissed as 'pop gun'

NZ First leader Winston Peters during question time in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZ First leader Winston Peters during question time in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Winston Peters' promised knockout blow against embattled Justice Minister Judith Collins - which turned out to be her failure to publicly declare Chinese Government hospitality during her visit last year - has been dismissed as a "pop gun".

Mr Peters has claimed to have information that would end Ms Collins' career, saying she "will not survive next week with what I know".

In Parliament yesterday, Mr Peters' latest allegation turned out to be evidence that Ms Collins had failed to declare to Parliament's Register of Pecuniary Interests the support she received from the Chinese Government during her October trip to Beijing.

However, what Ms Collins called "substantial support for all meetings, accommodation in Beijing and transportation and facilitation throughout the visit"was disclosed to her Cabinet colleagues in a confidential report in November tabled by Mr Peters.

Mr Peters said Ms Collins failure to disclose that support in the register compounded her previous misleading statements about the trip to China where she met with the bosses of milk exporter Oravida, giving rise to Opposition claims of a conflict of interest.

"She's made deceitful statement after deceitful statement. They have all been proved to be bunkum and here's another one and there's more to come."

But Prime Minister John Key, who earlier said he would publicly apologise if Mr Peter's revelations led to Ms Collins' resignation or sacking dismissed Mr Peters' claims, saying: "his smoking gun's turned into a pop gun".

"Basically the story here is that ministers have to record things on their pecuniary interests subject to the rules, Judith's reading of the rules is it's not required and at first blush that looks right."

A spokeswoman for Mr Key later said it was "a matter between her and the Registrar".

"If there is a need to amend the register, then like other Members that can be easily done."

Asked whether Ms Collins should have declared the support from the Chinese government, Registrar of Pecuniary Interests Sir Maarten Wevers said he didn't know.

"All I have is what has been stated in the House. I'm in no position to judge the veracity of that. It's for the member. Should she wish to make a change to the declaration, she can do that. If in her view the declaration is correct as it stands then she doesn't have to. It's entirely in her hands."

However he said any other Member of Parliament "can at any stage ask me to undertake an inquiry into another member's return".

Mr Peters has chosen not do that, instead he has referred the matter to Speaker of the House David Carter as a potential breach of Parliamentary Privilege. The last MP who was the subject of a Privileges Committee hearing related to a failure to make pecuniary interest disclosures was Mr Peters himself in 2007 for his failure to declare a donation from businessman Owen Glenn.

Mr Peters did little to advance his interests with Mr Carter yesterday, defying a series of warnings from the Speaker for making references to corruption rather than taking such matters up with the Privileges Committee.

Eventually Mr Carter ejected him from the House which Mr Peters later said was "disgraceful".

"If he thinks he's going to shut me down he's got the wrong guy. The truth is I'm entitled to ask questions where ministers are not disclosing serious gifts or benefits which is what the rule is about. I presented the paper which proves it from the Cabinet and I presented the return that shows that it's not disclosed. That's game set and match in any game where facts matter."

Ms Collins is currently on stress leave after showing signs the strain of weeks of Opposition attacks over Oravida was getting to her. She returns for the Budget tomorrow.

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