Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Key serves Collins a bout of indigestion

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Justice Minister Judith Collins during her stand-up press conference where she revealed she had dinner with the head of Oravida while in China last year.
Justice Minister Judith Collins during her stand-up press conference where she revealed she had dinner with the head of Oravida while in China last year.

Since Prime Minister John Key announced the election date on Monday, the politicians have been so caught up in the excitement of it all they appear to have forgotten who their natural enemies are. There has been an outbreak of friendly-fire incidents.

The worst case of this was Justice Minister Judith Collins, who swooped down like a kamikaze pilot to shoot herself in the foot. It came with a belated confession about a dinner she had with Oravida's chairman, Stone Shi, and a senior Chinese border-control official while in Beijing. She insisted the dinner was above board - Shi was a good friend of hers and the official was a good friend of Shi's. They were all such good buddies and buddies of buddies that the fact he was a senior figure at the Government body responsible for the rules relating to dairy exports was irrelevant.

Watching Collins trying to bring herself to admit she may have erred was akin to watching Heracles undergoing all of his tasks at once.

On her first appearance yesterday, despite being under orders from the Prime Minister, Collins had the air of a woman convinced that tellings-off were for lesser mortals. She made her confession in a pained voice. The only real concession she made was that, in hindsight, she should not have done it - not because it had been wrong, necessarily, but because "it was a distraction for the Prime Minister".

She did at least show some self-awareness by acknowledging it was not part of her character to admit she had stuffed up.

Confronted with this, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to admit her wrongdoing for her - he said he was disappointed in her for withholding news of the dinner from him, and the cumulative effect of her interactions with Oravida in China might well have created the perception of a conflict of interest. He said she had been "unwise".

A couple of hours later, the effects of having had to admit to having a flaw were taking their toll. Asked whether she thought she could have been less haughty to begin with, she replied: "Do you know, I think you're right". The effort prompted a look of physical pain upon her face.

But Collins is not the only one to have exhibited the aim of a blindfolded person on a duck shoot. The day after Key announced the election date, Shane Jones carried on with his campaign to discredit Labour's most likely coalition partner, the Green Party, over its mining policy. This took the form of describing Green MP Gareth Hughes as a "mollyhawk". As a result, the Greens moaned to Labour. In return, Jones roared with laughter and pointed out the Greens had accused Colin Craig of being thin-skinned.

Labour leader David Cunliffe took aim at Jones, or at least pretended to. Admittedly, Cunliffe did simply shoot over Jones' head with the proverbial wet bus ticket, rather than a bullet. Jones' penalty was to be told to speak more sweetly while slagging off the Greens in future. Jones had, after all, been put on notice that he had to perform. Nobody could accuse him of failing to do that.

Having told Jones he had to perform and unleashed him, it would be a bit unfair now to punish him for doing precisely what he had been programmed to do. Cunliffe was simply acknowledging that when deploying a weapon of mass destruction, such as Jones, there will be a bit of collateral damage.

Things were also getting fractious at the pop-up cab rank at which the smaller parties park each election year, waiting to be selected by the major parties for a governing arrangement.

Cunliffe announced the Greens and NZ First were double-parked in first place at his rank. He would decide after the election which cab he popped into first, but would give no hints as to which he was leaning towards should he need only one.

This apparently peeved off Russel Norman a bit. He observed that the Greens did at least have their act together, while Labour could be said to be struggling with "internal problems".

Key was somewhat more upfront about the NZ First cab. On his rank it was way back around the corner, down a dark alley under the trees with the birds pooing on it. Its position was so precarious that it could only get one wheel on to the rank and its back end was poking out into the street. Such was Key's focus on making this clear while announcing the election date that he barely managed to slip in the usual lip service to his apparent belief that the election would be held on the issues that matter.

Tyres screeching, NZ First leader Winston Peters was doing doughnuts in his taxi in an effort to avoid being corralled into any cab rank at all. In his usual circuitous fashion, he announced that NZ First's position on coalition dealings had not changed one iota since 2005. That position was that it had no position until the election result meant it had to take a position, and even then it might not do so and might sit on the cross benches.

So we have the two ends of repentance. Jones is the master of repentance, having honed the art through a series of spectacular stuff-ups, including the hotel porn and the Bill Liu decision. He knows full well when it is in order and how to deliver it. He hasn't deployed any over the kerfuffle with the Green Party, for good reason. Collins, on the other hand, may want to go and have a quiet word with him about how to deploy the artform of penitence.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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