Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Milkgate threatens to swamp the PM too

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John Key, Judith Collins. Photos / APN, NZ Herald
John Key, Judith Collins. Photos / APN, NZ Herald

Just when it seemed that the Judith Collins-Oravida milkgate scandal might be dying down, Prime Minister John Key now looks to be implicated further in the drama. TV3's Patrick Gower now says that the latest revelation 'raises so many questions about the connections between Oravida and the National Party that go all the way to John Key himself' - watch his fascinating 3-minute report from inside the Ovavida offices in Shanghai: Key admits second Oravida golf game.

Part of the latest controversy is the revelation that the money paid by the Oravida company in exchange for the game of golf with Key, didn't actually go to a 'charity' as originally stated by the PM, but instead to the National Party - see Gower's Oravida's $56,600 golf photo with John Key. Key is provided with some useful education on the fact that Political parties are not charities by blogger No Right Turn.

John Key is clearly concerned about being tied to the so-called Milkgate scandal, as can be seen in his strong reaction to another situation in which he might appear to endorse a China-based company - see Isaac Davison's PM wants pic off China visa website.

The PM's handling of the controversy is also coming in for some serious questioning - by far the strongest is from Duncan Garner - see his must-read RadioLive column Clark sacked ministers for lying.

And during his current visit to China, the PM continues to be dogged by the scandal.

For the latest on how the Collins saga is overshadowing more important issues, see Claire Trevett's PM's own dinner with Oravida's chairman - and 250 other dairy exporters.

National's close links with Oravida exposed

Various journalistic investigations are now showing the extent of Oravida's close connections to the National Party and other powerful political actors. For more on the links between Collins' husband David Wong-Tung, Deyi "Stone" Shi and Julia Xu, see Michael Fox and Vernon Small's Minister dines with big money. For links between various state agencies and the milk company see Tracy Watkins' Movers and shakers surround Oravida.

And John Key gets further dragged into the network with David Fisher's story, Collins set up milk talk with PM.

If there is any doubt that Collins' China networking could have helped her husband's company, see Christopher Adams' report Collins' dinner great for Oravida - exporter.

Things have got worse for Collins this week

The fact that the Collins scandal has gone on for so long is mostly down to the Justice Minister herself, who has been universally condemned for her continued mishandling of the story. It's interesting that the Media Training organisation that previously gave fulsome praise to Collins' initial handling of the saga, has essentially retracted that endorsement and outlined her failings - see: Collins prolongs pain and fuels media fire.

A number of new angles on the scandal arose this week. The first was another money question: who paid the restaurant bill for Collins' meeting with the senior Chinese Government official and Oravida? This is best discussed by Tracy Watkins in her reports Who paid for your dinner? and Dinner bill under wraps.

The second challenge for Collins has been the revelation that her version of a casual drop in to the Oravida offices en route to the airport, wasn't very accurate - see Adam Bennett's Long way to go for a cuppa.

The third has been the revelation that her dinner meetings with the senior Chinese Government official and Oravida were very much pre-arranged before her departure from New Zealand, which is somewhat at variance with her previous statements - see Adam Bennett and David Fisher's Collins shrugs off Labour attacks.

The Negative commentary on Collins

Perhaps the most dispiriting element of the scandal for Judith Collins has been the lack of support from the right, or even from within her own party. John Armstrong details how Collins' shock blunder puts her offside with mates.

For an even more overt outline of how Collins' colleagues have been reluctant to support her, see Jane Clifton's in depth examination of Crusher's calamity. Clifton says, 'the lack of fire in the belly of those Government figures defending Collins has been telling. Collins may be feared and admired, and for good reason. But she may not be entirely liked or trusted by colleagues'. Likewise, in Clifton's latest Listener column, she says 'Most ominously for Collins, it has been obvious from the body language that aside from her small coterie of protégés, her colleagues have been able to bear her misfortune' - see: Smiling Green eyes (paywalled).

Rightwing commentator Fran O'Sullivan is certainly not offering any support for Collins, and suggests that the politician should have been sacked, but was only saved from this by the fact that John Key was about to go to China on delicate related business - see: PM's need to save face rescues Collins.

But not all is negative for Collins, and she receives some support from a leftwing commentator who finds it hard to hate her - see Dave Armstrong's Hard-selling, deal-making National's mode of business.

Collins' confident response

Collins has continued to take a defiant approach to various accusations swirling around her, which is nicely conveyed in John Armstrong's report, 'Cane toad' may get another chance to spit acid'. Armstrong says, 'Whatever your opinion of Judith Collins, she has chutzpah in abundance. Or is it foolhardiness masquerading as chutzpah?'

Typically, Collins (@JudithCollinsMP) has taken to Twitter in her usual blunt manner to defend herself - taking aim especially at the media. For example on Tuesday night she tweeted to say 'Very disappointed with reporting tonight on TV3. @BrookSabin don't bother asking for info & then ignore it if it doesn't work 4 line u want'. Then on Thursday night she tweeted to say 'So disgusted TVNZ news just ran a smear piece on me when they were told they were wrong. @CorinDann your producer ignored the facts'. For more such tweets and dialogue, see my blog post, Top tweets by Judith Collins about her Oravida scandal.

Collins has since filed a complaint with one of those broadcasters - see Frances Cook's Collins anger at TVNZ. And her blogging friend Cameron Slater has criticised the other - see: TV3 still very clear about its anti-National stance.

For more on how Collins has been dealing with official information requests, see Felix Marwick's Collins wants more time to disclose Oravida details and David Fisher's Judith Collins makes about-turn on information that 'didn't exist'.

It's obvious that the Opposition will continue to hound National, and try to drive home the impressions I discussed in my column last week, The National Government is looking sleazy. See, for example, Felix Marwick's Cash for honours accusations levelled against Govt. Other commentators also continue to draw attention to further allegations of conflicts of interest - see, for example, Susan Strongman's Columnist stands by Amy Adams claims. See also the blog posts by No Right Turn: A clear conflict of interest and More cronyism.

Finally, cartoonists and satirists continue to profit at the expense of Collins. See my updated blog post Images of Judith Colllins and the Oravida milk scandal and Steve Braunias's The secret diary of Judith Collins.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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