David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Milk firm has hosted string of Nats

Collins just one of Oravida's high-flying guests, but analyst says Govt being 'pragmatic'.

Nikki Kaye, Judith Collins and John Key. Photo / David White, APN, Supplied
Nikki Kaye, Judith Collins and John Key. Photo / David White, APN, Supplied

A string of National Party high-flyers have been entertained by the milk exporter at the centre of a conflict of interest row involving Justice Minister Judith Collins and her husband, a director of the company.

Labour has promised more questions in Parliament today on Mrs Collins' visit to the offices of milk-and-scampi company Oravida in China, made during a taxpayer-funded visit as part of her justice portfolio.

Mrs Collins has staunchly stood by her view there was no conflict and she stopped to "have a cup of tea on the way to the airport". It was revealed yesterday the trip followed an invitation from Oravida chairman Stone Shi two weeks earlier.

Mr Shi asked Mrs Collins two days after a reception at the company headquarters which saw Mr Shi mixing with Cabinet ministers, party president Peter Goodfellow and current and former National MPs.

The links between the company and party are laid out on the company website and date back to March 2011, when the Trade Minister spoke at an Oravida-sponsored lunch.

Then, in August 2011, Mr Goodfellow and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye attended a function to celebrate the company's purchase of its waterside headquarters.

Electoral Commission records show donations worth $56,600 paid to the National Party three months later and continuing to the present.

Mrs Collins' husband, David Wong-Tung, became a director in October 2012, the same month Mr Shi played golf with Prime Minister John Key.

Oravida said the men "enjoyed the event so much that they pledged to meet again on the golf course in early 2013 in Queenstown".

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said yesterday that the planned rematch never took place but the Prime Minister had played "on a couple of other occasions in National Party 'golf days', where Mr Shi has been one of a large number of people playing".

Trade Minister Tim Groser and former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Don McKinnon, also chairman of the business-oriented NZ China Council, attended a promotional milk-drinking in Shanghai in April.

But it was the October 7, 2013, opening of the Auckland offices which saw the largest turnout of past and present National politicians.

Dame Jenny Shipley and Sir Don, both of whom have business links to China, attended, as did Mr Goodfellow. Also there was Mrs Collins, who cut the ribbon opening the office, and Police Minister Anne Tolley.

Melissa Lee, Paul Goldsmith and National-turned-Act politicians John Banks and Don Brash also attended.

Mrs Tolley said she was attending to show support for the export sector. Mr Goodfellow, a director and large shareholder in Oravida supplier Sanford, said the appearance of a large number of National people was "unco-ordinated". "I don't know who Oravida invite to their functions."

He said China was a prominent market into which NZ firms, such as Oravida, sought to export. The market had been created by the free trade agreement struck by Labour.

"What National has done is to attempt to use that free trade agreement to really drive jobs creation and exports and imports from China."

Labour's Grant Robertson said there was an "extensive network of connections between the National Party and Oravida".

He said Mrs Collins' trip was a clear breach of rules which said there should not be the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"Judith Collins needs to apologise and John Key needs to ensure his ministers don't act like this."

Otago university political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said the Government was "highly pragmatic" and "whatever works is what's important".

"Judith Collins in her dealings with this milk company has been epitomising that," he said.

Mr Wong-Tung said: "I don't want to talk about Oravida."

- NZ Herald

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