Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Collins ducks for cover over Beijing dinner bill

Justice Minister Judith Collins during her stand-up press conference where she revealed she had dinner with the head of Oravida. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Judith Collins during her stand-up press conference where she revealed she had dinner with the head of Oravida. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Justice Minister Judith Collins walked away from reporters this morning when faced with questions over who paid for a dinner she attended with close friends from dairy exporter Oravida and a senior Chinese official in Beijing last year.

Ms Collins has been under pressure since last week revealing what she says was a private dinner but which she had previously kept from Prime Minister John Key and the media.

The Opposition say the dinner marked a conflict of interest given the presence of a senior Chinese border control official, who she says was a friend of Oravida boss Stone Shi. Mr Shi's company was, according to its managing director Julia Xu who was also at the dinner, facing difficulties getting milk into China following the Fonterra botulism scare.

This morning, Ms Collins said she did not know who paid for the meal.

"I've already said I didn't pay for it. (Senior adviser) Margaret Malcolm didn't pay for it, the taxpayer didn't.

I don't know who did and I haven't asked."

Asked whether the fact that it appeared either Oravida or the Chinese official paid for dinner added to perceptions of a conflict of interest, Ms Collins, said: "actually it doesn't," before walking away from reporters.

The fact Ms Collins walked away from questions about the dinner was "not a good look at all", Labour Leader David Cunliffe said.

"She should come clean. Who paid for the dinner? Who was the Chinese official? Why did the ambassador not attend? Those are what New Zealanders want to know... they want to know how deep the conflict of interest goes.

"This is a minister who is on the run. Ministers who are on the run can't stay running forever and there's much more to come out on the Collins story. Labour is aware of other matters which will be brought to the public attention in due course."

Asked whether Ms Collins should find out who paid for the dinner, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said: "You'd have to talk to Ms Collins about that".

"Clearly there's been a bit of interest in the dinner and I'm sure there's an answer there somewhere. It's up to her, she knows the relationships and what would be regarded as hospitable and polite."

Mr English said politicians often attended dinners or other meals where they didn't pay for their food and entertainment.

Despite Mr Key saying last week that he was "disappointed" that Ms Collins had told him and the media of the dinner sooner, Mr English said: "She's been quite transparent on the issue over the last few weeks".

"This is a competent minister who's laid out all of her involvement."

- NZ Herald

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