Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Collins' defiance over Oravida upsets Speaker

Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Judith Collins has refused to answer fresh questions about her Beijing dinner with an unnamed Chinese official, reigniting the Oravida conflict-of-interest furore and earning her a sharp rebuke from Speaker David Carter.

The tough-talking Justice Minister also appeared to backtrack over her admission she should have reported the dinner to her Cabinet colleagues.

In a rare display of humility last month, Ms Collins admitted she had been wrong to keep from the media details of her meetings with her friend and Oravida boss Stone Shi during a ministerial visit to China late last year.

Those meetings included a dinner in Beijing where a friend of Mr Shi, an unnamed Chinese border control official, was also present.

Labour claims this was a conflict of interest given Oravida, which Ms Collins' husband works for, was experiencing difficulties in getting its milk into China following the Fonterra botulism scare.

After weeks of fielding Opposition questions on the matter, Ms Collins yesterday took an even more defiant stance by refusing to answer Labour MP Grant Robertson's questions about the identity and department of the official. To most of those questions, she said: "It was a private dinner. I have no ministerial responsibility to explain it." Those responses antagonised Mr Carter who said they were "very unsatisfactory".

"This House and the public will judge that for themselves," he said before penalising her by giving Mr Robertson a further question.

Last month after a telling off from Prime Minister John Key, Ms Collins told media "it would have been better if I had not treated it like a private dinner, which it was, but had actually reported it through".

Yesterday she changed her tune, saying she should not have "because the Cabinet Manual makes it very clear that only matters of importance should, in fact, be put in. In fact, when I had a look at the manual, I noticed that actually having dinner is not something that anyone would consider a matter of national importance, unlike that member might think it is".

Mr Robertson later said Ms Collins' refusal to answer basic questions on a matter she'd previously addressed was "a disgrace".

"It is treating New Zealanders with contempt to refuse to discuss a meeting that took place during a trip which cost taxpayers $30,000."

He said Ms Collins had publicly acknowledged she should have made reference to the dinner in her formal report to Cabinet and Mr Key said she should have recorded the dinner as part of her visit. "That makes it an issue she is responsible for answering questions on. Everyone who does business in China knows the value of status and personal relationships.

"This dinner, which was organised before the minister left New Zealand, was for benefit of Oravida; a company her husband is a director of, along with six other companies related to Oravida and its founder Stone Shi.

"The Minister knows that is a conflict of interest, but what else is she trying to hide?"

- NZ Herald

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