Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Collins: I do recall ambassador talks

Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Justice Minister Judith Collins has recovered her memory after telling Parliament she could not recall whether she had briefed New Zealand's ambassador to Beijing about her Oravida dinner.

Ms Collins on Thursday faced a final salvo of questions from Labour MP Grant Robertson over the dinner in Beijing last October with her friends and bosses of milk exporter Oravida and an unnamed Chinese border control official.

For two weeks, Ms Collins has faced Opposition claims the dinner was intended to smooth the way for Oravida's exports to China, which had been hampered by the fallout from the Fonterra botulism scare.

In Parliament's last session before a two-week recess, she again refused to identify the official she dined with, said she did not know of Oravida's difficulties in the Chinese market before the dinner, and said she could not remember whether she had briefed ambassador to Beijing Carl Worker about the dinner.

Ms Collins avoided the media on the way in and out of Parliament but did one-on-one interviews later.

She told the Weekend Herald she didn't believe she had spoken about the dinner to Mr Worker beyond an initial discussion beforehand when he said he would not attend.

But on Thursday evening, she said she had checked her notes and believed she had spoken to the ambassador about the dinner the following day and told him "nothing had occurred that was untoward and it was just a very private friendly dinner that was short".

She said Mr Worker had asked her on the day of the dinner to just let him know if there was anything that he needed to know about.

Mr Robertson said that despite the two-week parliamentary hiatus, Ms Collins was not out of the woods.

"I think there's still a significant amount more information that could come out about the visit. And I think given the various stories that she's told and changes of story that we've had and the way information's had to be dragged out, I suspect there may be very significant details about this that are still to come out.

"For instance, questions about the involvement of the ambassador in the dinner and what she might have told him about the dinner."

Ms Collins told the Weekend Herald that whether the affair had damaged her politically was for others to judge.

"But I think most people see that this is a situation where having my family attacked like this and brought into it in some way humanises me because I've never been seen as someone who was particularly human."

Ms Collins' husband, David Wong-Tung, is one of Oravida's directors and it was planned that he would accompany her to China for her visit late last year. But he later withdrew.

Oravida has not responded to the Herald's request for comments on Ms Collins' Beijing dinner or the company's use of Prime Minister John Key's photo in one of its advertisements for scampi in a Chinese in-flight magazine.

Meanwhile, following claims by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters that Oravida received preferential treatment from government departments following the botulism scare, NZ Trade & Enterprise confirmed the company received more than $26,000.

That included $6529.33 from the "Market Connections Fund" which was open to NZ-registered companies who suffered adverse effects from the botulism scare.

The fund covered up to 50 per cent of travel costs for New Zealand-based employees, up to a maximum of $20,000 a business. Thirty-nine businesses had received support from the same fund.

Oravida also received $20,000 under NZTE's China Programme, which gives support for companies NZTE was working with intensively on market entry in China.

Oravida is one of 38 companies in a variety sectors to have received that support over the past three years.

In Parliament, Mr Robertson tabled an email showing Oravida was invited to attend an Export NZ workshop on Chinese border control agency AQSIQ's standards on dairy imports three days before Ms Collins' Beijing dinner. It is not known if its representatives attended.

- NZ Herald

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