Conflict of interest claims against former National MP Katherine Rich will not be investigated by the Office of the Auditor-General.

The Green Party had asked the Auditor-General to investigate what it called "serious conflicts of interest'' over Mrs Rich's roles as chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council, and member of the board of the Health Promotion Agency.

The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) is a Crown entity charged with promoting health, wellbeing and healthy lifestyles.

The Food and Grocery Council is an industry association that represents manufacturers and suppliers behind New Zealand food, beverage, and grocery brands. Kevin Hague, the Greens' health spokesman, said the agency ran campaigns to limit the consumption of unhealthy food, tobacco, and alcohol.


At the same time, the businesses Mrs Rich promoted, as head of the food and grocery council, profited from the sale of those products.

This afternoon a letter from the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) to Dr Lee Mathias, the HPA chair was released.

Noting complaints from members of the public, the OAG said it had considered the issues raised, obtained and reviewed relevant documents, and spoken with the HPA chair and chief executive.

"We are satisfied that there are no matters we need to investigate further. We have not identified problems with the management of conflicts of interest by the HPA.

"We consider it would be too simplistic to assume that the aims and activities of the HPA and FGC are incontrovertibly opposed and utterly incompatible, such that a person who was associated with one organisation was impossibly compromised from any association
with the other.

"Similarly, it would be too vague and indirect to conclude that it is impermissible for Mrs Rich to participate in any matter relating to a broad general subject-matter, such as alcohol or tobacco."

The OAG said that its review of HPA's minutes had not identified any matters or decisions that might raise serious concerns about its management of conflicts of interest.

"Our Office does not have a role in ruling on whether a person should or should not be a member of the board of a Crown entity. That is a matter for the Minister's [Health Minister Jonathan Coleman] judgement.


"The people who wrote to us also mentioned allegations in Nicky Hager's 2014 book Dirty Politics about things Mrs Rich is said to have done in her private capacity. However, those are not matters we would investigate. They do not relate to Mrs Rich's conduct on the HPA."

Mrs Rich said she welcomed the clear outcome of the OAG's review.

"I'm pleased with the result, which vindicates my position. Accusations that I had broken the law and not declared interests were disappointing, wrong and defamatory.

"It's a privilege to be involved with the very hardworking and committed team at the Health Promotion Agency, and I look forward to continuing to work on solutions that encourage New Zealanders to lead healthier lives."

Mr Hague said he was disappointed the OAG had declined to investigate further.

"There is a fundamental conflict in Ms Rich's two roles, but the problem is that the management of her conflict is left to her, and to the chair of the HPA, who is also a political appointment.

"If the system is going to allow for political appointments, there needs to be better, clearer guidelines about what constitutes a conflict and what is appropriate management of it.

"Given the level of concern by the public, the opposition and the public health sector, I'm asking the Minister to reconsider his earlier decision and ask the State Services Commission to investigate," Mr Hague said.