Collins battles on two fronts

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins.
Justice Minister Judith Collins was under pressure on two fronts yesterday, facing further questions over both the Oravida conflict-of-interest saga and widespread fresh privacy issues in her ACC portfolio.

However, a determined Ms Collins last night told the Herald she was confident Prime Minister John Key would continue to back her and that her place in Cabinet was safe.

It emerged this week that Oravida, the company she, her family and the National Party have close links with, formally requested assistance from ministers in overcoming obstacles to its milk exports to China after the Fonterra botulism scare last year.

Amid revelations that ACC was handing thousands of clients' case details to recruitment agencies, Ms Collins was also pushed to identify the senior Chinese border control official she and her friend and Oravida boss Stone Shi dined with in Beijing in October during her ministerial visit just weeks after the company made the request.

In the House, Labour MP Grant Robertson asked her whether the official worked for China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ). The agency last year left thousands of tonnes of New Zealand meat exports sitting on Chinese wharves through a paperwork problem. The Opposition claims that Ms Collins' dinner with the border control official was intended to help Oravida get its milk into China.

However, Ms Collins, who denies Oravida's milk imports were discussed at the meeting, once again said it was "a private dinner for which I do not have ministerial responsibility".

Mr Robertson later told the Herald Ms Collins "had the opportunity to rule out that the official at the meeting was from the agency responsible for letting Oravida's goods into China".

"She didn't do that. I think we can make a fairly safe assumption that is exactly where the official was from and that raises the conflict of interest because we know that Oravida were lobbying to try and get their products into China."

But Mr Key said whether the official worked for AQSIQ was "not relevant and that's the advice I've had from the Cabinet Office".

If it was proved that border control issues were discussed at the dinner, "that would be a problem," Mr Key said.

"But I don't think that's going to be the case."

With just another day in Parliament before the Easter weekend which looks likely to rob the Opposition's attacks of momentum, Ms Collins told the Herald: "I have the confidence of the Prime Minister and I have the confidence of the people I work with.

"I am going nowhere."

Ms Collins said she was unaware Oravida was having any problems getting its products into China at the time of the dinner.

That was in spite of her husband David Wong Tung being on Oravida's board and the fact Mr Shi and Oravida's managing director Julia Xu were "close friends".

"My close friends get to see me on rare occasions because I am working most of the time and when I am with my friends we're talking about things that are fun things, not about problems at work."

Her husband had not considered resigning from the company despite taunts from Labour MP Trevor Mallard on Twitter that he would be gone by mid-May. "That's the level of pond life that I'm dealing with in this matter," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Key confirmed Oravida had received several thousand dollars in taxpayer-funded compensation after the botulism scare. However, the decision to award that compensation was not made by ministers.

- Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald

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