Collins digs in for long haul

Judith Collins yesterday survived round one of the two-day bout in Parliament against an Opposition tag team determined to pin her over the Oravida affair.

Prime Minister John Key has told his embattled Justice Minister to take some time out from Parliament after weeks of punishing Opposition attacks over claims she intervened on the company's behalf during an official visit to China last year.

But first, she must endure two days in the House where Labour's Grant Robertson and Trevor Mallard and NZ First leader Winston Peters are looking to deliver a knockout blow.

Mr Robertson struck twice yesterday, opening with a claim Oravida enjoyed preferential treatment for its milk exports from Chinese authorities as a result of Ms Collins' influence while China-based rival Ruimi Food, which imports the same product, was blocked. He followed that up during question time by suggesting Ms Collins had a justice portfolio event in Shanghai dropped so she could visit Oravida's offices.

While unusually subdued, Ms Collins defended competently saying that while the event which was on a draft itinerary prepared by MFAT did not go ahead, "it was not at my request".

Mr Robertson said MFAT documents about Ms Collins' trip released last week showed the "business/legal roundtable" was removed after Ms Collins said she wanted to take up Oravida's invitation to visit.

"This shows what the priorities were for this minister. Rather than doing work in her portfolio area, she orchestrated a visit which official documents describe as being to 'increase the profile' of her husband's company."

While the documents show Ms Collins requested MFAT to arrange for her to visit Oravida, they don't show the justice portfolio event was dropped to allow it. Ms Collins' initial response to Mr Robertson's question was interrupted by sledging from Mr Mallard who suggested her family had received "half a million dollars" from Oravida.

Ms Collins' husband, David Wong-Tung, is a director of Oravida and Mr Mallard later explained the figure he mentioned was based on advice the average fees for a private sector directorship was $50,000 a year and Mr Wong-Tung had served as a director with five Oravida companies for two years.

Ms Collins took exception and asked for Mr Mallard to withdraw his comment. When asked to do so by Speaker David Carter, he refused and was ejected from the chamber.

Ms Collins later said Mr Mallard was "wrong, and I think he should withdraw and apologise".

"He's absolutely made it up."

Meanwhile, Corrie Den Haring, general manager of Green Valley Dairies which supplies milk to both Oravida and Ruimi, said Mr Robertson's initial attack about Oravida receiving preferential treatment from Chinese authorities was wide of the mark.

"It is not the same two-litre bottles simply with a different label," he told National Radio. Ruimi's milk was a flavoured or extra-calcium product which required extra testing at the border. Delays meant the milk was too old for sale and was destroyed.

- Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald

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