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After a week facing claims of a conflict of interest over her visit to her friend Stone Shi's company Oravida in Shanghai during the visit last year, Ms Collins was yesterday forced to admit she met Mr Shi two further times on the trip. She also admitted she was wrong to keep that information from the Prime Minister and the public.
One of those two further meetings was a dinner in Beijing where a senior Chinese border control official and another friend, Oravida managing director Julia Xu, were also in attendance. That further fuelled perceptions of a conflict of interest given Mr Shi's company exports milk and seafood to China.
She said it was a private dinner but that in hindsight she should have treated it as part of the official business of the trip, and ensured it was disclosed in a Cabinet report on the trip. However, she maintained there was no conflict of interest in her meetings with Mr Shi or visit to Oravida, nor was there any advantage to the company from her attendance at the dinner.
But Mr Key, who only learned of the dinner on Tuesday night, said Ms Collins "had a responsibility to reveal all of the meetings that she held in Beijing, even if one of them was a private meeting, and she certainly should have made me aware of that".
Mr Key said her actions had led to accusations of a perception of a conflict of interest, "and that's unacceptable". However, he accepted her assurances that matters around Oravida's exports to China were not discussed at the dinner. Nevertheless, he made it clear to her "in no uncertain terms" how disappointed he was in her. Asked whether she was on her last chance, Mr Key said: "I wouldn't want to be in her shoes if there was a repeat of it."
Labour leader David Cunliffe said the Beijing dinner, Ms Collins' Oravida visit, the fact her husband David Wong-Tung is one of Oravida's directors, the company's business links with National Party President Peter Goodfellow's seafood company Sanfords, and Mr Shi's substantial donations to the National Party "all add up to a blindingly clear conflict of interest".
"If the minister cannot see that, she does not deserve to retain her warrant. If the Prime Minister cannot see it then there are serious questions about his judgment and about the standards of his Government."
The usually tough-talking Ms Collins yesterday offered an awkward apology for not disclosing her Beijing dinner.
"If anyone feels that I've done something wrong then I would apologise for that because I should have told you that last week."
Last night, she maintained the dinner should not create the perception of a conflict of interest, but conceded on Campbell Live: "I should not have thought that was a private dinner even though I was thinking of it like that."
- Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald