Key's tough choice over Collins

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins.
Judith Collins is facing a bleak Easter as mistakes continue to pile up on her watch.

This week, she has been embroiled in controversy regarding her portfolio as ACC Minister following District Court Judge Grant Powell's decision to rule ACC had unlawfully cut off payments to claimants after they had rejected demands to allow the corporation access to personal information.

The Accident Compensation Corporation is not saying how many claimants' entitlements were halted by its bungling, but it is restarting payments.

The corporation said in response to Judge Powell's criticism that it would rewrite the ACC167 forms it had used since 2001.

The forms seek wide-ranging power to gather and distribute a claimant's information for ACC-related purposes, such as assessing entitlements and research.

Ms Collins has blamed Labour for a policy which led to patients being refused compensation for an injury if they refused to sign a privacy waiver. This is not an acceptable excuse.

For a minister who has made much of the improvements in ACC service, a reduction in levies bringing more money into the pockets of New Zealanders, and a move towards a self-funding scheme, Ms Collins needs to look harder at her own actions.

The message from the ACC167 bungle is the minister is only looking at the good news and fails to drill down into the detail.

As Justice Minister and a lawyer, she should have been aware of the disquiet within the community regarding the invasion of privacy and the cancellation of payments when the forms were not signed. Ms Collins is, after all, a former high-ranking officer of the Law Society.

More disturbing is the attitude the minister is taking over a dinner with Oravida top official Stone Shi and a senior Chinese border control official.

It was revealed yesterday that the dinner came after the company made a formal request to New Zealand ministers to intervene with the Chinese Government over import barriers.

Oravida's request was made in a letter last August to Trade Minister Tim Groser and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, obtained by New Zealand First. Ms Collins' husband, David Wong Tung, serves on Oravida's board.

The letter from Oravida managing director Julia Xu set out the company's consternation over the Fonterra botulism scare and sought ''some thoughts as to what you may do to assist exporters such as us who have been greatly affected by this''.

The letter urged New Zealand ministers to help Oravida through a difficult time by working with the Chinese Government to remove the new testing regime.

Two months later, while on an official visit to China, Ms Collins dined in Beijing with Ms Xu, Mr Shi and a senior border official she still refuses to name.

Prime Minister John Key has already warned Ms Collins about the Oravida situation, saying her last chance had arrived when she was forced to grudgingly issue an apology after seemingly misleading the media on the dinner.

She is becoming increasingly defiant about the issue at a time Mr Key wants only good news to come out of the Government.

What Mr Key will need to decide is whether one of his most loyal and able lieutenants needs to be shown the door before the election.

Ms Collins and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce - both seen as possible replacements for Mr Key when he decides to go - have been the mainstays of his term as prime minister.

It will not be an easy decision. And demoting Ms Collins will be difficult given Education Minister Hekia Parata manages to hang on to her portfolio through all sorts of mistakes and court decisions.

But Mr Key does have options. And, quite simply, too many issues have engulfed Ms Collins for her to stay in her current positions.

Dining with Oravida was not a personal visit, as she once claimed. The letter released by NZ First shows that. She says many of the allegations are untrue. The ACC bungle should be the final issue on which she should be judged.

Mr Key should phone Ms Collins this weekend and say goodbye.

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