Can Collins survive Garner?

In my previous post on Judith Collins, I was looking at the perception problem – how she did not seem able to comprehend how the public might perceive her actions in China to be about self-interest.

But it’s not just perception that matters. As Tim Watkin writes in his blog post ‘Collins & Cunliffe – how to win friends & influence people’, “reality matters even more. So let’s talk about realities”. Watkins spells out the realities thusly:

Collins asked if it was wrong of her to visit Oravida, would it also be wrong to visit Fonterra’s outposts around the world. The answer, of course, is no. But she didn’t just visit Oravida, she appeared in a photo “full of praise” for their product. So the real question is – should she appear in a photo endorsing Fonterra products? That’s debateable, as the cabinet manual raises pretty clear questions about endorsements. But in most cases it’s probably OK. The difference here though is that her family doesn’t profit directly if Fonterra does well from such promotions. If Oravida does better, so does her family.

The other distinction Collins seems determined to overlook is that there are hundreds of New Zealand businesses in China which would love the boost a ministerial visit gives. But instead of visit one of them, she visited the one her husband helps direct and her friends run. Why did she visit that one and not another? Because she knows all about that company and because of the family and friends connection. Because knowing them means she can just squeeze them in at the end of a busy day, as a favour.

And that’s the problem. It’s not just a perception, it’s a reality. Whatever boost a New Zealand firm in China might get from a ministerial visit, Oravida got it because of its specific access to a minister.

You can make a similar point with the newly revealed dinner. Is there “a perception of conflict of interest” because she attended a dinner with a senior Chinese border agency official present? Again, it’s more than perception. If getting product through customs is crucial to your business and impressing border control agencies helps that, then a dinner with a minister of course offers an actual – not just perceived – benefit.

Again, presumably there are other New Zealand companies who would appreciate such help in their relationship management. But the one that got the help was the one Collins’ husband directs.

I agree with Mr Watkins. It appears to me to be fairly black and white that Oravida received a promotion or endorsement (and it’s merely semantics as to which term one uses) due to the company’s connections to Collins through family and friends.

So where to from here for Collins? Well, thus far she’s weathered the storm having lost only some pride. But Labour will be digging, knowing that every last little piece of Oravida scuttlebutt  they can find will help keep National on the back foot. And if they accumulate enough, they might even finally gain Collins’ scalp, just before an election. Of course, there probably isn’t anything further of relevance to come out, but it won’t stop Labour looking.

And the media are certainly looking. Case in point – today’s NZ Herald article on Collins arranging a meeting between John Key and one of Oravida’s milk suppliers.

But no one in the media will be looking as hard as Duncan Garner, who now appears to have Collins’ career firmly in his sights. Twice in the space of three days this week, he’s blogged on the RadioLIVE website about how Collins should be sacked.

On Wednesday, in his blog titled simply ‘Judith Collins must go’, he wrote:

Judith Collins has been caught out not telling the truth.

She has misled the New Zealand public; she has misled her boss the Prime Minister; and her best defence is that she lied to us, by omission.

It is simply not good enough. She is no longer fit to be a Minister, she has failed the truth test. I have been saying this for a week now: She did not just pop in to Oravida, she planned it weeks out.

Now, we know she had a top level dinner and meeting with Oravida bosses and a senior official from the Chinese Government, all in a private capacity. There is no such thing when you are representing NZ as a Minister overseas.

Remember, her husband is a director of this firm. That’s the conflict. The Collins family stands to gain from the success of this company. You don’t just forget this sort of detail, you hold it back on purpose, and that’s what she has done.

I have always said when you put a Minister or MP in a tight spot, their default setting is to lie. They do not tell the truth and this is what has happened here. Collins has once again proven my theory correct.

She has misled the NZ public and that’s not acceptable. She has lost the confidence of a nation. She has misled the PM – and that’s where it always used to get terminal for Ministers with Helen Clark in charge. But John Key has decided to tough this one out. It’s the wrong decision. He should sack her.

Then on Friday, in his post entitled ‘Clark sacked ministers for lying’, he continued the attack:

John Key won’t like this, but by Helen Clark’s standards he looks weak.

He was lied to by Judith Collins; the best spin you can put on it is that she lied by omission or misled by omission. Take your pick; it’s all semantics.

She went to China as Justice Minister for ‘anti-corruption’ business, but ended up meeting Oravida bosses three times – including that ‘secret’ dinner involving a senior Chinese border official. Wow, I bet all Kiwi exporters struggling in China would love that sort of access and help, wouldn’t they?

Oravida needs access to China. She was clearly helping her husband’s business, while being paid by the taxpayer to be Justice Minister. Yet she failed to declare this to the Prime Minister and in her report to the Cabinet. It’s a sackable offence.

You NEVER mislead the PM. Ever.

When Garner gets a bee in his bonnet, it takes a long time for him to remove said bonnet and shake out the bee. In the final paragraph of his Friday blog, he makes it clear that Collins “remains a target”.

Thus, despite having all of the opposition attack dogs and every political journalist looking for more Oravida dirt, the big question may be “Can Collins survive Garner?”

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