I had thought that Labour had run out of ammunition on Judith Collins and her links to Oravida. The story seemed to have run out of puff, and Hekia Parata and Simon Bridges seemed to have decided to take it in turns to implode. However, Grant Robertson doesn’t seem to have given up just yet. In Parliament, Mr Robertson continued to press Ms Collins on who exactly was at her formerly-secret dinner in China. Ms Collins continues to refuse to disclose the name of the mystery Chinese border control official who at the dinner. Her stock denial, used time and time again to Mr Robertson’s questioning, was:
“It was a private dinner. I have no ministerial responsibility to explain it.”
This didn’t wash with the Speaker, David Carter, who told her:
“This House and the public will judge that for themselves.”
Ms Collins’ response simply raises more questions than it answers. For a start, if she has no ministerial responsibility to explain who was at the dinner, what exactly was her ministerial reason for being in China in the first place. As many people have pointed out on many an occasion, Ms Collins is the Minister of Justice. She has no trade responsibilities. She has no foreign affairs responsibilities. So what was intending to achieve in China in any official ministerial capacity?
The simple fact is that Ms Collins was in China to, broadly speaking, push Brand New Zealand. She’s the Minister of Justice; she has clout, and China likes people with clout. Therefore, whatever she did, wherever she went and whoever she met should be declared. This was not a private trip – taxpayers stumped up $30,000 for it. She doesn’t get to simply say this was a private dinner and it’s no business of the taxpayer who was at it.
The other simple fact is that it was not merely a private dinner between friends, because the unnamed border control official was present, whom Ms Collins had never before met. Besides, Ms Collins has identified the personal friends that were at the dinner. The only name she refuses to give is that of the border control official. Why? If it was simply a private dinner between friends, with the only topic of conversation being NZ tourism (a strange topic of dinner conversation for personal friends), then what does it matter who this Chinese official was?
Ms Collins, by refusing to front up and provide the Chinese official’s name or position, creates the impression that there is more to the dinner than meets the eye. Oravida relies on getting NZ product through Chinese borders in order to make its money, therefore it’s curious that a Chinese border control official ends up at a dinner involving Oravida staff and a senior NZ cabinet minister – Oravida gets to show the Chinese just how many high end contacts the company has with the NZ government, which can only help grease the border control wheels. It doesn’t matter whether border control issues were never discussed at the dinner – the presence of both a Chinese border control official and Judith Collins is enough to create the impression of a conflict. Therefore, Collins has a duty to come clean and admit who the official was and what their role is.
Collins has already publicly acknowledged that she should have reported the dinner in her formal report to Cabinet. She’s now back-tracking on that, presumably because she’s realised that a dinner that should have been reported is a dinner that she should answer questions on.