Yesterday morning, in response to Winston Peters’ assertions that he had information on Judith Collins that would see her “gone by Monday”, I was about to write that he was probably just making it all up. Peters’ record over the last few years makes it difficult to believe much that comes out of his mouth. Anyway, I ended up being sidetracked, and by the time I got round to considering how best to say that Peters was probably being creative with the truth, he’d already appeared at Question Time, made a complete arse of himself, got kicked out of the House, and had Tau Henare extract the Michael from him. All in all, it wasn’t a crash hot day for Mr Peters.
The gist of Mr Peters’ supposed “smoking gun” was that Judith Collins had failed to declare “substantial” travel, accommodation and other costs that were paid for by the Chinese government during Ms Collins’ Ministerial trip to China last year. John Key has declared that it’s simply a technical breach that is easily rectified by an updated declaration to the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests.
There’s some doubt as to whether Ms Collins has even committed a breach at all. The explanatory notes to the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament state:
You do not need to include overseas travel in this section if the costs were incurred by yourself, a close family member, the Crown, or by a government, a parliament, or an international parliamentary organisation as part of an official parliamentary visit overseas.
“Official parliamentary visit” means one that is part of the annually approved official travel programme administered by the Office of the Clerk (the Office). On such visits, host governments or parliaments may cover internal costs such as transport and accommodation. These do not need to be registered. The Office can clarify whether a particular visit was an official parliamentary visit, or you will find them on the “Outward delegations and visits” page on the Parliament website.
Ms Collins’ trip isn’t found on Parliament’s “Outward delegations and visits” web-page, so I called the Office of the Clerk. Despite the promise that they can clarify whether an visit was an official parliamentary visit, they professed themselves to be mystified, and put me through to the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMs office didn’t want to confirm anything, declaring that to be up to Judith Collins’ office, and I was duly transferred once more. At present, I’m waiting for Collins’ office to get back to me, as it wasn’t something they could immediately answer.
Even though the travel it was in Ms Collins’ official capacity as Minister of Justice and was presumably approved by the Office of the Clerk as being official Parliamentary business, I’m not convinced that the trip is covered by the “official parliamentary visit” exemption, given the wording of the definition.
Regardless of whether a breach has technically occurred or not, Labour will not exactly be happy with Mr Peters. They’ve had to sit and watch as their carefully constructed case against Ms Collins has suddenly been transformed into a laughing stock. Most voters don’t seem to have particularly cared that Ms Collins has had a clear conflict of interest and has repeatedly lied to Parliament about it. Unfortunately, Mr Peters’ ineptitude is exactly what National needed to ensure that the Collins issue disappears from view.
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