Collins faces a Labour crushing

Last updated 08:12 06/05/2014
Fairfax NZ

JUDITH COLLINS: Known as Crusher Collins for her tough approach to boy racers, Labour hopes to turn the tables and put the squeeze on the minister.

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Labour is preparing to go for the jugular when Justice Minister Judith Collins faces the House today.

She is set to face Question Time after a two-week recess, during which official documents were released outlining the planning that went into a dinner Collins held with executives of Chinese company Oravida and a Chinese border control official, while on a taxpayer-funded trip to China.

Collins, in a sign of the pressure she's under, launched an attack on TVNZ political report Katie Bradford during the weekend in an apparent attempt to deflect attention.

That attempt backfired, with Prime Minister John Key calling her actions "completely unacceptable" and asking her to take five days of stress leave from Thursday.

Key's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson called in Collins' staff yesterday morning to clarify details about the leadup to Collins' visit to Oravida's Chinese offices.

Collins' husband David Wong-Tung is a director of the company that imports New Zealand dairy and other products into China, and she has insisted a dinner with its executives was private. However, her office asked for a briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) - not usual for an unofficial meeting. Collins says her staff made the request in error.

It is understood Eagleson summoned Collins' staff to his office to get to the bottom of who asked for the briefing.

However, Key's office denied this and downplayed Eagleson's intervention, saying he regularly met staff.

But Labour Leader David Cunliffe said today the released documents showed the situation was serious.

"What these papers make clear is that it was no chance meeting between the senior Chinese official and the chairman of Oravida and herself," he said on Breakfast.

"They sought the meeting weeks before.

"MFAT was involved in setting it up, MFAT was initially involved in providing an official briefing, and none of that is just another private dinner."

Cunliffe said Key's judgement was lacking.

"He's saying the minister is unfit to carry on for five days, yet she's supposedly going to be in the House today and tomorrow to face questions," the Labour leader said.

"If it was purely stress-related, as he's implying, you'd think she wouldn't be there.

"And I think it raises a bigger question that any New Zealander would understand - if any other worker is guilty of lying to the boss, is guilty of lying to the public, they don't get a $5000 paid holiday for their trouble."

Collins will probably be forced to explain to the House why the documents released by MFAT said the purpose of the visit and tour was "to increase the profile" of Oravida.

Labour MP Grant Robertson said it broke rules governing Cabinet ministers' conduct because it showed Collins "went out of her way on a taxpayer-funded justice trip to promote her husband's company".

However, Key continues to back Collins.

"I just think she should take a bit of a break and take a refresher," he said yesterday, adding Collins was upset over the resignation on Thursday of former minister Maurice Williamson.

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She apologised to Bradford in a telephone call last night.

Oravida has donated about $65,000 to the National Party, including $30,000 after the visit last year.

- Stuff

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