The work history of new Labour leader David Cunliffe has come under scrutiny after claims from National party-aligned lobbyist Matthew Hooton.
In an interview with Fairfax Media this weekend Cunliffe said that as a business consultant he had "helped with the formation of Fonterra".
However, Hooton, who was a communications consultant working on the merger, angrily rejected this, saying: "That was untrue."
"David Cunliffe had nothing to do with the foundation of Fonterra."
Cunliffe responded to the allegations this morning by tweeting: "Bollocks."
The multinational corporation was formed in 2001 from the merger of New Zealand Dairy Group, Kiwi Co-operative Dairies, and export agent New Zealand Dairy Board.
Before entering politics in 1999, the New Lynn MP worked for Boston Consultancy Group in Auckland.
Hooton conceded the firm was involved in the early stages: "It is true that Boston Consulting had a supporting role." He claims it is "deeply implausible" Cunliffe was involved.
However, he said: "It's absolutely true that sometime earlier in the 1990s, he might have done some dairy industry analysis. That's entirely plausible, but to say that he helped with the formation of Fonterra is quite obviously a lie."
Announcements about deregulation and reform of the dairy industry were made in the 1998 Budget. There were secret negotiations throughout 2000 at a hotel in Auckland airport before the Fonterra proposal was made public.
"By that time David Cunliffe had been in Parliament for more than a year...and he'd been a Labour candidate for two years," Hooton pointed out.
An industry player close to the deal, who did not want to be named, said that BCG had carried out early work for the dairy board in 1998 around creating a single company and Cunliffe may have been involved in that.
But he said they were "shunted to one side" after that and were not involved in the 2000 talks. He said it was "embellishing" to say that Cunliffe was involved in the formation of Fonterra.
On Saturday, Fairfax Media revealed that Cunliffe had erased part of his curriculum vitae after a "mistake" involving volunteer work he claimed to have carried out for a homeless charity.
He asked for a reference to Auckland City Mission to be removed from the bio posted on Parliament's official website. He also claimed to be a member of the Waitakere Forest and Bird Protection Society, but a spokesman admitted this was not current.
A spokesman for Cunliffe confirmed that while with BCG he carried out work for the Dairy Board on "different merger options" in the late 1990s.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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