Shane Jones apologises over Collins comments
STACEY KIRK AND VERNON SMALL
Labour MP Shane Jones has apologised on air to Justice Minister Judith Collins, over comments he made about her living arrangements.
Yesterday, Jones alleged Collins had been living at the Auckland mansion formerly owned by failed finance director Mark Hotchin, now owned by Oravida chairman Stone Shi.
A storm has erupted in the past week over her visit to the Shanghai offices of fresh-food exporter Oravida and a private dinner she had during the trip with Shi, managing director Julia Xu, Collins' adviser and an unnamed Chinese border control official.
Collins' husband, David Wong-Tung, is a director of Oravida.
Collins was forced to give an assurance this week that nothing more would come out that would embarrass Prime Minister John Key over her trip to China after she only belatedly revealed the dinner to him and the media.
Key effectively put Collins on notice, saying on Wednesday that she had been "cute" by not mentioning the dinner.
Collins yesterday also confirmed she had a private dinner with Xu, a close friend, when they both spoke at the Apec Women Leadership Forum in November.
"I had dinner with my close friends," she said.
"I don't know what you do at dinner but I eat food and I drink wine."
Asked if she was prepared to resign if it emerged issues to do with Oravida imports had been discussed at the dinner during her Chinese trip, she said: "Well, of course, but I didn't."
She said, however, the rumours mentioned by Jones on radio were "defamatory", but she would not be taking action against him because nobody believed what he said.
Collins had earlier said she and her husband had not stayed at the former Hotchin mansion, which is in Auckland's upmarket Paritai Drive. Suggestions they had stayed there while their own house was being renovated were wrong.
An emotional Collins said Jones' comments were "hurtful" but she would not elaborate on what the comments might have meant.
This morning, Jones apologised on the Breakfast TV show for the comments but stopped short of saying whether he thought they were true or not.
"Political banter on RadioLive has been grossly misconstrued, but I want to say something, to your viewers and to Judith in front of her," he said.
"Any suggestion I was imputing something of a highly personal nature to do with her and her family, or her and her husband was wrong in fact.
"What political banter I was engaged in, I lost my customary felicity with language, but the reality remains Judith is known as Crusher Collins. Judith is the justice minister and if anyone knows what a conflict of interest is, it's the justice minister."
Collins said she accepted Jones' apology, but "gossip mongering" was the problem.
"If you get down to the stage where you're dealing with rumours, and publicising them then that is just awful," she said.
"But I accept Shane's apology and we all make mistakes as I've shown and Shane has shown in the past."
Labour leader David Cunliffe denied Jones had "gone rogue".
"No he certainly has not [gone rogue]," Cunliffe said.
"Shane, he's what you might call an impact player in our backline ... an orator too.
"The exchange between himself and the potentially soon-to-be-former minister of justice of course is a matter of record."
Cunliffe said he had not spoken to Jones on the matter, and did not direct Jones to apologise on national television.
"We haven't had an opportunity to discuss that particular matter," he said.
"I think Mr Jones has made a good decision in terms of his subsequent comments.
"I very much value having Shane at my side, we are a united caucus and we're here to win this election, and that's what we're going to do."
Prime Minister John Key said Jones' apology "was the right thing to do" and brought an end to the matter but Jones should "check his facts first".
The issue would not have harmed Collins' political future he said, as most new Zealanders would see she was "a good, decent person".
"The scrutiny that is applied to any minister when they are under the pump is quite an extreme position and people do feel emotional about that. In the end there's been a small error that's been resolved now and I think it's onward and upward."
Collins would have to be more careful about how she managed her professional relationship with Oravida and its directors, he said.
- Fairfax Media
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