Movers and shakers surround Oravida

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
The Quay St building where Oravida is based.
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ

POWER BASE: The Quay St building where Oravida is based.

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The landmark building owned by the company at the centre of a political storm over its links to a senior Cabinet minister plays host to a clutch of National Party grandees and agencies tasked with opening doors in China.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has been under scrutiny over her dealings with Oravida, a dairy and scampi exporter of which her husband is a director, and which has also been a National Party donor.

Collins ran into trouble over a posting on the company's website suggesting she had endorsed its products, and she later received a dressing-down from Prime Minister John Key for holding back details of a dinner with company boss Stone Shi and a Chinese border official in Shanghai.

The controversy has sparked Opposition questions over the company's broader National Party links. Oravida's website shows the company has hosted to some of National's most senior ministers at various functions.

Meanwhile, its downtown headquarters is like a mini China-trade central, with several key government or government-funded agencies based there.

On its website, Oravida says it bought the Quay St building two years ago. Agencies including the NZ-China Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and others have since opened their doors there.

A list of tenancies at the time of the receivership sale does not list either MFAT or NZTE as tenants, though MFAT says its sublease arrangements predate Oravida's purchase of the building.

NZ-China Council chief executive Patrick English said his agency signed a lease with Oravida after it purchased the building, on full commercial rates, and the attraction had been the building's location and the proximity of NZTE and MFAT.

He did not see any conflict with so many government-funded agencies being clustered around Oravida.

English, a former China-based diplomat for 16 years, said Oravida deserved credit as a trailblazer in the export market.

"Oravida is a New Zealand company looking to do some really important commercial things, . . . sending scampi to China, that's a whole new seafood line for New Zealand, fresh milk, fruit - all of that has a New Zealand Inc benefit."

Oravida's fresh milk exports in particular were highly innovative.

The chilled milk is flown to China and sold on the shelves for up to $23 a litre.

The council is chaired by former deputy prime minister Sir Don McKinnon. Its executive board includes former National prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister John Key's chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman, MFAT chief executive John Allen, Fonterra chairman John Wilson, Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise chief executive Peter Chrisp and some of New Zealand's foremost business leaders.

McKinnon said the NZ-China council was offered space in the building and it attracted them because of the proximity to MFAT and Trade and Enterprise. "It was very convenient for us to be there. Oravida didn't even come into that."

He had attended only one function hosted by Oravida and that was its office opening two years ago.

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New Zealand Trade and Enterprise moved to Quay St in 2012 and has around 150 staff working on two levels. Their main function is to work with New Zealand export businesses.

It also sublets space to MFAT, which has five staff based in the building.

NZTE's lease is with Arawata Assets, a subsidiary of the ANZ bank, for about $800,000 per annum, which it says is cheaper than its previous premises.

Asked if Government ministers were involved in the decision to relocate there, NZTE said relevant ministers were kept apprised of the situation but it was NZTE that signed the business case.

It confirmed, meanwhile, that Oravida had been approved for money from NZTE's "market correction fund" which had been established in response to the Fonterra botulism scare and its effects on dairy exports to China.

The expenses claim was still being processed so a figure could not be provided but it was less than $20,000.

- Sunday Star Times

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