14 Mar 2014

Collins insists no Oravida talk at dinner

1:11 pm on 14 March 2014

Justice Minister Judith Collins is staking her ministerial career on her insistence that no business relating to export company Oravida was discussed at a dinner she and a Chinese border control official attended.

Judith Collins speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

Judith Collins speaking to reporters on Wednesday. Photo: RNZ

Also present at the dinner in Beijing were Paul Shi, an owner of Oravida, and Julia Xu, a director, both of whom she describes as close personal friends. The minister's husband is a director of Oravida.

Ms Collins earned the ire of Prime Minister John Key for disclosing that meeting for the first time on Wednesday while defending accusations of a conflict of interest after visiting the Shanghai branch of Oravida while on a trip to China last year.

She strongly denies there was any talk about Oravida and the importation process at the dinner, in light of Fonterra's recent botulism scare, and said on Thursday she would resign if any information emerges to the contrary.

"Well, of course, but I didn't. And the other thing is, is that my discussion is very much around tourism and I'm always constantly promoting New Zealand everywhere I go."

Ms Collins has had to apologise to Mr Key after disclosing there was more to her trip than she had previously told him or the public. She had already been accused of breaching Cabinet rules by visiting Oravida's Shanghai office and praising its milk products.

'Black mark' against PM

Labour Party MP Grant Roberston says the fact Ms Collins is still a minister is a black mark against Mr Key.

"I'm not sure that Judith Collins as a lawyer is showing what we would expect someone to have in that position, as an understanding of conflict of interest."

Mr Key said on Wednesday he was very disappointed in Ms Collins and warned her against making the same mistake again.

"She didn't of itself mislead in the direct questions that she was asked, but she misled by omission. I think she had a responsibility to make clear all of the meetings she held in Beijing even if one of them was, quote unquote, a private meeting. She certainly should have made me aware of that."

Ms Collins said it had been a tough lesson, and she would be much more careful about risk of potential conflicts of interest. "The Prime Minister's made it very clear that he expects me to be much more aware of these issues and not have that happen, and really I am very aware."

She told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme she was very sorry for not mentioning the dinner.

"What I should have done, in hindsight, is really I should have just said, these are other questions that might be asked, these are the answers. I should have treated it as a Cabinet report matter and I should have been thinking it might be controversial. And I just didn't - and let myself down."

Earlier, Ms Collins said she's never considered quitting. She said most people understand that politicians occasionally make mistakes, and she has been overwhelmed by the support she has received in the past few days from people she does not know.