22 Apr 2014

PM defends Judith Collins

8:21 am on 22 April 2014

The Prime Minister is defending Justice Minister Judith Collins against attacks from the Labour party over her controversial dinner with Oravida executives.

Judith Collins in Parliament on Thursday.

Judith Collins in Parliament on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Ms Collins said she did not deliberately mislead Parliament over the controversy in remarks on Thursday, but rather misunderstood a question she was asked in the House.

The minister has been under fire for visiting New Zealand milk export company Oravida when she was in China last year. Her husband is a director on its board.

She told Parliament on Thursday last week she could not remember discussing a dinner she attended with executives from dairy company Oravida and a Chinese border official.

A few hours later she changed that, and said she told the ambassador there was nothing to report, as it was a short but pleasant meal with friends.

The Labour Party said Ms Collins has misled the House about a dinner she can no longer claim was private.

Ms Collins denies this, and said she thought the question was whether she had spoken to the ambassador on the same night as the dinner.

"In the heat of the moment I saw it as that Sunday night. Well, I shouldn't have, I should have thought broader about it.

"Which is why, when I spoke to the media later on and I came back to them and said, look I've gone back to my notes and I did have a brief discussion with the ambassador on the Monday." She said she double-checked her notes after question time, and corrected her public statements.

Ms Collins told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme she is fed up with being harassed in what she said had turned into something similar to a Salem witch hunt.

John Key admits the minister allowed a perception of a conflict of interest to form, but told the programme no new information has emerged.

He said Ms Collins misheard a question and that by changing her statement, she is just being careful. "The reason the Labour Party are fixated on this issue is now solely about the issue of politics."

Labour MP Grant Robertson said the minister would probably come back to the House in two weeks and give a personal explanation to correct the answer, which he said is not satisfactory.