This morning on Morning Report Judith Collins is reported as acknowledging that something that she said to Parliament last Thursday was not true. Last week she said she did not remember discussing matters with the New Zealand Ambassador to China, this morning she said that she had discussed matters with the Ambassador and said there was nothing to report. It makes you wonder why she felt that she had to report to the Ambassador the fact that she had supposedly had a private dinner.
One other aspect of this jars with me. On Tuesday April 15, 2014 shortly after 6 pm TV3 reported on the letter of August 6, 2013 written by Oravida to Tim Groser and Nathan Guy requesting that the Government work with Oravida on border issues. Two months later Collins had a private dinner with senior Oravida personnel and a Chinese border official. Collins would have us believe that importation issues were not discussed although her lack of knowledge of the Chinese language would raise doubts about this particular assertion. And her refusal to name the Chinese Official or even state who he works for has allowed considerable speculation on his role to occur. It is at least possible that he could help Oravida with its border problems.
The next morning, April 15, Collins was interviewed on Checkpoint by Mary Wilson. She said clearly that she had not seen the letter until that day. TV3 broke the story the night before. You would have thought that she would have been asked about the letter as soon as the OIA request was received and it seems very strange that she had not seen the letter until the day after it was put into the public arena. At the very least I would have thought that her staff would have been ordered to track down a copy of the letter as soon as the TV3 story was broadcast.
Collins was interviewed by Suzy Ferguson this morning about her memory lapse. She claimed there was nothing to see and that the whole thing was a witch hunt. She said that she misinterpreted the question and thought that Robertson’s question was asking her if she had immediately after the dinner had discussions with the Ambassador.
The transcript of the original question and answer is here. The text is as follows:
Grant Robertson: What discussions, if any, did she have after her dinner in Beijing with the New Zealand Ambassador to China about the dinner or the attendees who were at it?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was a private dinner. I went to bed.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I am going to invite the member to ask that question again.
Grant Robertson: What discussions, if any, did she have after her dinner with the New Zealand Ambassador to China about the dinner or the attendees who were there?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I cannot remember any discussions.
The question was pretty clear and straight. If Collins had said that she did have discussions with the Ambassador then the next question would undoubtedly have been if it was a private dinner why did she feel the need to discuss it with the Ambassador?
John Key was interviewed and asked about his previous statement that he would not like to be in Ms Collins shoes if she made another mistake. As Karol pointed out he waffled around the subject. He then attacked Labour saying that it was playing politics about an “apparent” conflict of interest. A more clear example of an actual conflict of interest I cannot imagine. He claimed that the Ambassador did not attend the dinner because it was a “private dinner” and that the discussion with the Minister was only a “cursory conversation”. He then claimed that all the information was disclosed to the Cabinet Office.
Espiner asked Key to rate Collins handling of the issue. Key tried to talk about the Labour Party. He eventually said that he had absolute confidence in Collins and that he was quite satisfied with her handling of the issue. He also said that his role was not to be a political commentator and that was Espiner’s role. I hope that every reporter reminds Key of this statement the next time he talks about the inner workings of the Labour Party.
Guyon Espiner’s and Suzy Ferguson’s questioning of Key and Collins were direct and forthright. Well done. Keep it up.
When Parliament sits in two weeks time I am certain there will be a further series of questions of Collins. Presuming she is still a Minister …