There are claims Justice Minister Judith Collins may have breached parliamentary rules around perceptions concerning conflict of interest.
Ms Collins visited the Shanghai offices of Kiwi fresh milk exporter Oravida when she travelled to China in her capacity as Justice Minister in October last year.
Her husband is a director in the company.
“I drop into a lot of New Zealand companies if they ask me to and I think it’s absolutely completely appropriate,” says Mrs Collins.
A photo taken during the visit was posted on Oravida’s webstie along with a Chinese quote saying “Mrs Collins personally tasted Oravdia’s products, giving her full endorsement of these products”.
The rule book governing cabinet ministers states no minister should endorse any product or service in any media.
“Well I certainly don’t endorse any products other than the fact that I always try and help New Zealand companies who are trying to export,” says Mrs Collins.
Ms Collins says she wasn’t aware of the comments on the website and would ask for them to be removed if they breach cabinet rules.
Collins is reported as saying she dropped in briefly on her way to the airport, and has done so for other NZ companies.
You do need to be careful if a family member is involved with a company, but her husband is a director, not a shareholder, and all she did was drink a glass of milk. I don’t think that is really an endorsement.
Mr Key says he is aware Mrs Collins visited Oravida and doesn’t believe her husband’s directorship creates a conflict.
“I don’t think it does preclude her from dropping in, there is no commercial value,” says Mr Key.
In the end the Cabinet Office will advise if there is an issue, but I don’t see anything wrong. Basically a Minister pops into a successful export company for half an hour or so, has a glass of milk, and they stick a photo up on their website. It is important that the company doesn’t try to make it look like an endorsement, but many many MPs attend business openings and promotions.
Oravida is listed as a donor to the National Party, which is the great thing about transparency with donations. But I don’t think anyone thinks you need to be a donor to have an MP drink a glass of milk. Ministers and MPs routinely do photo ops like this.