The New Zealand political scene has been a little bit boring recently. Not because nothing has been in the news, but because everything has just been about how terrible Labour has been doing. Whether this is because Labour has been doing badly, or because of media bias, or a mixture of both, it doesn’t really matter – it was monotonous.
By the way, I think that it’s definitely a little bit of media bias. At the exact same time that David Cunliffe was taking punishment over his trust slip-up, John Key was also facing some questions about a couple of dodgier sounding trusts that he’s involved with and got away with only one or two small stories about it.
So after hearing Shane Jones this, Green Party that, tricky David Cunliffe blah blah blah, it came as a pleasant surprise to find that National Party centurion Judith Collins was in the news, and that people like Patrick Gower were actually holding her to account.
Prior to this, Judith Collins has been untouchable. I can’t remember a time when she has been at the centre of a scandal, or slipped up on anything. She’s big league, leaving amateurs like Nick Smith and Hekia Parata in her wake. She’s a contender to become the next leader of the National Party, possibly the next Prime Minister, and I think she could do it. This is why it must be such a blow to Collins herself, and the National Party that she has been caught out, having dinner with Chinese government (including customs) officials and other representatives of her husband’s company.
There’s no question that this is a conflict of interest. As a high profile government minister, you can’t have a private meeting with representatives of a company that you have personal ties to, particularly when one of those present is a customs official who will certainly have an eye on exports between New Zealand and China. Collins denies talking about importation of Oravida products to New Zealand at the dinner, but you have to question whether she’s telling the truth, particularly when she had previously ‘forgotten’ to mention the dinner. David Cunliffe faced significant criticism for his failure to declare his trust fund, which pales in comparison to what is beginning to look like a hugely unethical encounter.
It has been made clear that if anything comes out that further incriminates Collins, then she will be gone. Key has come down hard on his minister, and its easy to see why – he has been personally affected by this. When other ministers have messed up beforehand, Key has been able to distance himself from them enough so that his own reputation has remained unscathed. However, Judith Collins is one of the ‘Big 4’, along with Gerry Brownlee, Stephen Joyce and Bill English. She is close enough to power that when she is caught out, the Prime Minister looks bad, and that is unnacceptable to John Key.
What Judith Collins has been caught doing also reeks of crony capitalism, which is a label that National really need to avoid. I seriously doubt that this is a one off – it’s just the only time that a major National player has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. This also comes in the same week that a story has surfaced about John Key being complicit in the fast-tracking of citizenship to a wealthy foreign donor. Allegations of crony capitalism have been one of the only things that the opposition have been able to make stick to National, and a week of stories that incriminate some of the most important figures in government could be the start of a slippery slope that ends in election disaster. If Judith Collins goes, then she could take the future of the National Party with her.
So Judith Collins is Oravida’s employee of the month. However, I would like to award her the Left Estate’s Most Valued Politician award too. Not only has she broken the endless monotony of stories attempting to savage Labour, but she has also damaged the National Party and it’s teflon coated leader, and created an unquantifiable factor leading up to the election.
And if there is more to uncover in this story, then the political landscape could be changing very rapidly.