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Opposition damages public morality with Oravida claims

Political journalists continue to give credibility to the Oravida beat-up. I've not heard anyone I know, outside the 'beltway' set, who share their faux indignation. Perhaps aspects yet to be revealed will vindicate the accusers. But on what has been disclosed so far, those alleging corruption disgrace themselves.

We come from an era, widely regarded as our most incorruptible, when all manner of goods were marked with the Royal crest, and the words "By appointment to HM the Queen". Approval as suppliers to the Crown was overtly advertised, for the benefit of the supplier. I recall no concern that it was a corrupt practice.

Nor is there any objective argument that Ms Collins advocacy for any dairy interests in China or elsewhere, has been inimical to the interests of New Zealand. The allegations of corruption are the single element most likely to reduce the barriers to corruption. When it is acceptable to equate such innocuous behaviour with corruption, we lose the capacity to distinguish, and 'everybody does it' becomes a more likely excuse for genuine corruption at other levels

If there was some indication of covert payments then it might run. But most of us know that there is implicit personal endorsement, even if it is unwanted, in most engagements of powerful people.

As a humble opposition back-bencher I knew that when I was asked to open a building, or celebrate the commencement of a business, I was not asked for my rippling physique, or my rhetoric. I was asked because it was endorsement. It added weight to an occasion.

When I was asked to take up a complaint about bureacracy, of course I was putting my weight behind the complainant. That did not mean that I necessarily thought they should prevail. Nor did it mean they got a privilege. I was expected to do it even for companies and causes with which I had little sympathy. I went to their dinners and spoke at their AGMs, because they were entitled to expect me to be interested, and to help them if I could without impropriety.

In my mind, impropriety was simple. If I stipulated for, or accepted, a private benefit (more than a ceremonial bottle of wine, say) or failed to disclose any substantial pecuniary return, I was misusing my office. But othewise I should, and would advance the interests of any constituent or sector, with which I had sympathy, or a policy interest.

We do not want our leaders to be ignorant eunuchs, fed only the information they get pre-digested from officials. We want them to be well connected. We want them to test all they hear with people they know they can trust, from experience. And as I was warned when I entered Parliament by one of its most experienced Ministers, "Stick to the friends you had before you came here, because from now on you will not know who are your friends, and who are not, till you leave. You will not be sure which are the greasers, and those who are genuine".

So be staunch Judith Collins. And remind us all of the utter uselessness of an opposition (and political journalism that sustains it) in banging on about a Minister who is enthusiastic about a company her husband directs, when that opposition ignores huge issues, such as the risk expert report that suggests New Zealand is spending up to $10 billion on earthquake strengthening that is likely to save few lives if any.

Stephen Franks is principal of Wellington commercial and public law firm Franks and Ogilvie.

Comments and questions

I think you may need a cup of tea and a lie-down Stephen such a display of cognitive dissonance must be giving you a headache!

Looking at most of the talking heads you refer to, they love to have a few seconds of fame. The MMP system has thrown up a host of unemployables in the real world, to see so many in the debating chamber drawing at least $200,000 per year. Who would employ them at such massive salaries for causing mayhem to our trading nation? Seems Parliament needs a good cleanout, especially from the opposition benches, yet under MMP they are like rubber balls - they just keep bouncing back.

well put

Fully Agree Stephen. Does the PM have a conflict of interest when he travels with business leaders, who he knows support him in politics, so he can support them in building their businesses and thereby New Zealand's? Is personal friendship with these leaders enough to stop our politicians helping them build their businesses? I suggest if they were being paid in cash or kind for this support that would raise some questions. Attending a dinner is unlikely to influence anyone. Whether a persons husband is a director or not, perhaps our Ministers and M Ps have a duty to support our business owners and leaders?

Quite magnificent Stephen.
Right on the mark.
The country must be in great shape if all the opposition can find to rabbit on about is personality pin pricking.
I'm sure most thinking people are sick of it.

This must be a joke?

Stephen, are you suggesting, just possibly, that the opposition may be taking opportunistic advantage of Judith Collins's inept handling of all this? And that this might be politically motivated?

Golly. Next you'll be saying that John Key's defence of her as a minister is equally political.

Stephen, thank you for the input of plain common sense.

You are quite right that they should be worried about the earthquake strengthening issue. It is a serious and potentially hugely expensive issue with little reward.

Similarly, people should be worried about the Auckland unitary plan that will raze our leafy suburbs and concentrate growth in an area subject to volcanic action.

Actually, I think we lose the 'capacity to distinguish' between 'innocuous behaviour' and corruption when people submit pieces like this in well-reputed media outlets. We are talking before all evidence has seen the light of day, but there is already at least the appearance or perception (as John Key calls it) of corruption. Surely the suggestion that there is actual corruption is quite reasonable in the circumstances. Surely there is cause for journos to dig deeper. Do they disgrace themselves? I think you do a wee bit.

The perception of corruption has been manufactured and manipulated by jornalists and opposition. Have they forgotten the past behaviour of their on members when in power?

A 'perception' of conflict is all that is required. In a complex world where lines are blurred in many theatres, including business, a sniff of conflict or corruption is enough for any Director/Board member to immediately declare an interest or conflict. This is reiterated in the Parliamentary rules.

For any MP, it is far better to declare an interest well before anything gets 'discovered'. To not do so is, to an outsider, is suspicious in the least not to mention dishonest. I do not care so much for Judith Collins as her apparent arrogance at not thinking that she had anything to declare. A person of wisdom would have acted more appropriately at the time and in the ensuing melee.

No wonder the opposition parties are digging up everything.

Judith Collins availing herself of an opportunity to give a leg-up to a company where her husband is a director, is far removed from corrupt behaviour. However, whether that shows sound political judgement is very questionable.

Oh dear, Stephen. Look where accepting a 'ceremonial bottle of wine' got the former NSW Premier. Sorry, perception is reality. Judith Collins lacks the judgment to continue as a Minister.

If Collins lacks the judgement to be a Minister, and her behaviour is now the yardstick; then there is nobody but nobody in any of the Opposition parties who would qualify as a Minister.

"Oh, most likely everyone does this" is a terrible response to Collins' actions.

This opinion piece is tosh.

Collins' husband is Chinese. He - and everyone who does or has done business in China - knows just how powerful and fundamental relationships and connections are in China.

Quite simply - Oravida has benefited from creating powerful political connections in China, because of the relationship Collins has to this company via one of its directors.

It is a conflict of interest, and it also gives Oravida an unfair advantage over other New Zealand companies trying to compete in the same market., but who lack the same sort of connections in NZ politics to exploit.

This opinion piece just smacks of more trying to sweep things under the carpet and say they don't matter.

The problem is, New Zealand's comparative lack of corruption needs strong and active protection. We cannot afford to allow the encroachment upon this via so-called "small" things such as this.

Quite simply, if Judith Collins had been more transparent, this whole thing would have blown over in no time. The fact that she hasn't.......

Yes I think you're right. Dithering around over where she went on her way to the airport. Talking about dinner with only personal friends. Then we find out about some Chinese official she won't name. If I was John Key I would be furious with her.

You are correct of course Mr Franks.
But, I believe, the judgement of Ms Collins is sadly lacking, to do what she did and give so much ammo to the opposition in an election year surely deserves the strongest censure? In fact I believe she should resign to the back benches and never be heard from again.

Your very generous defence of Ms Collins is singularly unconvincing.

What NZers have seen for too long now is what is belatedly recognised as crony capitalism.

I haven't heard anyone yet - away from in those circles of influence and know-everybody you seem to move in, who defends Ms Collins.
On the contrary. Or John Key.

There'a real world out here, Stephen. And in it the perception of big money being only too eager to cuddle up to politicians is perceived as a perennial problem. You're apparently out of touch with heartland NZ. But then, that's Wellington in-groupery. What's new?

Collins needs to cut the blustering - and resign.

So crony capitalism is out by crony unionism (a.k.a. Labour's latest manufacturing policy) is OK?

Anything is alright when the left does it.

"But mum, Labour did it first!"

Guess what mum used to say, buddy: two wrongs don't make a right.

Stephen, I don't think you quite grasp the issue here.

There are similarities between the resignation of the disgraced NSW Premiere and Judith Collins' predicament: In each instance, it wasn't the act of receiving a gift (wine) or dispensing favour (removing obstacles for Oravida), as it was about the explanation -- devolving into implausible excuses -- subsequent to the event. Which is more revealing as to the respective individuals' credibility -- and trustworthiness -- than it ever was about the actual initial event.

In O'Farrell's case, he made a misleading statement to ICAC -- that he couldn't recall receiving the expensive bottle wine; despite the fact that this was no ordinary bottle of plonk, but a $3000 vintage that was bottled on his DOB (1959); and the giver was someone who was out to curry business favour with the State Government, and the premier had acknowledged the gift by way of his own -- yes, his own --handwritten thank-you note to his benefactor cum future business partner. Does any NSW voter really believe their premier had a memory fail when he failed to register the expensive gift, and solemnly reiterated this before ICAC? It wasn't a case of clumsy oversight as it was about the ability to be truthful.

Merv I don't you grasp the issue it was tax payer-funded.

She works for the NZ government not Oravida & she was on a taxpayer-funded trip to China to help NZ not Oravida

Er...Oravida is exporting NZ-produced goods to China. So -- in the broader scheme of things, that company is boosting NZ's export receipts. You don't grasp that?

So government ministers should be allowed to pick and choose companies they endorse in overseas markets, based on whether they will receive personal benefit from those companies doing well?

I see....

Well, it's just sad New Zealanders have gotten to this point...

Yes - note the difference between the NSW situation, where the Premier has resigned because he misled the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.

NSW has an Independent Commission Against Corruption - New Zealand does not.

High time we did - because - in my considered opinion, New Zealand is rotten with corruption, and our 'perceived status' as the 'least corrupt country in the world' is nothing more than a sick joke.

Please be reminded that on the watch of Minister of Justice Judith Collins - New Zealand STILL has not yet ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption.

Has she even read it?

It would appear that she has not.

Have these mysterious 'Cabinet officials' who purportedly give advice on corrupt 'conflicts of interest'- read it?

It would appear that they have not.

Here - read it for yourselves - and ask how can it be possible for the 'least corrupt country in the world' to have not yet ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption?

What a CROCK.
Penny Bright

Back off Peters. This one is a storm in a tea cup.

Collins should have been immediately open about her private dinner and her husband's involvement. Nothing more to say. She was pretty silly to be slow in coming forward. PR 101.

And if Oravida and other NZ companies now have a smoother run over Chinese borders the its a good thing. Why do we send ministers overseas if not to promote New Zealand companies. (I did say other new Zealand companies too.)

In Asia people do business with people and these conversations happen all the time.

This is not remotely corruption. That happens with no one senior present and involves fat brown envelopes.

So back of Peters. Franks I don't always agree with you but you are right this time around.

Re :"Fully Agree Stephen. Does the PM have a conflict of interest when he travels with business leaders, who he knows support him in politics, so he can support them in building their businesses and thereby New Zealand's? Is personal friendship with these leaders enough to stop our politicians helping them build their businesses?"

What a naive statement!! This IS in fact part of what we mean by crony capitalism, and NZ is awash with it.

The money gets government's ear - in the same way the former NZ Business Roundtable did - and now we're stuck with the results with Alan Gibb's was it? - health reforms? Hospitals desperate to try to cope... even with keeping patients on their waiting lists? The deeply flawed student loans system - one of the reason our young can't afford houses - or fled overseas. The energy" reforms"? Rigid market ideology gone mad gave the utopian hope of a free market a very bad name.

The big boys became no longer willing to train apprentices - and the hey presto - resulting shortage. Iwi claims of over $200,000,000 EACH still being awarded and their being handed over Crown land...a disgraceful situation when some of these claims have been downright fraudulent.

Bu then there's the supposed Maori vote...No wonder so many honest Maori are disgusted, too

The inescapable fact is that those "business leaders" are in a prime position to offer MPs booted out of parliament promising jobs, directorships, and a very cosy mattress to fall on... as we can see looking at the perks that have ensued for so many who weren't even particularly competent in parliament.

Penny Bright is right. Human nature is just that - and NZ is not a country of saintly politicians and big business boys and girls with impeccable consciences.

While they rant about Collins it means they are not ranting about something that could be important and really news worthy . I back Collins

The perception of corruption and or lack of it in NZ much like the re-interpretations of various other C words, amnesia and the truth politically these days is a disgrace..
This article cannot begin to mitigate Keys 2nd warning fury with Collins either.
Did he learn nothing from the John Banks debarcle?
Apparently not?
Not a gambler but my bet is on the 3rd warning occurring shortly.
Excessive arrogance even when you
think you are well protected often predicts inevitability of a major fall in my opinion. John Banks again. So it should especially if you are ex Ministers of Police for goodness sake!