It is against Cabinet Manual rules to endorse any product. Labour MP Grant Robertson said there was a perception of a conflict of interest. "Ministers have to be up front. Perception matters.''
But Mr Key this afternoon said his office yesterday sought clarification from the Cabinet Office to ensure she hadn't broken the rules.
"They unequivocally came back and said no there's no breach."
A translation of a Chinese language report on Ms Collins' visit to the Oravida offices on the company's website says she tried the company's milk and "praised" it.
Mr Key said it was correct that Ministers shouldn't endorse products in their official business but the Cabinet Office didn't believe Ms Collins had endorsed the company's products.
The natural thing to do here would be to OIA the Cabinet Office to see whether they really did say that, and whether their reasoning stacks up. But there's no point, because the Ombudsman has ruled [para 54 - 57] that such advice is "inherently confidential", and need not be disclosed even when politicians use it as a shield in public. Apparently the (supposed) word of the "respected and impartial" Cabinet secretary should be enough for us. But that's just hierarchical obey-your-"betters" bullshit. In a democracy, we don't trust anyone. Trust is for suckers. We want to know that our politicians are behaving properly. That requires transparency. And where there is no transparency, where we are forbidden to know, we cannot trust, and we can only regard those politicians as guilty and corrupt.