POWER PLAY

11:28 am on 2 May 2014

The Labour Party was still reeling from last week's resignation by Shane Jones, when National MP Maurice Williamson this week decided to give it a helping hand.

Mr Williamson was forced to resign as a minister after Prime Minister John Key became aware the MP had contacted police about their investigation into domestic violence complaints against Chinese business man Donghua Liu.

Mr Key became aware of the matter on Tuesday night and by Thursday morning Mr Williamson was no longer a minister.

It beggars belief Mr Williamson believed it was appropriate for him to contact police about their investigation.

A series of emails released under the Official Information Act - which had been prompted by a New Zealand Herald investigation - reveal the police felt they had to review their investigation into Mr Liu. They then told Mr Williamson they were continuing with their prosecution.

But Mr Key is under no doubt that the police only reviewed the investigation because of Mr Williamson's call. He said the former minister crossed a line and breached Cabinet guidelines.

Mr Williamson said he now accepted what he did was wrong.

And based on the Prime Minister's view he had no option but to resign. Mr Key has not said it but had Mr Williamson not resigned he would have been sacked.

The Prime Minister had to act quickly, particularly given the ongoing criticism the Government's facing over Justice Minister Judith Collins' involvement with Oravida.

The two cases have similarities.

In Oravida's case Ms Collins is accused of giving the New Zealand milk exporting company favourable treatment because its Chinese owner is a personal friend. He has also been a generous donor to the National Party.

In the case of Mr Liu, Mr Williamson had helped him get citizenship. Later the Chinese businessman made a $22,000 donation to the National Party.

Then in January Mr Williamson made his call to the police to find out what was happening with the case against Mr Liu.

In both cases ministers have appeared to be more than helpful to rich Chinese business owners, who also happen to have donated substantial sums to the National Party.

Mr Williamson had to go because his approach to the police represents a clear breach of Cabinet rules.

In the case of Ms Collins she, so far, has survived even though the Cabinet Office has now formed the view that there is at least the perception of a conflict of interest in her involvement with Oravida.

Mr Williamson's brush with the law will give further fuel to Opposition attacks on Ms Collins when Parliament resumes next week.

But what will the public make of it?

The Government has so far breezed through a series of ministerial mishaps. Richard Worth and Pansy Wong not only resigned as ministers, they also left Parliament.

John Banks, Peter Dunne and Nick Smith have all been forced to resign over their conduct. Mr Dunne and Dr Smith have now been rehabilitated as ministers after time in the wilderness.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe said Mr Williamson's resignation was further evidence of a decline in ministerial behaviour under the National-led Government.

But Mr Key continues to argue he demands higher standards from his ministers. He will point to the resignations of ministers who have erred as evidence of that.

That, though, is why Ms Collins is so important to both the Opposition and him.

By continuing to raise questions about her conduct and whether she has a conflict of interest over the support she gave Oravida - given her husband is a director and the owner a close personal friend - Opposition parties are attempting to undermine Mr Key's claim to be a tough taskmaster of his ministers.

They are also continuing to draw links between National and its support of what they call its "rich mates".

If that line of attack takes hold public sentiment might shift against the Government.

So far the polls indicate the strategy is not having an effect and the election is now only 20 weeks away.

Expect plenty of fire in the House next week.