‘I have no problem making decisions’: Collins

National leader Judith Collins talks to Mike Houlahan about her sudden assumption of the reins, her assessment of the party’s southern MPs, and how she hopes to revive National’s flagging fortunes.

National's tumultuous year is summed up neatly by the fact that when the Otago Daily Times organised this interview, a different person was meant to be sitting on the opposite side of the table.

While Judith Collins is new to the hot seat and arrived without warning, there is little to suggest she is not firmly in charge.

"I have enjoyed it because I have no problem making decisions," she said.

"Ultimately what I know our team needs to have in the National Party is for all MPs and staff to know what the decision is, they need to know that it is the best decision that can be made at that time, and then they need to get on and implement that decision, and that makes it a lot easier for people.

"One of the strengths that I bring, apart from some years of experience in opposition and government but also in the private sector, is that I do trust my own decision-making ability and I can instil confidence in people because I can make decisions."

At the beginning of 2020, National was led by Simon Bridges, who despite polling low in terms of personal popularity had kept the party vote at a level where it was a realistic contender in this year’s election.

However, Covid-19 infected National’s polling numbers, and a slump was followed soon after by a dumping of Mr Bridges in favour of Todd Muller.

Mr Muller, however, only lasted a matter of weeks in his new job, stepping down due the "untenable" cost the role was taking on his health.

It had been a turbulent time for Mr Muller, with two southern MPs at the heart of his troubles.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker’s ill-considered decision to release the personal details of Covid-19 patients had seen him resign, and Dunedin-based list MP Michael Woodhouse was also caught up in the furore after the revelation he had received similar material but not told anyone he had it.

"Hamish Walker made a very foolish mistake; he has lost his career for it," Ms Collins said.

"But he is reporting to me a couple of times a week what he is doing in the electorate and I am absolutely satisfied that he is working out his notice, so to speak.

"He has paid a big price, and I think he understands where he went wrong."

National MP Michael Woodhouse. Photo: Getty
Michael Woodhouse. Photo: Getty
Mr Woodhouse experienced a different fate, losing his health portfolio and enduring a demotion to go alongside his public serving of humble pie.

"Michael Woodhouse was a very competent minister in government and he has been very competent in opposition, but he made an error of judgement in my view," Ms Collins said.

"He is a very competent, hard-working person and therefore he retains my confidence."

On the brighter side, in her reshuffle upon assuming the leadership Ms Collins retained Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean’s prominence in caucus rankings and added the housing and urban development spokeswoman role to her conservation responsibilities.

"She is an experienced MP who has been around a long time and generally she has done a very good job . . .[housing] it’s a portfolio I have a lot of time for having held it myself, but Jacqui has previously been a deputy mayor and has often had an interest in this area so I particularly wanted her to have it."

Another southern MP who has had a troubled parliamentary term is Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie, who steps down from politics this election after her personal life became very public.

Ms Dowie retires from politics with the good wishes of her leader.

"People feel very strongly she was manipulated very badly and made some very serious personal mistakes, which she had paid atremendous price for, as has her family.

"I have a lot of personal regard for Sarah as someone with courage and I wish her well in the future."

Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images
Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images

Ms Collins’ earliest policy announcements as National leader were about infrastructure, a subject of intense interest in the South.

With a new and eagerly awaited Dunedin Hospital rebuild pending and local councils awaiting their share of the "shovel-ready" projects as part of the Government’s Covid-19 recovery, Ms Collins is cutting when describing what she sees as inaction.

"Dunedin Hospital is another broken promise by the Prime Minister. She said it was all going to be rebuilt.

"David Clark was the Minister of Health and he was going to make sure it did, and what exactly has happened?

"They’ve not done much, and it’s the sort of thing that could have been fast-track consented had they wanted to do it, but they haven’t done it —it’s just another failure.

"Shovel-ready projects, they have failed to deliver on them. . .some of it has been announced, but a whole lot of them haven’t been."

Ms Collins is equally dismissive of the Government’s response to the threatened closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

"So far we have seen nothing except for something about a forced hydro scheme which sounds mind-bogglingly expensive and would put up the price of power by quite a lot.

"We are very much thinking about the people down there and the situation, but we are also very aware that you cannot be held hostage by a big international firm."

Policy announcements have been scarce so far from Ms Collins, no real surprise given her unexpected ascent to the leadership and the earliness in the election campaign.

However, she did say that the series of position papers which National released while led by Mr Bridges were a valuable piece of work — they had been removed from the party website but have now been reinstated.

"Obviously policies need to change because of changing circumstances, but discussion documents are still relevant, we’re still airing the issues."

One policy Ms Collins is adamant about is her stance on Covid-19.

"It is very important that we have a zero tolerance, and I have a zero tolerance, towards Covid-19," she said.

"But it is also important that where we can bring people in who should be here, that we can quarantine them and have confidence in that quarantine process."

Through her extensive career as a senior MP and cabinet minister, Ms Collins has revelled in her no-nonsense approach — sometimes to her detriment.

Despite being new as National leader she is not new to the electorate, and Ms Collins said there would be no change in approach to her new role.

"Nobody ever wonders what I think and for some people that is utterly refreshing at the moment.

"They are sick of being told, patronised, and treated like they are children, and I won’t patronise them or treat them like children — Iwill tell them straight up how things are.

"They will know that when I say ‘X’ I mean ‘X’ and not maybe ‘Y’." 



Interesting seeing her blame Labour for the hospital, seeing as in 2008 Key promised a rebuild within 10 years. And yet when Labour entered govt National still hadn't produced a business plan, allocated funding let alone anything else etc.
In the three years since Labour has produced a business plan, a design, allocated funding in their budgets, acquired land and start demolishing existing buildings. Far more than National achieved in 9 years.


Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter