Insidious arrogance of power

''Crusher'' Judith Collins has very nearly gone the way of those boyracer cars she infamously decreed should be crunched.

She was fortunate in that for her misjudgments and omissions to the people of New Zealand - and to her leader - she should have lost her job.

At the least, she should have gone the way of colleague Nick Smith when he transgressed, and been parked in the political wilderness.

She should have been dropped from Cabinet, with the opportunity to return after the election.

As it is, Prime Minister John Key has put her on two-strikes notice. Another mistake of this type and he will have no choice but to ditch Ms Collins.

There is a feeling Ms Collins is, like a big bank in the 2008 financial crisis, seen as too important to fail.

She has been one of National's leading lights, projecting an image of power and decisiveness. Along with Steven Joyce, she has been talked about as possible successor material to Mr Key.

And she has the advantage of being a woman in a party conscious of the paucity of females in its upper ranks.

Individuals' strengths are so often also their weaknesses. So it is with Ms Collins.

When questioned about contacts in China with a New Zealand company of which her husband is a director, she brazened it out in bullying fashion.

She not only emphatically claimed she had done nothing wrong, but withheld details of a dinner with senior members of Oravida - first with media and then with Mr Key.

Mr Key had backed Ms Collins until finding himself exposed.

No wonder he was furious. No wonder he ''made it clear to her in no uncertain terms how dis- appointed I was''.

One of the first commandments of politics is that thou shalt not hang thy leader out to dry; that he or she must be fully informed.

Of wider concern is Ms Collins' brazenness in claiming her presence at Oravida's offices in Beijing would not be seen as some sort of endorsement of the company and its products, a firm where her husband is a director.

Such endorsements are in breach of the Cabinet rule book. Of course the company would see the presence of a senior New Zealand Cabinet minister as to its benefit.

Then there is the ''private'' dinner with Ms Collins' friend and company chairman, which she failed to report.

Embarrassingly, a Chinese border official, supposedly a good friend of her friend, was also there.

Whatever Ms Collins says about what was and was not discussed, this is not a good look.

Perhaps - and it is a big perhaps - Ms Collins could have called on her friends at the company while on an official visit to China.

But she first had to make it clear the company could not use this fact in its publicity, that the visit was in a private capacity and

that she was completely transparent about what she was doing.

The one encouraging facet of the whole affair is how seriously it has been taken here in New Zealand.

This country's relative lack of corruption and undue influence is one of its greatest assets and must be fought for at every opportunity.

These are issues about which the public should care. Mr Key himself already has a record of being too loose with important processes that safeguard our constitutional proprieties, and Ms Collins' blunders compound concerns.

Even now, Ms Collins' contrition is contained.

She has forced herself to say sorry, which she says is no easy feat.

''Extraordinary'' is how she described her apology. But the apologies are inadequate.

It is still half-hearted to say ''if anyone feels that I've done something wrong, then I would apologise for that because I should have told you that last week''.

She has still maintained the dinner should not create the perception of a conflict of interest.

The familiar pattern of pride, even arrogance in long-serving government MPs - which also afflicted Helen Clark's team in its last term - is insidious.

Ms Collins, it could be argued, clearly manifested such dangerous signs.

If National is going to win September's election, it must root out such tendencies without delay.


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