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Collins dumped; Mitchell, Luxon likely leadership candidates; Bridges considering tilt

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Nov 2021, 10:14PM

Collins dumped; Mitchell, Luxon likely leadership candidates; Bridges considering tilt

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Nov 2021, 10:14PM

• Judith Collins has been rolled as National's leader after 499 days 
• She was dumped at a three-hour caucus meeting after attempt to discipline Simon Bridges backfired 
• Current deputy Shane Reti installed as interim leader 
• Mark Mitchell and Christopher Luxon are the leadership candidates, caucus will vote on Tuesday next week 
• Simon Bridges says he will take the new few days to consider seeking the role 
• Claire Trevett: Collins should be gone by lunchtime - has she taken Nats down with her? 
• Judith Collins out: Bowled after 499 days at the helm of the National Party 
• 'Inappropriate, not something I wanted to hear': Jacqui Dean on Bridges' comments

National MPs will elect a new leader on Tuesday after a bruising caucus session dumped Judith Collins on what has been described as "not our best day" for the party. 

Former leader Simon Bridges has revealed he is considering seeking a return to the role - saying National under Collins "haven't done a good enough job". 

Collins was removed in a vote of no confidence today - punished by her colleagues just 12 hours after a hamfisted attempt to discipline Bridges. 

It is understood Mark Mitchell and Christopher Luxon are the candidates to replace her, with a caucus vote on Tuesday to decide the winner. 

In the meantime current deputy Shane Reti is interim leader. The deputy leader role will remain vacant for now. 

Bridges: 'We haven't done a good enough job' 

Bridges confirmed he would consider over the next few days whether to seek to reclaim the leadership. 

Recent polling for the National Party was poor and the buck stopped with the leader. 

"We haven't done a good enough job," Bridges said of the party's approach to major issues such as inflation. 

He said compared to the Bridges of a few years ago, he was today "an older, possibly wiser guy". 

"I do think I have a sense of what New Zealand needs at this time," Bridges added. 

Asked if Collins should stand at the next election, Bridges said: "I made it clear this morning that I didn't have confidence with Judith Collins". 

Bridges said he was "euphemistically, very unhappy" with Collins' press statement last night. 

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," he said when asked if he was the party's heir apparent. 

Bridges said he was trying to be upfront about his aspirations. 

"I could work with various coalition partners if that was the privilege National had. 

"I do think I've learned from it and I do know the toll it takes, and I do know National's building off a very low base," Bridges said when asked about the responsibilities of party leadership. 

Bridges, like Reti, was taciturn when asked about the nature of caucus discussions, and would keep private what he called private conversations. 

"I don't think it's helpful to go through the minute details," he said when asked about Collins dredging up his years-old remarks. 

Bridges said as a former lawyer he was appalled with the lack of due process and natural justice that characterised Collins' demotion of him last night. 

Bridges told reporters after the caucus meeting that several years ago when Dean was in earshot he had repeated "old wives' tales" about how people could conceive girls. 

"Some time after Bill English, who at the time was Deputy Prime Minister, called me into his office to discuss this," Bridges said. 

"I was very regretful and apologised." 

As Collins left Parliament she said: "It is a really hard job and I have done everything I possibly could," she told reporters as she stepped into a waiting taxi. 

Asked it she had made a "principled" move, Collins replied: "Absolutely." 

Collins said she was feeling "very good, greatly relieved". Asked if she regretted her actions, she replied: "Never." 

Meanwhile Jacqui Dean said the comment Bridges made to her five years ago "upset me at the time". 

"They were not about me, but they were inappropriate and not something I wanted to hear. 

"At the time there was an apology, but subsequently it has continued to play on my mind and with the recent reviews that have occurred in Parliament the feelings have been brought back up. 

"What matters to me is that all of us have a clear understanding of what behaviour we should expect in a modern workplace environment. 

"Simon and I have spoken a number of times over the past few hours and he has reiterated his apology. 

"As I'm sure can be appreciated, the publicity around this has been upsetting and I ask that my privacy is respected on this." 


Shane Reti has been installed as interim National leader. 

Reti spoke to media flanked by fellow MPs Matt Doocey and Maureen Pugh. 

He said "caucus was concerned with the content of the press release" issued by Collins last night about demoting Bridges. 

Today caucus issued a motion of no confidence in Collins, which was successful. 

"My job at the moment is to shepherd and guide the caucus" through to the leadership decision next week, he added. 

He too refused to disclose what private conversations he had with colleagues. 

"We're looking for our new leadership team on Tuesday to bring us back in focus," Reti said. 

"This is a business for the party, it is a business for MPs," he added, saying National MPs would have to be judicious and diligent about choosing the next leader. 

He said the party would have to be mindful of major issues confronting New Zealand, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"This is not our best day but as I said, we will raise our eyes to the sky." 

Reti would not reveal the rules for the leadership contest. Caucus sets its own rules for any leadership election. 

"By the end of that day I'm expecting we'll have a new leadership," he said of Tuesday's meeting. 

"Judith Collins is a valuable member of our caucus team and she will be part of the caucus." 

Reti left about seven minutes after arriving at the Legislative Council Chamber and did not answer when asked if he would put his own name forward for the leadership. 

'Sad day for Judith' 

National Stuart Smith said he didn't know who he would back as the new leader as he would need to know the candidates first. 

"It's a sad day for Judith and I just wish it hadn't happened," Smith said. 

Currently, MPs are said to have "broken off into groups" to prepare press releases for the looming leadership campaign. 

National MP Barbara Kuriger told The Country a caucus vote is expected about the middle of next week, probably on Tuesday. 

Collins: I knew I might 'likely lose the leadership' 

Collins confirmed she had lost the leadership in a tweet - and conceded she knew this was a risk by addressing the Bridges issue. 

Collins said on Twitter she was "happy to confirm that I will stand in the next election in Papakura". 

"I am pleased to say that I am just the MP for Papakura again. It's been a privilege to take over the leadership of the National Party during the worst of times and to do so for 16 months," she said. 

"It has taken huge stamina and resolve, & has been particularly difficult because of a variety of factors. I knew when I was confided in by a female colleague regarding her allegation of serious misconduct against a senior colleague, that I would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously. 

"If I hadn't, then I felt that I wouldn't deserve the role. I didn't ask for the allegation to be given to me. I am proud of the support I received from Dr Shane Reti, a man of principle, and I will continue to advocate, not only for Papakura, but for those who have no voice," she said. 

Collins thanked her staff and said she will "not miss the gruelling media schedule". 

John Mitchell has already left his post as National Party chief press secretary.

Earlier: Three-hour caucus showdown cost Collins the leadership 

National MPs met behind closed doors for more than three hours, where Collins faced a vote of no confidence after her "deeply disrespectful" decision to demote Simon Bridges. 

Collins was National's leader for 499 days - since July 14 2020 when she replaced Todd Muller. 

She lost the leadership exactly 12 hours after publicly announcing that she had demoted Simon Bridges - a decision that has spectacularly backfired and cost her the top job. 

Today's crisis caucus meeting began at 9am and was prompted by Collins' shock announcement last night that she had demoted Bridges over a comment he made to fellow MP Jacqui Dean about five years ago. 

Collins had initially planned to hold a 10am press conference to discuss Bridges' demotion but the caucus meeting is still going. 

MPs emerged for a short "water" break just before 10.45am. 

Several MPs have publicly declared today that Collins is not fit to remain as National's leader - with Bridges attacking her actions as "truly desperate". 

It is understood Collins' leadership is in dire straits, with a majority of MPs believed to be in favour of dumping her. 

Bridges himself may not go for the leadership today but some MPs want deputy leader Shane Reti to stay on as acting leader for a period of about 48 hours to allow more time for MPs to consider the issue. 

Asked to comment on National's leadership crisis, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was an internal matter for them. 

"We're in the middle of a global pandemic and so my focus needs to be on managing that." 

Māori Party backs Bridges over Collins 

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said while they had no official view on the National leadership, they backed Bridges over Collins. 

"Simon Bridges works extremely hard in the House. And he has whakapapa. 

"Te Pāti Māori will always back whakapapa. Doesn't matter whether he asserts it or not, he has got whakapapa and the more Māori leaders we have the better. Maybe if he gets another shot he'll do more for his Māori side. 

Ngarewa-Packer said the claim of harassment should never be tolerated, but she questioned why it was only being brought up now. 

"These matters are so important they should come up immediately, not in the middle of a leadership kerfuffle. It is quite despicable. 

"If there is a situation like that, it should be the priority, but [Collins] has timed to deal with it in the middle of a leadership upheaval." 

Ngarewa-Packer has been outspoken about her distaste for Collins' politics and previously stated the party, which had previously formed a coalition with National, would never work with her. 

"She emboldens racists. I could never support a leader that does that." 

Nats fuming over 'deeply disrespectful' Collins 

Collins announced Bridges' demotion in a release just after 9pm on Wednesday. 

Her announcement blindsided her MPs, who will gather for a caucus meeting at 9am today. One MP described her actions as "deeply disrespectful". 

Bridges today described Collins' behaviour as "truly desperate" and said it showed she would go to any length to hold on to the leadership. 

There was a huge amount he wanted to say about what happened yesterday and how wrong it was, but he would talk to the caucus first. 

He had clear views about what he thought should happen to the National Party. He planned to hold a full press conference as soon as possible after that. Caucus was meeting at 9am. 

He had sought a caucus meeting yesterday, but said Collins refused even though she was still at Parliament. 

She had finally agreed for MPs to meet this morning and he was looking forward to it. 

The Herald understands Bridges has no intention of resigning. 

It is understood the allegations of "serious misconduct" relate to crude comments Bridges allegedly made at a function about five years ago. 

Bridges is understood to have been talking with a group of about three fellow MPs, including Jami-Lee Ross and Todd McClay, when Dean walked past and the Tauranga MP called to her and made the comment. 

However, Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper told Mike Hosking he understood the comment Bridges made was not directly to Dean but she had heard it. 

The comment related to a sex technique to conceive a girl, Soper said. 

Dean complained about it at the time and Bridges was spoken to by then deputy leader Bill English. 

Bridges had apologised, Soper said. 

'Judith Collins must resign', Nat MPs 'feral' over demotion 

National MP Simon O'Connor - who is married to Bridges' sister - told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking: "Judith Collins must resign". 

He said her behaviour amounted to "bullying" and was damaging the party. 

The allegations had to be looked at "but the way the leadership has dealt with this is beyond appalling." 

He was surrendering his portfolios this morning: "I cannot work with Judith Collins." 

O'Connor told Hosking that Collins' late-night press release last night was a shock and surprise and he hoped people "could see what was happening". 

He hoped Collins would go today. He wasn't sure who would lead the party but it was now in a "terrible flux". 

O'Connor said there were "messages being put through to media" that Collins wasn't going to go without a fight, referencing rumours that if she was to go it would not be with Bridges replacing her. 

He said he rated Bridges but he and Jacqui Dean needed to talk fully and freely to the party about what had happened and he didn't have enough information about the allegations to make a call. 

Mark Mitchell described Collins' actions as "deeply disrespectful" for demoting Bridges without briefing caucus. 

He told Newshub that MPs, including Bridges, had been "blindsided" by Collins' statement. last night. 

"Completely flying blind. No one has actually spoken to caucus and briefed us and talked us through it," he said. 

"In my view, it was deeply disrespectful to the caucus and the caucus, we should have been brought together and it should have been discussed, and I am sure that will be one of the issues that will be raised [today] when the caucus meets." 

Shadow Treasurer Andrew Bayly, a close Collins ally, would not say if he had confidence in Collins. "I'll make a comment after our caucus meeting. I think it's important as a caucus we talk about this first," he said. 

He said he still had faith in his party, saying "it's a great party". 

National MP Barbara Kuriger would not say she was proud of her party. She said she was "proud of members of our party". 

"When you work your butt off every day you don't want to be standing round answering questions like this, so it's pretty disappointing." 

Another MP, Chris Bishop, refused today to answer whether or not he would challenge for the National leadership. 

He was asked repeatedly and answered by telling RNZ he was focused on ending MIQ. 

National's Rangitīkei MP Ian McKelvie wouldn't say explicitly whether or not he supported Collins, but expressed concern around her move against Bridges. 

"I'm extraordinarily uncomfortable with the whole manner in which this has been managed," McKelvie said. 

On the leadership, McKelvie said the caucus would make a call in the coming hours. 

"That's for the caucus to decide, but there's ways you behave in the world and ways you don't, and it's pretty clear to me that is what decides these things, and pretty quickly too." 

Harete Hipango would not say whether she had confidence in the leader, and said some "cleaning up" needed to be done. 

"I have had experience in such historic matters as a lawyer and this needs to be aired," Hipango said. 

"I'm not disappointed. I'm of the view that there's some cleaning up to be done at this time," she said. 

"I have confidence in what the National Party stands for which is the values of representing New Zealanders," she said. 

Soper told Hosking today: "I've never seen anything so feral in the National Party as what I've seen overnight." 

He said Collins could now face a vote of no-confidence at today's 9am caucus meeting. 

Demoting Bridges was a "clear play" by Collins to sideline Bridges because he posed a leadership threat, Soper said. 

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