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National leader Judith Collins was grilled on why her party should lead New Zealand through a pandemic and the economic fallout during the first of Newstalk ZB's Leaders Breakfasts today.
Mike Hosking put the questions to Collins over two hours, starting from 7am.
Collins has used her extended interview to announce new policy - in the first 100 days of Government to launch an inquiry into Auckland Council - in particular council controlled organisations, including Auckland Transport and WaterCare.
"I have a particular beef with Auckland Transport, I just think it's destroyed the central city," said Collins, who criticised cycle lanes in her electorate and what she claimed was the organisation's desire to "make everything cycling or walking".
She also denied politicising her faith, after being photographed praying in a church yesterday: "We just happened to be voting in a church....the minister said, would you like to pop in and have a prayer?...I didn't invite the media in."
The National leader talked up the economic potential of oil and gas, saying "we have potential to be, basically, the North Sea in the south...there is enough there, according to the geologists...that's how places like Norway became so rich."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will front next Monday, as she lays out her alternative vision for the country.
Is Collins politicising her faith?
The first question put to Collins by Hosking was whether she was politicising Christianity, after being photographed praying at St Thomas Church in Auckland yesterday, before casting an early vote.
Collins said she wasn't, and had been a Christian all her life.
"We just happened to be voting in a church....the minister said, would you like to pop in and have a prayer?...I didn't invite the media in."
Collins said she prayed for general guidance, rather than specifics. She prays once a day.
"It just happened to be that I was in a church...I was hardly going to turn it down."
On the border, Collins said National would have strong protective measures in place, and the current government didn't appear confident in safeguards.
Would Auckland be at level 1? "Obviously...the whole thing is getting to the stage where it just seems to be wallowing in Covid...it is causing immense hardship, economically and also stress level-wise for people."
Collins indicated Auckland had been in level 2 for too long, and said Taiwan, for example, had managed much better without lockdowns.
On Labour's announcement of wanting to look into supermarket and building supply prices, via market reviews done by the Commerce Commission, Collins said Labour had been talking about a supermarket inquiry for a long time.
The National leader said Emma Mellow had a very good shot at winning in Auckland Central - "it is a three horse race...we have momentum".
A "toxic" problem at Canterbury DHB, RMA reform and not being a "closed shop" to international students
On Canterbury DHB's huge deficits, Collins said the population in Canterbury had been underestimated in the past, and the whole situation was a "mess".
"The DHB and the Ministry currently have an absolutely toxic work relationship."
Both National and Labour have pledged to repeal and replace the Resource Management Act (RMA). Collins said it needed to be replaced by two pieces of legislation, one on planning and development, and another on environmental standards.
"There is an opportunity to cut through a lot of the red tape...it might upset a few really busy-body type people."
Should the borders be more open to international students? Collins said they had to be, given the importance to the economy. National would work with the universities and accommodation providers, with quarantine processes checked by officials.
We couldn't be a "closed shop".
"$5.1b industry...it is the flow-on effect for all the out years where students don't come back here."
National announces it would review Auckland Council
Collins announced new policy - in the first 100 days of government to launch an inquiry into Auckland Council - in particular council controlled organisations, including Auckland Transport and Watercare.
"I have a particular beef with Auckland Transport, I just think it's destroyed the central city," said Collins, who criticised cycle lanes in her electorate.
Auckland Transport operated with a sense of arrogance, Collins said, and "want to make everything cycling or walking", which was fine, until people needed to get shopping or children home.
"These guys can't sort themselves out, we are going to have to do it...it is the number one issue when we go around Auckland....it is a huge brake on the economy in Auckland."
Tax cuts 'aren't just a sugar hit' - and a warning for Adrian Orr about 'wokeness'
Asked if Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, Adrian Orr, was doing a good job, Collins said "I suppose so".
"I trust him for telling us the truth about what he is doing...he is very frank about the fact he is going to have to make some things up as he goes along."
Hosking asked about our seeming path to negative interest rates. Collins said negative interest rates had down sides, including a form of hyperinflation, but Orr was upfront. However, he needed to be careful of his embrace of "wokeness".
On National's proposed tax cuts, Collins said her party considered making them permanent, "but our view is 16 months is certainly better than nothing at all".
NZ needed an adrenaline shot, she said, and the tax cuts would deliver this.
"It is not just a sugar hit...it gives huge confidence to businesses and people."
The economy - and becoming 'the North Sea in the south'
Collins said 90 day trials would return under her leadership, and oil and gas reserves should also be tapped into.
"Gas is something that is part of the world...we have potential to be, basically, the North Sea in the south...there is enough there, according to the geologists...that's how places like Norway became so rich."
Collins agreed that National and Labour had both probably been, as Hosking put it, "played for suckers" over the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter, with the owner Rio Tinto playing hardball over electricity prices.
NZ's immigration levels before Covid were probably too high, Collins said, given pressure on areas like housing.
"Immigration isn't a problem if you have the housing in place...I don't see the immigrants as the problem…most of our problems are home grown."
Collins agreed some farmers needed to do better on the environment, but most were doing really well, including fencing 98 per cent of waterways.
Housing: 'There is obviously going to be some sort of downturn'
Collins said more affordable houses needed to be built, but "the market will sort out those prices that are overpriced", given there was almost no migration and people worried about losing jobs.
"There is obviously going to be some sort of downturn...interest rates do also have a way of going up."
On the RMA, Collins said Labour's plans would make development more difficult in some cases.
In South Australia the government told councils that if a certain number of consents weren't granted, it would step in and do the consents. That approach had merit, Collins said.
Big infrastructure projects needed speeding up, Collins said, with government departments "notoriously bad in contracting".
National wanted foreign buyers back into the market in the right circumstances.
"We do need to have foreign buyers in, in terms of productive assets...not absentee owners."
On state houses, Collins said policy would be released later today.
Too many students in 'woke' subjects, China's influence
Collins reiterated National's support for charter schools. NCEA worked for "some kids", but alternatives like Cambridge were needed.
"There are too many photography classes...too much woke stuff," Collins said of NCEA, saying more focus was needed on "Stem" subjects; science, technology, engineering and maths.
Performance pay for teachers was not on the agenda.
China was both friend and foe, Collins said. It was our biggest trading partner, but our security relationships were with the "5 eyes" agreement.
Collins worried about China's "soft" influence in the Pacific, but also the influence of others. NZ doesn't get value for money from aid in the Pacific, she said.
"The best thing to do is to build the economy in the Pacific...a lot of our aid could be better used."
Collins said National would keep the Māori seats, despite them being "relics of the past", and likely stand candidates in them next election. She was opposed to Māori wards on councils.
'Dysfunctional' MMP and DHBs, the Christchurch rebuild and gun restrictions
Collins said MMP was "a very dysfunctional way of running a Parliament".
"I'm not a great fan...but at least everybody's vote counts, and that's a good thing."
On whether we need 20 DHBs, Collins said Wellington telling communities like the West Coast how to run things wasn't a good idea. National's health spokesman Dr Shane Reti's view is it isn't the number that's the problem, it's that some DHBs are dysfunctional.
"In Auckland, we have three DHBs, should we have one?" Collins said. "But Auckland Council has proven that big isn't always better."
Constant restructures weren't the answer to failing governments.
On Southern Response and the Christchurch rebuild, Collins defended the previous National Government's handling of the rebuild. "Some things weren't excellent" but it would have been worse if action wasn't taken.
National's support for gun reform had possibly pushed some voters to Act, Collins said, but it was important to do the right thing.
Collins said she had made her mark on the party in her short time as leader - in policies to boost the tech sector, provide temporary tax cuts and reform the RMA.
Rapid fire questions
Hosking put a number of rapid fire questions to the National leader.
- Business leader you most admire? The Todd family.
- Politician who made the most contribution to the country in modern history? Roger Douglas.
- Have you worried about getting Covid? No.
- The amount of hate received to your face? Almost nil. It is normal keyboard warriors.
- Have you been a victim of crime? Yes. Burglaries.
- A charity you admire? SPCA.
- A subject you could bore us witless on? RMA.
- Who could you recruit from other parties/who do you rate? Megan Woods and Chris Hipkins from Labour. Ron Mark and Tracey Martin from NZ First. Chlöe Swarbrick from the Greens, because she has "naive belief". David Seymour from Act.
'The economy is key'
Collins said the media had been soft on Labour over the past three years.
"You never even hear the media asking Jacinda Ardern about [KiwiBuild]."
Asked what trait or aspect of life she struggled with most, Collins said, "sucking up".
"I'll just say what I think. And I've learnt that is the best way."
As a final message, Collins said businesses were failing, small businesses in particular, and "the government at the moment has no idea what to do - their only plan is to keep borders locked and to talk Covid".
"The economy is key."
Collins said she thought the cannabis referendum would be a "no" vote, and euthanasia would be supported.
"National and Act together can actually do it. We can do it...it is almost impossible according to the pundits, but they also wrongly called Brexit. They also wrongly called Scott Morrison. They wrongly called Boris Johnson."