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Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

PoliticsJuly 14, 2020

Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party, Gerry Brownlee is deputy – live updates, July 14

Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Read the latest Spinoff coverage of NZ politics here.

10.00pm: ‘We’re just going to have the most fun as we take back the country’ – Judith Collins

“We are a team that is absolutely determined to take the fight to the government,” said Collins, speaking without notes. “It is absolutely imperative that the New Zealand people have a good policy platform and a choice as to who is going to lead them through what is starting to look like one of the worst economic times in memory.”

Asked how she would unite the party, Collins said, “the common goal is to get rid of the current government,” stressing the economy as a focus. She said she would “not let Jacinda Ardern get away with any nonsense”.

Why did the caucus run for more than two hours? “We love talking to each other. And we love listening to each other, too.”

Collins said there would be no “wholesale” changes to portfolios. “We are not that many weeks out from an election,” she said.

“It is important that we sent some very strong messages out to our base voters, who have been a bit discombobulated by the last few days.” She was looking forward to taking the fight to the government. “I can’t wait.” She added: “We’re just going to have the most fun as we take back the country.”

Collins said that while Ardern should not be underestimated, she felt she could best the prime minister when it comes to “experience, toughness, and the ability to make decisions … She’s an adversary I would absolutely respect but our party is better than her party and we’re going to take it back.”

How long had Collins wanted this job? “I think everybody who comes into politics tries to do our best, I think we all do,” she said. “The big thing for me is to see and to feel the strength of the team. This is a team game for us. You can’t win it without the team. And our team, we want to be back in charge of the treasury benches for the very good reason that we are best fitted to look after the people of New Zealand. This is all about the people, it’s not about me, it’s not about Gerry, it’s not about anyone else.”

Asked to describe Judith Collins, Judith Collins said this: “Someone who grew up on a farm, I’m a very provincial Aucklander … and my heart is utterly with New Zealand. I could never live anywhere else.”

On the scandal around leaked personal details that engulfed the party over the last week or two, Collins said: “We’re going to be discussing all sorts of things around that. I thought the whole thing was really sad. Might I say the 18 people whose health information was put out there, it’s just awful that that happened. Hamish Walker is a first term MP and he’s paid a huge price for that and I feel very sorry for his family and the terrible angst he must be going through. These are decisions that come with the job – these are very tough decisions and they shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

And then she was gone. Her last words: “Might be time for a drink.”

Judith Collins and caucus at parliament tonight. Photo: Justin Giovannetti

9.40pm: Collins’ statement

The National Party has issued a statement in Judith Collins’ name. The new leader says: “I feel privileged to have been chosen to lead the National Party at this important time in our history. My focus as leader will be helping rebuild our communities and dealing with the economic and jobs crisis by getting Kiwis back to work.

“Only National has the experience and skills to get us through this. We are a strong team and I look forward to forming the next government.”

She’ll be speaking at 9.45pm.

9.30pm: Gerry Brownlee is deputy leader of the National Party

It’s Judith and Gerry. The long-serving Christchurch based MP Gerry Brownlee has been elected as deputy to Judith Collins, meaning Nikki Kaye’s role in the leadership is short-lived, too.

9.05pm: Judith Collins is the new leader of the National Party

Judith Collins has been elected as the new leader of the National Party, the Spinoff can confirm. She replaces Todd Muller, who resigned 13 and a half hours ago. Pending some unimaginable calamity, it will be Jacinda Ardern versus Judith Collins on September 19.

The vote for the deputy leader is understood to be under way.

What does Judith Collins stand for? Here’s a compelling paragraph she wrote for The Spinoff almost five years ago:

“At its best, politics is the contest of ideas. It shouldn’t be about playing the game. It shouldn’t be about doing anything to win. It’s only by galvanising the base, by giving people a reason to care, that those more centrist will give the party a chance. If a party’s base doesn’t see why they’re bothering, then why should anyone else. No matter what side of politics people are, it’s always easiest to sell policies that you believe in.”

8.40pm: Background reading

If you’re catching up with a tumultuous day for the National Party and for New Zealand politics, here’s our report on Todd Muller’s shock resignation.

Read a timeline of Muller’s short and stormy 53 days here.

Who are the likely contenders for the National crown? Here’s our stab at it.

What does Collins’ book tell us about her leadership pitch?

Danyl Mclauchlan writes on the challenge for the Labour Party here.

Listen to our Emergency politics Toddcast: with with Annabelle Lee, Ben Thomas and Toby Manhire here.

Finally, could a former Spinoff television reviewer be the next National leader?

And the latest from Tova O’B on the TV: “Since the cackling and then the applause, there’s been nothing out of the caucus room since.”

8.25pm: Clapping!

Newshub’s Tova O’Brien has her ear to the floor, and she reports from parliament there has been clapping heard coming from the National Party caucus room. Those noises in full: “Silence. Cackling. Silence. And then clapping.”

8.05pm: How the possible contenders poll

Of those who have been mentioned as potential successors to Todd Muller, here’s how they rate in the preferred prime minister stakes in the three Colmar Brunton / TVNZ polls of this year; respectively in February, May and June. (Reminder: Bridges was leader in the first two.)

Judith Collins: 3%, 3%, 2%

Mark Mitchell: 0.1%, 0.2%, 0.5%

Simon Bridges: 11%, 5%, 0.4%

Paula Bennett: 1%, 0.3%, 0.3%

Nikki Kaye: 0.5%, 0.4%, 0.2%

Amy Adams: 0%, 0.2%, 0.2%

7.40pm: Bridges not in the race – report

Newshub’s political editor, Tova O’Brien, is reporting that Simon Bridges has decided not to throw his hat in the ring tonight for the National Party leadership. She has also reported a source saying that a ticket may have formed with Mark Mitchell and Louise Upston seeking the top roles. Newshub is running a live special here.

6.55pm: National caucus meets

What’s happening tonight? The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti writes from parliament: 

They’ve come by plane, car and yak (editor’s note: Simon Bridges didn’t actually ride a yak). National MPs have been returning to parliament all day and saying very little.

The building was supposed to be largely empty this week, with only tour groups breaking the lull. Instead, there’s an energy running through the stately building. The party’s legislators will be meeting behind closed doors tonight in National’s caucus room with a simple agenda: Who should lead the National Party?

The frontrunners have been largely mum. Judith Collins and Simon Bridges have said little about their ambitions. They don’t want to speak publicly about who should sit at the head of the table. Dozens of other MPs have also used dozens of different ways of declining comment. They’ve nearly all said nice things about former leader Todd Muller.

The party’s MPs will now disappear like a papal conclave behind closed doors. From 7pm they’re supposed to surrender their cellphones and decide on whether one among them should be the leader of the opposition and the head of the largest party in parliament. If they can’t come to a decision by about 10pm, they might choose to break for the evening and try again tomorrow. They might decide earlier to sleep on it and return first thing. Or we might yet have a new leader within a few hours.

5.50pm: Gerry Brownlee could be the answer – Jonathan Coleman

Judith Collins is emerging as the most fancied pick among pundits this afternoon, with Tova O’Brien of Newshub and Heather du Plessis-Allan of Newstalk ZB among those that have suggested the hour is hers. The other frontrunners, according to most coverage, are comeback kid Simon Bridges and current deputy Nikki Kaye.

Former cabinet minister Jonathan Coleman, who has spent many hours at National caucus meetings, has another suggestion, however: Gerry Brownlee. Speaking on RNZ Checkpoint, Coleman suggested that Brownlee was the only senior MP untainted by the “internecine fighting” in a caucus which had grown increasingly factionalised across left and right wings since the days of John Key and Bill English.

Brownlee is “universally popular in the party”, said Coleman. “He’s a guy who knows the party inside out, can take the bullets, commands universal respect, and could be just the sort of guy you need at this moment. But everyone else comes with some baggage, and is going to be divisive to some extent … The only one I think can do a job overall is Brownlee. Some people will be very surprised to hear that, but these are such unusual times, you’ve got to think outside the box.”

Meanwhile, here’s Simon Bridges with a baby yak:

4.45pm: Collins, Bridges, Kaye refusing to rule out run for leadership

As the National caucus gathers in Wellington in the wake of Todd Muller’s shock resignation, some of the leading candidates to replace him are staying mum on their plans for tonight’s emergency meeting. Three of the top potential contenders are former leader Simon Bridges, current acting leader Nikki Kaye, and perennial potential leader Judith Collins. None of them would rule out a run at the top job when pressed on the subject by media this afternoon, reports Stuff.

The caucus will meet around 7pm, and will either come to a rapid decision and select a new leader tonight or  prepare for a leadership contest if they’re unable to come to a consensus.

2.25pm: May’s international arrivals lowest in 61 years

The number of international arrivals into New Zealand this may was the lowest monthly total since May 1959, according to Stats NZ data. There were 5,600 arrivals this May, the second full month of the current border restrictions. In April there were 6,300 arrivals.

The combined number of arrivals and departures in May was 15,900, down from 38,200 in April. In May 2019 almost 1 million people crossed the New Zealand border.

Provisional numbers for June showed the number of arrivals climbing again, to around 9,000, Stats NZ said.

2.00pm: Kaye won’t be drawn on leadership ahead of emergency caucus meeting

Acting National Party leader Nikki Kaye is keeping tight lipped about her role heading into tonight’s emergency caucus meeting. “I think what’s important is we let the National Party caucus work that through,” she told Stuff outside her Ponsonby house this morning. She did however say that the party’s “thoughts are with Todd and Michelle and his family as they deal with this difficult time.”

A Stuff reporter has been staking out Kaye’s house, which is near the company’s Ponsonby headquarters, since shortly after the news of Todd Muller’s resignation broke at 7:30am this morning. The report notes that Kaye could be seen pacing up and down while talking on the phone from about 8:30am, and that a fresh bouquet of flowers could be seen on her dining table. She didn’t answer the door when Stuff knocked for comment, but eventually had to leave to go to the airport.

1.30pm: Today’s data, charted

1.00pm: One new case in managed isolation

New Zealand has one new case of Covid-19 found in managed isolation, health minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

Today’s new case is a woman in her 60s who arrived in New Zealand on the 30th of June from Pakistan, via Doha and Sydney. She has been in managed isolation at the Novotel in Christchurch, and tested negative at her first test around day 3 of her stay, then tested positive around day 12 of her stay in isolation.

This highlighted the importance of testing people twice during their two weeks in managed isolation, Hipkins said.

Today’s new case means the total number of confirmed and probable cases has risen to 1,545.

It has now been 74 days since the last case of Covid-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source.

One previously reported case is now listed as recovered, meaning the total number of active cases remains at 25. None of these are receiving hospital level care, Hipkins said.

There were 1,620 tests completed yesterday. Hipkins said the number of tests has decreased due to the school holidays.

He also reiterated the importance of New Zealanders “playing their part” by downloading and using the NZ Covid Tracer app.

Hipkins tight lipped on travel bubble plans

The minister said no decision has been made on a travel bubble with realm countries, including the Cook Islands. He said any decision would first be put to cabinet.

Earlier today, the Cook Islands government said they expect to confirm a “travel bridge” with New Zealand in the next week.

“The prime minister has been very clear that we do want to work with the realm countries and we want to resume travel when we can, but nobody in New Zealand wants to be responsible for any increase in risk.”

Hipkins said he doesn’t know what the timeline is for announcing a resumption of travel to the Pacific Islands or Australia.

Muller ‘a man of great integrity’

On the shock resignation of opposition leader Todd Muller today, Hipkins said “politics is demanding and it can take a toll on you, some people can do better with that than others.”

Hipkins said he’s known Muller since he first became an MP and they’ve been on select committees together. “He’s a man of great integrity – an honest and decent guy who I think had his best crack at the job.”

But Hipkins said it’s an internal matter for the National Party to discuss, and he hasn’t thought a lot about it himself. “I’m very happy not to be in that position,” he said.

12.45pm: Hipkins to give 1pm update

Minister of health Chris Hipkins is doing the daily media briefing today. For a change of scene, he’ll be fronting the media from Jet Park quarantine facility near Auckland airport. As well as the usual announcements around any new Covid-19 cases and test numbers, Hipkins will face questions on the plans for a Cook Islands travel bubble and the crisis in the National Party.

Watch here:

12.30pm: Late night looming for National caucus

It’ll be a late night in Wellington as National deals with its leadership crisis, reports political editor Justin Giovannetti from the Beehive:

The National caucus is expected to meet at parliament in the evening, probably after 7pm, for an emergency meeting. They’ll have two choices in front of them: come to a rapid decision tonight and select a new leader, or if they can’t choose a candidate with something resembling unanimity, prepare for a leadership contest. There isn’t much of a playbook for how to do this, despite the party rolling its leader only a few weeks ago.

The new leader will then address the country for the first time from the ornate legislative chamber, or a senior MP will appear before the cameras to explain what happened and what comes next.

12.00pm: Emergency Toddcast

Annabelle Lee, Ben Thomas and Toby Manhire have this morning recorded an emergency edition of Gone By Lunchtime, responding to the shock announcement that Todd Muller has quit as National Party leader, and asking who will take the crown.

You can download this episode (right click and save)have a listen below or subscribe via Apple Podcasts and Spotify or here on Stitcher (RSS feed).

11.20am: National confirms caucus meeting tonight

A short statement has been issued by the National Party senior whip, Barbara Kuriger, confirming the caucus will meet tonight “to discuss the way forward”. Kuriger adds, simply: “Our thoughts are very much with Todd and his family at this difficult time as is our compassion and love for Todd.”

Former leader Simon Bridges, who was ousted from the role 53 days ago, told media at Wellington airport the news of Muller’s resignation was “really sad”. He has also tweeted to wish the Muller family well.

11.15am: Muller’s resignation ‘essential for his own wellbeing’

NZ Herald political editor and veteran press gallery insider Audrey Young has written a column about Todd Muller’s resignation which suggests the National Party leader’s mental health was a factor in the decision. “The words ‘mental health’ have not been used but Muller has had a breakdown,” Young writes, “to the extent that he was unable to even make the emergency teleconference caucus call this morning to tender his resignation.”

Muller’s decision to resign “was not so much a brave decision as an essential one for his own wellbeing,” Young writes. “It was better for him to recognise now that he was not built to handle pressure than to discover it in the heat of the campaign.”

Read the full column at NZ Herald

10.15am: IPCA finds police searches unlawful

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found three searches conducted by police in the aftermath of last year’s March 15 Christchurch terror attacks were unlawful. Police have acknowledged formally apologised for two of the searches, the IPCA ruling says.

Police searched a number of homes and workplaces without warrants and seized firearms and firearms licences as part of Operation Whakahaumanu, which aimed to identify people of interest to national security. The three searches found unlawful were among a number of complaints made about police actions as part of the operation.

9.45am: Hopes Cook Islands travel bubble will be announced next week

An announcement about quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands is expected to be made next week, Cook Islands deputy prime minister Mark Brown told The AM Show this morning. The Cook Islands were due to make an announcement today about easing quarantine rules today, but Stuff understands an announcement about each-way travel will now be made next week following a phone call between Jacinda Ardern and her Cook Islands counterpart last night.

“We’ve got a few little things to iron out with the protocols in terms of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s,” Brown said this morning. “We’re confident we will be able to open [announce] an air bridge between our two countries within the next week.”

Later in the day, however, prime minister Jacinda Ardern released a statement to Stuff saying “there are no set dates yet, and any speculation at this stage would be very premature.”

9.15am: New National Party leader expected within 24 hours

This morning’s emergency teleconference is over and National Party MPs are heading for Wellington, where an emergency caucus meeting will take place tonight, RNZ reports. Todd Muller’s deputy, Nikki Kaye, is now acting leader ahead of tonight’s meeting.

A new leader is expected to be confirmed within 24 hours.

8.45am: Leaders respond to Muller resignation

In a statement, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she’d just heard about the bombshell announcement this morning: “No matter what side of parliament you’re sitting, politics is a difficult place. I have passed on my best wishes to Mr Muller and his family,” she said.

NZ First leader Winston Peters put out a more barbed statement, acknowledging “the heavy price of trying to lead the National Party today.” After extending “one’s sympathy” to Muller, Peters went on to say “National has demonstrated to voters as clearly as it is able that it cannot govern itself” and that “leading a divided and incompetent caucus would have tested even the best leader … Heaven only knows who will be the next cab off the ranks selected to lead such a dispirited and incompetent lot.”

ACT Party leader David Seymour said Muller is “a hell of a nice guy” with vast business experience. “Being a leader of a political party on the national stage is an extremely competitive and bruising role,” he said. “You just have to look at the human side of politics and say ‘he gave it a go, good on him’ and respect his decision.”

Former MP Peter Dunne told Newstalk ZB this morning he thought Judith Collins was the safest option to replace Muller as National Party leader. “It’s staunching the wound that’s important [and] she’s probably best-placed to do that,” the former United Future leader speculated. Collins is far from the only candidate, however – read Alex Braae’s rundown of potential new National Party leaders on The Spinoff here.

7.40am: Todd Muller announces shock resignation

Politics editor Justin Giovannetti reports from Wellington:

National leader Todd Muller has resigned citing health reasons, only 53 days after he rolled Simon Bridges to take over the largest party in New Zealand’s parliament. The next general election is in 67 days.

“It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand. It is more important than ever that the New Zealand National Party has a leader who is comfortable in the role,” Muller said in a statement.

“The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective.”

The resignation is immediate, according to Muller. He made the statement when most politicians are missing from the capital this week due to the last parliamentary break before the election campaign officially starts.

Muller’s short leadership was marked by disarray within the party, culminating in the revelation last week that one of National’s MPs leaked the private health information of Covid-19 patients to embarrass the government. A former National Party president gave him the information. She’s torn up her party membership and MP Hamish Walker won’t be running again in one of National’s safest seats.

Muller has also faced questions over whether he lied in recent days when he said the party’s health critic hadn’t received the leaked information. Nearly a week after he criticised the government for the leak, Michael Woodhouse admitted to having received similar information.

Muller avoided the media over the weekend, but his deputy said that the leader hadn’t lied.

A National spokeswoman said the party’s MPs are holding an emergency teleconference this morning to decide how they will vote for a new leader, before assembling in Wellington for an emergency caucus meeting.

Todd Muller’s full statement:

I have taken time over the weekend to reflect on my experience over the last several weeks as Leader of the Opposition.

It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand.

It is more important than ever that the New Zealand National Party has a leader who is comfortable in the role.

The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective.

For that reason I will be stepping down as Leader effective immediately.

I intend to take some time out of the spotlight to spend with family and restore my energy before reconnecting with my community.

I look forward to continuing to serve as a loyal member of the National Party team and Member of Parliament for Bay of Plenty.

I will not be making any further comment.

Please respect the privacy of my family and me.

7.35am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

In a short statement released yesterday afternoon, the Serious Fraud Office made it clear that donations to the Labour Party in 2017 are now being investigated. But very little else is known about what is being investigated. Here’s the statement – the only new information that was offered was that top line fact about donations to Labour in 2017. “We consider that making the current announcement is consistent with our past practice in this area of electoral investigations and in the public interest,” the Director of the SFO Julie Read said.

So do we know how bad this case potentially is? In short, no. Other announcements of SFO investigations have been similarly brief from the organisation itself, but have followed either significant media reporting that is relevant to the cases – such as the ongoing investigation into the NZ First Foundation, or have followed someone speaking out, such as the case relating to former National MP Jami-Lee Ross. In each and every case, it is important to note that an investigation – and even a subsequent attempt at prosecution – cannot be taken as an automatic indication of guilt. But they do have to have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed to proceed.

Labour too seem to be in the dark about what is being investigated. In this NZ Herald article, the possibility is discussed that it relates to Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng – two brothers who are currently facing criminal charges in relation to the National party, along with Jami-Lee Ross. But even the minister responsible for the SFO Stuart Nash appears to be in the dark about it all, saying that he was “blindsided” by the announcement. There has also been speculation that the investigation could relate to the use of fundraising auctions, which can be a method of disguising the identity of donors. Otago law professor Andrew Geddis told Checkpoint that questions have been raised in the past about Labour’s use of that fundraising technique in 2017. However again, it must be stressed that this is speculation, and it could be about something else entirely. We’ll have to wait and see whether the SFO choose to bring a prosecution, however because of the timing, it seems unlikely that we’ll get a resolution on this before the election.

Deportees from Australia will start returning this week, after the programme was paused during Covid-19. As Radio NZ reports, the government’s position against deportations hasn’t changed, but it is also obliged to receive people being sent to New Zealand. As such a managed isolation facility has been set up with enhanced security, which the people will be in for the standard fortnight before being released back into the community. The first cohort will involve about 30 people – some of the details about who they are and where they’ll stay will be kept under wraps, to prevent abuse and vigilantism being directed against them.

It is likely to be a really worrying situation for a lot of those people. As anyone who read the story Tasman Deathtrap by Don Rowe in 2018 will know, many end up here with no family or social support, and that situation will be badly exacerbated by the inability of anyone to travel freely between the two countries right now.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield returned from holiday to announce there were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

Health minister Chris Hipkins confirmed 30 New Zealanders were being deported from Australia this week and would spend their two weeks in managed isolation at a dedicated facility at an inner-city Auckland hotel.

The Christchurch mosque gunman sacked his lawyers and will now represent himself at his sentencing in the Christchurch High Court next month.

The Serious Fraud Office has commenced an investigation in relation to donations made to the Labour Party in 2017.

The woman who escaped from a managed isolation facility by climbing a fence has been charged with failing or refusing to isolate for the required 14 day period.

Read yesterday’s live updates here

Keep going!