Judith Collins at her first press conference as National leader (Radio NZ, Samuel Rillstone)

The Bulletin: The challenge ahead for Judith Collins

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Dramatic leadership change for National, government rolls out millions more in business support, and several police raids ruled unlawful by IPCA.

If you didn’t pay attention to the news yesterday from about 7.15am onwards, there’s a bit to catch up on. The big story is this: Todd Muller handed in his resignation as National leader, and after an emergency late night caucus meeting was replaced by MP for Papakura Judith Collins. Her deputy will be Gerry Brownlee, with the caucus deciding to elect two of their most experienced MPs to the top jobs, after a few wild months of internal strife. The day of drama was captured in our live blog.

Collins fronted a press conference immediately after the vote, and was flanked by pretty much the entire National caucus. Was that a tacit nod to the need to urgently unify the party? “The common goal is to get rid of the current government,” said Collins, stressing the economy as a focus. She said she would “not let Jacinda Ardern get away with any nonsense”. She also said she wouldn’t underestimate Ardern, describing the PM as “an adversary I would absolutely respect, but our party is better than her party and we’re going to take it back.” On the surface, it sets up a more competitive election than it otherwise might have been. And as Justin Giovannetti writes, there was immediately a sense that the opposition under Collins will be much tougher (and some would say meaner) than they were under Muller.

Is the National Party actually willing to get behind Collins? We know that there’s a lot of bad blood in that room, and it would be pointless to pretend otherwise. Politik reports there was a contest over both two top jobs, with Mark Mitchell having a go at the leadership, and Paul Goldsmith having a crack at deputy. Nikki Kaye is understood to have not even bothered trying to hold onto that job. The contest itself isn’t necessarily a good sign for National – as former Labour strategist Clint Smith writes, one of the key factors in the Jacinda Ardern ‘miracle’ in 2017 was that she inherited a united caucus, and was elected unopposed.

What about how the government and the Labour party itself sees Collins? Commentator Ben Thomas argues they’re in serious danger of under-estimating her. “Just as National MPs have consistently under-rated Ardern, seeing her as a naif out of her depth despite the obvious proof to the contrary, Labour tends to take a one-dimensional view of Collins that is not widely shared by the electorate.”

There was a good point made by Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien last night, during her channel’s rolling slog through the evening. She noted that the electorate would have to choose between two leaders they colloquially know as ‘Judith’ and ‘Jacinda’. It’s a very rare thing for politicians to have the force of personality to be on a first name basis with the public – think Winston, for example. For better or worse, Judith Collins resonates. And as former parliamentary staffer Josh Van Veen wrote on the Democracy Project, Collins is similar to Ardern in that she connects with the public on a much deeper level than policy, or even ideology.

And yet, Collins also comes into the top job after a career filled with scandal. Out of every MP discussed in the 2014 book Dirty Politics, she was by far the closest to the ruthless attack bloggers at the heart of the book, and an enthusiastic participant in their hit jobs. There was the Oravida scandal – you can go back and read a timeline of that on Newshub here – which involved some seriously dodgy looking dinners and donations. On a less damaging but still politically pertinent level, Collins was also involved in matters like the awarding of the contract for Mt Eden Prison to private prison operator Serco, which ended terribly. She considered crossing the floor to vote against the otherwise bi-partisan Zero Carbon bill. There was the long war with retired Canadian judge Ian Binnie over compensation for David Bain. Her polarising image isn’t for nothing – there is some very real meat on the bones there.

One consequence of Collins taking the leadership could be the effect on minor parties. One News story from yesterday (pre-change of leader) included comment from Act David Seymour, and The Opportunities Party’s Geoff Simmons, and both will be hoping that previous National voters will take a look at their parties, given the months of instability for National. But on the right wing particularly, it’s hard to see much benefit for parties there. The New Conservatives in particular could suffer from some of their support bleeding back to National. Collins wouldn’t be drawn on potential coalition partners during her press conference last night, saying she was only focused on getting National’s vote up.

Finally, on Muller himself: The statement announcing his resignation was fairly to the point: He said it had “become clear to me that I am not the best person” for the job, and that “the role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective.” Various outlets, including NZ Herald (paywalled) political editor Audrey Young, reported that he had essentially had a mental health breakdown. Regardless of whether that is the case, it will have been a brutal decision to resign from a job that he had aspired to for decades. And no matter the circumstances, that is always sad to see.

But it has to be said that Muller did not do a good job of being opposition leader, even if he seemed to be a decent person. Toby Manhire was able to write a piece condensing every notable event over his entire tenure into a crisp 1000 words, if that gives you an indication of how it went. It’s also exacerbated by the fact that he rolled the previous leader, and threw his party into disarray by doing so, only to discover that the job was much harder than he could have anticipated. After 18 years in parliament, one wonders if Judith Collins is about to discover the same thing.


The Spinoff would like to invite Bulletin readers to a special event with Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. 

The effects of Covid-19 are often hidden from every day view. Writing on The Spinoff, Breast Cancer NZ ambassador Stacey Morrison spoke to Chloe Irvine about her experience with breast cancer through lockdown.

To support Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s vital work The Spinoff is holding a Pink Ribbon Breakfast. Hosted by Stacey Morrison at Kind Cafe in Morningside, Auckland on July 28 from 730am the breakfast will hear from women about their breast cancer journeyand foundation advocates about the work they do.

Limited tickets are available here for a donation of $50 or more (and includes breakfast). If you live outside Auckland or are unable to join us for breakfast we still welcome your support for Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.


Anyway, while all of that was going on, the government continued rolling out their Covid recovery programme. Stuff reports that yesterday’s announcement was for a further $40 million for the Regional Business Partnership scheme, which essentially involves free mentoring and advice for firms affected by the downturn. According to the story, the value of such support is that it helps businesses to pivot, from what worked before the crisis to what will work now, and potentially make them stronger in the future. So far more than 6000 firms have taken part, with thousands more registering their interest.


Several police raids carried out after the March 15 attacks have been ruled unlawful by the IPCA, reports Radio NZ. They were carried out under the controversial Search and Surveillance Act, which gives police sweeping powers in certain circumstances. However, in each of the three cases that were pulled up, the IPCA said the police should have got warrants before making the raids. The police responded by accepting mistakes were made, but also argued that in the context of the time the raids were necessary to ensure that further violence did not take place.


A report into the collapse of a Wellington sewage pipe has found that maintenance wasn’t carried out nearly enough, and requests for funding were repeatedly turned down, reports Joel MacManus for Stuff. The story also revealed that an inspection in 2004 found a high risk of corrosion, but the recommendations of that were never implemented because the report appears to have got lost. The consequences of the pipe failing were pretty significant, with a whole heap of sewage flowing into the harbour, and a key central street being closed for months.


A shocking amount of plastic is currently lining the banks of an important South Island river, reports One News’ Kaitlin Ruddock. A significant contributor to the problem is the wrapping that goes around haybales, which isn’t being recycled in the quantities that it should be. A river guide – who said he was embarrassed to take tourists past the pollution – has organised cleanup trips that have collected almost half a tonne of plastic to date, with more of the river still to cover.


For those who followed the dramatic coup at the Otago Regional Council, this is an exceptional feature that goes deep into the details. The ODT’s Bruce Munro has gone back a decade to the beginnings of the substantive issues over water permits and freshwater management, and given an immense amount of backstory on the subject that former chair Marian Hobbs claims to have been ousted over. It also casts it as a battle between Dunedin and the rest of the region, which is largely rural, and brings up questions of whether the ORC has been captured by a sense of ‘Otago exceptionalism’. All in all, it’s a magnificent piece of local journalism.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

High Fidelity, the TV series: Robyn (Zoë Kravitz), Simon (David H. Holmes), and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). (Photo: Phillip Caruso/Hulu)

Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Webb-Liddall writes about the generational trauma and mistrust of government that makes Māori communities more likely to buy into 5G conspiracy theories. International journalism expert Emily Bell writes about how the world will be watching Stuff’s experiment in ditching Facebook. Writer Murdoch Stephens talks about getting rid of his publishing alter-ego Richard Meros. Catherine McGregror reviews the new TV take that reinvents Nick Hornby book High Fidelity. And Shabnam Dastgheib writes about a Christchurch start-up that has grown from a backyard workshop, to a centre for sustainable architecture and building all in the space of a few months.


For a feature today, a terrifying piece about the ethics and environmental impacts of the collapse of the fracking industry. The New York Times reports that with the price of oil at deep lows, fracking companies are going bankrupt across the US – without the money to clean them up to prevent methane leakage. And yet those companies are still making disgustingly large payouts to executives. Here’s an excerpt:

Even before the current downturn, methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, was being released from production sites in America’s biggest oil field at more than twice the rate previously estimated, according to a recent study based on satellite data. Some experts say that with the industry in disarray, efforts to fix leaks of methane, which pound for pound can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, may fall by the wayside. Low natural gas prices may lead to increases in flaring or venting, the intentional release of excess gas, the International Energy Agency said this year.

It is also likely that many companies haven’t set aside enough money, as required by law, to restore well sites to their original state. An analysis of recently bankrupt oil and gas companies’ financial statements, prepared for The New York Times, shows a funding shortfall.


In sport, could we be on the verge of seeing a Pacific team join Super Rugby? Radio NZ reports such a prospect is gaining traction, with the team likely to be based primarily in South Auckland if it gets going. A team part-owned by a group of former All Blacks has confirmed they’ve had talks with NZ Rugby about joining, amid a wider review of the future of the competition which is currently being hammered out.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme



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