Analysis – Judith Collins loses the National Party leadership after disciplining her potential rival Simon Bridges, the prime minister sets 3 December as “freedom day” and there’s a mixed reaction to the government’s plans for re-opening the international border.
What was Judith Collins thinking? Did she believe she could neutralise Simon Bridges without a backlash or did she know there was going to be trouble but thought she could survive it? Or did she set aside the consequences and do what she believed to be right?
Whatever her motives, sending Bridges to the backbenches for something he said five years ago cost her the leadership of the National Party.
Her caucus voted her out, her deputy Shane Reti took over as caretaker and a new leader will be elected on Tuesday.
Let the main players speak for themselves:
Collins: “I knew when I was confided in by a senior colleague [Jacqui Dean] 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. It’s a matter of principle. Every woman and every man should feel safe in the workplace.
“What is really important is that you don’t deal with allegations by sweeping them under the carpet.”
Bridges: “It was an all-day caucus at Premier House, five or six years ago. At lunchtime I was out talking with a number of MPs and at some point Jacqui Dean joined that (group).
“We discussed our wives, our children. I can remember talking about the fact that I had two boys and wanted a girl.
“I engaged in some old wives’ tale about that and how to have a girl, and I entirely accept that and am regretful of that day because I acknowledge that some of what I said was clearly inappropriate.”
Dean: “Simon Bridges made remarks that 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.”
Bridges’ comment was about a sexual technique. Most media delicately avoided reporting his actual words but Newshub did, after broadcasting a content warning.
Dean, because her feelings had been “brought back up” by reviews of behaviour in Parliament, went to Collins and told her what Bridges said. Collins said that was the first she knew of it.
At the time the comment was made, Dean went to then deputy leader Bill English. He called in Bridges, who apologised and then delivered a “fulsome” apology directly to Dean, which was accepted.
Collins decided the penalty should be stripping Bridges of his portfolios and demoting him to the backbenches.
She announced this in a media statement around 9.30pm on Wednesday, totally blindsiding her caucus.
The MPs were furious about that and suspicious about her motives. A caucus meeting was called, there was a confidence vote and she lost.
Why did she do it? Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper said it was “a clear play” to sideline Bridges because he posed a leadership threat.
Stuff political editor Luke Malpass said Collins gambled that being seen to do nothing about a complaint of that nature would be untenable for the National Party, and it would have no choice but to back her even if caucus colleagues thought the way she went about it was odious.
“But in the end, an off-colour comment from years ago, which only emerged when Collins leadership was under threat, was viewed as just a bit too convenient and the way she handled it unacceptable.”
Jane Patterson, RNZ’s political editor, said some MPs felt it was “a hit job on Bridges after he’d once again started to stir the leadership pot”.
Collins left Parliament after the caucus meeting, saying she would stay on as an MP and contest the next election. She had absolutely no regrets about what she did.
The media began focusing on who would take over. The Herald put up six potential candidates: Bridges, Christopher Luxon, Chris Bishop, Nicola Willis, Mark Mitchell and Reti.
Stuff said Bridges had all but confirmed he would run and MPs were suggesting other contenders could include Luxon, Mitchell and Bishop.
Media outlets were agreed on one thing: Whoever wins on Tuesday will take on the formidable task of stabilising and repairing a broken party. A “bedraggled heap” as the Herald’s Claire Trevett put it.
National’s convulsions happened during a week of momentous announcements by the government affecting everyone.
On Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country would move into the traffic light system on 3 December.
She had intended naming the date after a cabinet meeting on 29 November, but the government seemed to have got the message from Auckland’s business sector when Finance Minister Grant Robertson visited the city last week – no more waiting.
Ardern said businesses “needed certainty” and that was why she was announcing the date.
Lockdowns will end, businesses will open and vaccine certificates will be needed to get into most of them.
The government has mandated vaccinations for the staff of those who work in businesses which restrict entry to vaccinated people, and those mandates now cover about 40 percent of the workforce.
The vaccination pass system worked well during the week and people were busy downloading them onto their phones. From 3 December they will have to present them when entering premises which require them.
Not a great deal of change for the vaccinated, but the impact on the unvaccinated will be far-reaching. They’re guaranteed to be able to go into supermarkets and pharmacies, and that could be about it.
“The key difference between the two systems is that vaccine passes will shortly be required at places like bars, gyms and restaurants,” Ardern said.
It’s likely to spread through the hospitality sector, because businesses which don’t require passes will be restricted to contactless pickups.
Restaurant Association head Marisa Bidois said a survey suggested a strong majority of restaurants and cafes were looking to implement vaccine passes, Stuff reported.
On Wednesday Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the international border would start re-opening on 17 January, when fully vaccinated Kiwis in Australia will be able to fly home without going into managed isolation.
From 14 February they will be able to come in from anywhere without going into MIQ and from 30 April the border will start opening for all fully vaccinated foreigners.
Hipkins said every traveller who didn’t go into MIQ would have to self-isolate for seven days.
Hipkins told RNZ it would be monitored with a light touch because it wouldn’t be possible or sustainable to set up the resources needed to keep tabs on thousands of people coming in every day.
His border opening announcement gained a mixed reception. There were reports of jubilant Kiwis overseas looking forward to being reunited with their families while the tourism sector was horrified by the seven-day self-isolation requirement.
Tourism Export council chief executive Lynda Keene said it would destroy the industry.
The New Zealand Aviation Coalition, representing airlines and airports, said New Zealand was clinging to some of the tightest border restrictions in the world that no longer made sense with Covid-19 circulating domestically, Stuff reported.
The government put Parliament into urgency to pass legislation which had to be in place before 3 December.
The Covid-19 Response (Vaccinations) Bill allows businesses to fire employees if they don’t get vaccinated.
Workers covered by the vaccination mandates must have their first dose by 3 December and their second by 17 January.
Opposition parties fought it fiercely, RNZ reported.
National said the bill was divisive and was being rushed through, ACT said it could have gone through a regular process with more scrutiny. The Māori Party said it was cruel.
The government’s problem was that Parliament will be in recess next week.
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