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Tuesday 13 October 2015

Comment: The Fall of Judith Collins

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 30th August 2014

Lady Macbeth of Clevedon?! (With apologies to Shostakovich)
In a dramatic development in New Zealand's election race, former Justice Minister Judith Collins has just resigned her portfolio, after revelations related to alleged misconduct related to appointments within the Serious Fraud Office. What are the implications of her spectacular fall from grace?

Collins' fall is apparently unrelated to allegations that she was planning to roll Prime Minister Key at some point in the intermediate future, in order to negotiate a possible coalition with Winston Peters and his New Zealand First colleagues. As predicted, she will be replaced by former Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who now takes over the justice portfolio. This situation must be a godsend to the Opposition parties, as it indicates runaway factionalism within the incumbent National Party. Now that Collins has been demoted, has she necessarily given up her leadership ambitions, or will she resign from Parliament altogether? This is a senior ministerial resignation during a general election, probably the worst possible time for this to happen.

What does it mean for us? The government will probably take a hit from this, but the beneficiaries are likely to be the Greens on the positive side, as well as New Zealand First and the Conservative Party on the negative side. Collins did vote for marriage equality in 2013, but had an otherwise social conservative voting record. She vigorously campaigned against the criminalisation of parental corporal punishment in 2007, tried to engineer an attack on the abortion rights of competent minors and pregnant incest survivors in 2005, and more recently acted to obstruct Labour MP Louisa Wall's SOP 432 from inclusion within the Statutes Amendment Bill No 4. However, her replacement, Chris Finlayson, may be similarly obstructive.
The National Party looks badly factionalised, and one wonders what would happen to it in the event of prolonged negative economic news. Given that one winner might well be New Zealand First, this isn't good news, either. Peters is essentially an opportunist. He cannot be trusted not to prop up this government, and may well act to obstruct trans-inclusive antidiscrimination laws or comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in this context, as he did with marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform during the third term Clark administration (2005-2008). Even if he does side with the centre-left instead, the price may well be the same.
The fall of Collins may badly rattle the Prime Minister, and affect future leaders debate performance, providing welcome assistance to David Cunliffe in this context. In the long term, it may clear the way for Steven Joyce to eventually succeed Key, and Paula Bennett to serve as his deputy. However, I've only ever seen an incumbent government this clearly factionalised once before and that was the Lange/Palmer/Moore-led Labour administration (1984-1990) that presided over Rogernomics (and homosexual law reform). However, a worst case scenario would be for Collins to retain her parliamentary seat and snipe at Key and Joyce from the sidelines.

Craig Young - 30th August 2014

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