13 Dec 2015

Meet the Newsmaker: Judith Collins

4:45 pm on 13 December 2015

In our Newsmaker series, we talk to the people who are dominating the headlines. This week: freshly reinstated Cabinet Minister Judith Collins.

Judith Collins

Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

In late August last year, two weeks out from the General Election, Judith Collins resigned as a minister after Prime Minister John Key received a copy of an email suggesting she had undermined a director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) at a time when she was the responsible minister.

The resignation followed weeks of controversy for Ms Collins and the government following the publication of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book.

An investigation subsequently cleared Ms Collins of undermining the SFO director and this week Mr Key brought her back into Cabinet - as Police and Corrections Minister.

Ms Collins talked to RNZ political reporter Benedict Collins about her reinstatement, resignation, and time on the backbenches.

You're back - how does it feel?

Significantly better than the other way around, I've got to say. Yeah, it's good to be back.

It was a year ago that you resigned as a minister during somewhat of a torrid election campaign. Can you take us back to then, what was that like for you?

That was challenging and it was a good opportunity to show character - I spent quite a bit of time working out good sayings, to then become obviously quotes for other people to use.

So it was tough, it was very tough, but I knew I was right; I knew I hadn't done what I was accused of doing.

And I knew that if I stuck in and I had an inquiry into it - and that's one of the things I said to the prime minister on the day that he rang me and told me what had been sent to him, I said well I want an inquiry.

I'll resign, I want an inquiry, I want my name cleared, and I want a full inquiry so that I know it can be cleared.

So it was very difficult but I had great family and friends, good staff and the awful thing was all my staff in the minister's office all lost their jobs - that was the awful thing, really awful, two days to get out.

And they'd done nothing wrong, I hadn't done anything wrong, and it was just awful, there you go - that's the way it is, politics is tough.

Incoming Cabinet Minister Judith Collins packs up her office in preparation for the shift back to the Beehive.

Incoming Cabinet Minister Judith Collins packs up her office in preparation for the shift back to the Beehive. Photo: RNZ

And that inquiry did clear you, as you just said you thought it would - was there part of you that wanted just to dig in and say no I'm not going to resign because I haven't done (what I'm accused of)?

Well the initial thought was exactly that, but that initial thought was there for a second only.

And the reason is because I was Minister of Justice there is a very serious allegation against me, which was based on a third-party email to another third-party.

And I had had no knowledge of what was obviously going on or being talked about, or of the parties emailing each other, I'd never seen it before and it apparently occurred four years before.

And I thought well this is a serious allegation... if I don't resign, I'm the Minister of Justice how can you possibly have the level of inquiry that you need if I'm still the Minister of Justice - you just can't do it.

And I had to stand down otherwise how could that even happen... you've just got to do it, and I thought well it's unfair, but that's life, you have to do it. Sometimes you've just got to do these things.

So, you fell on your sword?

Yeah absolutely... it was either me or it would have been very difficult and the prime minister would have sacked me if I hadn't resigned - it was very clear.

So I was happy to resign, well not happy, I was willing to resign if I got a full inquiry into this so that I could clear my name, and I said that at the time and I did it.

The prime minister at Post Cab (post cabinet media conference) this week was talking about reinstating you and he said politicians make mistakes, that he had given you warnings and he said he wondered whether the year you spent on the backbenches would give you time to think about things, reassess things.

What do you make of that, and have you been sitting there thinking maybe I should have played my cards differently or I would do things differently in the future?

There's lots of things. I'm not going to go and rehash the past because frankly I've moved on and everyone has their own versions of things.

But I think it's really important for me in the last year is that I've got much more balance in my life.

I've been studying at university, I've been the MP for Papakura, I've spent more time with my family and my constituents.

I was absolutely run ragged for three years being both the Minister of Justice and ACC which were huge portfolios with major issues that I came into.

And I also was given ethnic affairs which meant I had 74 different functions in my last year as well as everything else, major family court reforms, just huge victim stuff we were doing, ACC - huge problems there we had to sort out.

So I actually ran myself ragged and probably reacted, well did react, when I should have actually not reacted so much to things and thought about stuff about what people might have been seeing.

So I actually look and think, yeah don't run yourself ragged and have a bit more balance in your life.

What are you most looking forward to, in terms of going back over to the Beehive and being a minister again?

Actually I think really being able to make a difference in those portfolios, and I like being part of a team, understanding what's going on in the general government as well and having really good people working with me in the group.

Judith Collins with the car she has been given for six months by a South Auckland company.

Judith Collins with the car she has been given for six months by a South Auckland company. Photo: Twitter

There are some things you are going to have to give up though. The prime minister was saying the Sunday Star Times column, the Paul Henry show and, I think the car?

Yes, so the car's gone back already, I gave that back as soon as I could because that would be a breach of the Cabinet manual, but of course this week I'm still free.

But is there a part of you that is going to regret giving up those side gigs?

No, no look I've got other - I've got several cars.

I've been able to help the Papakura Crimewatch Patrol get substantial amounts of money and with the Sunday Star-Times (SST) column, that has helped get the Totara Hospice in my electorate substantial amounts of money that they wouldn't have got otherwise - quite a lot of money actually, so that's achieved something.

Of course I love writing for the SST, really enjoy the fact I've been given so much freedom by them to write whatever I felt like really, might've upset some people but there you go.

And I've really enjoyed doing the Paul Henry Show so I'm not sure quite why...but that's the prime minister's thing, that's what he said.

When you come back into Cabinet it's collective Cabinet responsibility, and (when) the prime minister says jump, you don't say why - you say how high?

That's the way it works.

What did you make of (Labour leader) Andrew Little's reaction this week when he heard you were coming back as a minister? I think his words were 'it's going to be great fodder' for the Labour Party?

Oh well I thought it was really complimentary of him, you know if I was advising him I'd say why would you even comment?

You know I'm only going to be ranked 14 on the list, I'm not on the front bench, why would he want to do that?

And I thought, he's nervous.

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