Judith Collins defends incorrect claim 'nobody escaped' when she was Corrections Minister, says it was 'a joke'

Judith Collins has defended her claim that "nobody escaped" during her tenure as Minister of Corrections as a joke, clarifying that the "odd one" may have "popped out".

While visiting Palmerston North on Monday, the Opposition leader slammed the Government's COVID-19 response, calling out the number of new arrivals who have escaped managed isolation facilities during their 14-day mandatory isolation period.

"When I was Minister of Corrections, nobody escaped," Collins claimed.

Yet her statement did not escape the ears of Twitter commentators, who were quick to note more than 20 prisoners escaped during her stints in the role from 2008 to 2011 and 2015 to 2016.

According to data from the Department of Corrections, 11 people escaped from 2008 to 2009 alone. Six absconded, one breached a temporary release order, two escaped from escort while under supervision and two broke out.

From 2009 to 2010, nine were recorded as escaping. From 2010 to 2011, a further four prisoners either broke out or escaped from escort.

From 2015 to 2016, two were recorded as escaping from escort.

When questioned by Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien on Tuesday, Collins - who took the reins to the National Party earlier this month following the shock resignation of Todd Muller - backtracked that "the odd one might've popped out".

"But they all got caught," she said swiftly. "I think you want to actually understand a joke when you hear it.

"The numbers I'm caring about are the 436,000 New Zealanders who are looking at losing their jobs. Those are the numbers that people want us to focus on. Not silly stuff from you."

When asked if Monday's claim could be construed as misleading, Collins retorted: "I think you want to get your Monty Python right.

"When my eyebrow goes up, it's a joke.

"Do you not understand it was a joke? It was a joke."

In the latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll released on Sunday, it was revealed just 30.8 percent of participating voters trust Collins - in comparison to an overwhelming 79.4 percent saying they do trust Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

When questioned if it's ever acceptable for politicians to lie, Collins responded, "You just can't tell everything about something", a stark contrast to the poll results - in which 86.3 percent of voters said "no" when asked the same question.

 "We certainly have situations that we've seen over the years where sometimes we just have to hold back until the time is right," Collins told Newshub.

A former advisor to Ardern, Clint Smith, was quick to call out Collins on Monday night, citing the department's data.

"On Newshub, just after the poll revealed most people don't trust Collins and she said it's OK for politicians to lie, Collins said, 'When I was Minister of Corrections, nobody escaped'," Smith tweeted.

"In fact, in the four years she was Corrections Minister, there were 25 escapes."

Collins was elected to the helm of the National Party following the resignation of former leader Todd Muller, who spent just 53 days in the role after ousting Simon Bridges in May.