National leader Judith Collins is defending an MP who leaked COVID-19 patient details to the press, and a candidate who appeared to pose in a photo as Hitler, from "bullying".
MP Hamish Walker stepped down as National's Southland candidate earlier this month after he confessed to passing on confidential COVID-19 patient details to media outlets.
Walker has been granted leave until Parliament dissolves on August 12 to work in his Clutha-Southland electorate, and is set to collect around $60,000 on the taxpayer on his way out.
Collins on Wednesday defended her decision to grant Walker leave, insisting he is doing important work in his electorate in the south before his time as an MP is up.
"I'm very happy with how he's getting around the electorate and visiting people and informing me of what's going on. That's my decision as a leader and I'll stick to that," Collins told reporters.
"As an electorate MP, let me tell you, very little work of the electorate MP is done in the office. Most of it is done out and about. In fact, he was visiting a gully in Milford Sound area the other day and we've been talking about it.
"He's already paid the price. He's a relatively young man and I feel he's paid a very serious price. There are other MPs who have paid serious prices, he has too, and he doesn't get the chance to come back to Parliament."
Collins said she's concerned about Walker being bullied.
"I think it's important not to end up in a state of bullying someone who has been in a situation where he has lost his career for a very unwise mistake and I'm not going to stand by and let that happen."
Collins also defended the National Party's teenage candidate for Palmerston North, William Wood, who apologised on Tuesday after an image surfaced online appearing to show him posing as German dictator Adolf Hitler.
"I would've thought that the bullying of William Wood, our candidate in Palmerston North, has been very nasty and dirty - a 14-year-old making a very foolish mistake and then apologising for it," Collins said.
"He's been now, I think, targeted and bullied and I will not stand for that."
Collins did not say who has been bullying Walker or Wood.
"It's important to understand that every political party has the odd issue to deal with from time to time, particularly a party with the largest number of MPs. But, having dealt with them, I would've thought people would be very pleased."
Collins said it was "unfair" for Wood to be criticised over the image of him appearing to impersonate Hitler because it was taken four years ago.
"Anyone who's been a mother or father of a 14-year-old boy or girl will understand that they will occasionally make mistakes and no one expects them to come back later," she said.
"I thought it was a shocking attack on a young man. The fact he went straight away and apologised for his mistake at 14 I thought showed immense maturity and I would like to say to him, don't worry, we've got your back."
The New Zealand Jewish Council told Newshub they will be contacting Wood privately.
Collins also provided an update on Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, who stood down as National Party leader on July 14 just a couple of months into the role, citing "health" reasons.
Collins said he will return to Parliament when he's well again.
"I've said to him that if he can that's great, but as you know he has had quite a serious health issue and I've been speaking to him each week to check on how he's going and he's really improving," Collins said.
"I'm not going to pressure him when clearly he's had to deal with a serious health issue. People do sometimes have health issues and if they do get the right assistance and support, they can overcome it."
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