Judith Collins: Now 'right time' to become leader, claims National united behind her

Judith Collins says it was the "right time" for her to become leader, promising Kiwis that the National Party emerged on Tuesday night "a very strong team".

In her first major media interview since becoming leader, Collins, the Papakura MP and a former minister under the Key and English Government, told The AM Show that National was "one team" and she wasn't "here to come second".

Her election was prompted by the resignation of Todd Muller on Tuesday morning. After a day of speculation about who would replace him, Collins came out of the caucus room as the leader. Gerry Brownlee will be her deputy.

"It just seemed like the right time. It was obviously the right time and that's just what it was," she said.

Collins wouldn't divulge what happened in caucus, but believes the party is united behind her ahead of the September 19 election.

"I like to think that everybody voted for me because that is the way that we work it, if we even had a vote. We are not discussing what happened in the caucus room, but I can tell you that we emerged a very strong team.

"In the end, you would have seen that the caucus came down to the first press conference all supporting me, and that is the way that I like to believe it all happened. Everything with everyone supporting me and Gerry."

There have previously been leaks to Newshub about what goes on behind National's closed doors, but Collins said it was important that "[caucus knows] that we are now absolutely one team and we are working together". 

"It is really important that we start as I mean to continue which is that what happens in caucus stays in caucus."

Following her election, Collins' team followed her to her first media standup, surrounding her and Brownlee on-stage, which The AM Show host Duncan Garner said was a "strong look".

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 14:  New leader of the National Party Judith Collins (R) with new deputy leader Gerry Brownlee (L) emerge from the vote on July 14, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. National MPs met for an emergency caucus meeting to discuss who would replace Todd Muller as party leader following his resignation this morning. Todd Muller's resignation on health grounds comes after 53 days in the role of National Party leader, following the ousting of Simon Bridges.  (Photo by Robert Kitchin-Pool/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

"What I did say to everyone is 'would you like to come down?' and people just said 'yup, let's go'. You can't move those National Party MPs unless they want to be moved. I can tell you they wanted to come down," Collins said.

She said after doing her media round on Wednesday, she would sit down and look at "mild changes" to her colleagues' portfolios.

"We will have a few, couple of changes, not that many. We are only a few weeks out from the election. We need to be very focused, but at the same time I don't want people having to chop and change portfolios right before an election. I think that is a bit foolish, but there is obviously going to be a couple of changes around Gerry and myself and a few other people."

She hasn't discussed with Amy Adams - who was initially going to retire then decided to stay on under Muller - if she would continue past the election. Paula Bennett has confirmed she is "still going".

Collins said that former deputy Nikki Kaye would remain in Education and that a role would be "available" for Muller. She wouldn't say if Muller would be on her frontbench. 

"I think he is a great guy. We want him back on the team."

She hears from a friend of Muller's that he is "very happy with what's happened and that he absolutely supports the change".

Collins hinted there won't be any massive policy changes under her leadership, telling The AM Show there was already a "stream of policy coming out".

"We are just going to have a quick look through that, see if there is anything [that] needs tweaking, but I am pretty confident that our policy programme is very well developed and we will be having more coming out very soon."

National is not the "party of big taxes", she said.

"This is the party of enterprise. It is a party of opportunity. It is a party of getting people back to work and the best way that we can do [that] is not to take away from people what they have, but actually to try and build the economy. You don't build the economy just by taxing the guts out of it, and we are not going to do that."

She believes "there clearly is climate change".

"I think what is really important is that we understand that is something we have to take into account. But I think it is also really important that we stand very firmly on law and order issues and that we stand mostly and absolutely on the economy.

"This is about jobs for people, but it is also about growing the economy in a really difficult time. As we know, the whole world is going through a difficult time. We are a little country a long way away and we need to work even harder and smarter. We are looking to the future and that is what I am after."

To help support Kiwis during the COVID-19 pandemic, the current Government has spent more than $12 billion on its wage subsidy scheme. The initial period of that programme ran until early June with an extension for the most severely affected business.

Collins called the wage subsidy "excellent in its time", but believes an economic plan must be "better than just the wage subsidy". She said fast-tracking large infrasturcture projects could have better outcomes "for people in the long run, rather than the short-term wage subsidy".

She respects "spot-on, excellent communicator" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and "we should be absolutely aware of that".

"I thought she did a very good job of communicating during the COVID-19 health issues."

However, she said communicating is "one thing", but "execution is another".

"I haven't seen that much coming out of the Government. Poor ole Jacinda Ardern, she has got three competent ministers that she can rely on and pretty much everyone else is not someone that you would put in that job."

Collins said National's team had "fabulous experience" and "the ability to get things done".

The election will be held on September 19.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz