NZ election 2020: Andrew Falloon scandal 'very bad news' for National, Judith Collins taking 'soft approach' - commentator

Revelations about a National MP on Monday are further bad news for the embattled political party and an analyst believes Judith Collins is taking a "soft approach" to her one of her own.

Andrew Falloon, the 37-year-old MP for Rangitata, announced on Monday that he wouldn't contest the September 19 election. 

In a statement, he said the recent suicide of a friend brought back "unresolved grief" for him after previously losing three other friends to suicide. Falloon said he had made "a number of mistakes" and that he needed to look after his health and wellbeing.

Collins, National's leader, also released a statement, saying she was "advised of an issue relating to Andrew late on Friday afternoon and we have dealt with it this morning". 

"Andrew is suffering from significant mental health issues and his privacy, and that of his family must be respected."

It is understood Falloon allegedly sent an inappropriate image to a young woman. Police investigated "after receiving a report of an individual sending an unsolicited image [and] the investigation determined it did not meet the threshold for prosecution". 

Political commentator Dr Bryce Edwards from Victoria University told Newshub it was "very bad news for National". 

"Whenever there is a scandal involving an MP, it has some rub-off effect on the party they belong to. So National will be tarnished by association with this," Dr Edwards said. 

He said the public may not be satisfied with the way National has dealt with the issue.

"People will be looking to the way the National Party has dealt with this and how they continue to deal with it. At this stage, there is an appearance the National Party are in some way covering for the MP in question, certainly in terms of the press statement that Andrew Falloon put out."

Dr Edwards said it may be best for National to ask Falloon to step down from Parliament immediately, rather than staying on until the election. 

"As long as Andrew Falloon stays as an MP, because, of course, there are still nine weeks until the election, I think this will be damaging for National. They are probably best to actually get him to resign now because this really is the sort of story that is beyond the pale, even for National Party supporters. 

"They won't be happy with their own MP."

The party has suffered several high-profile resignations recently - including one MP stepping down after leaking private COVID-19 patient information - while Todd Muller stepped down as leader on Tuesday. 

It wasn't a good look, Dr Edwards said. 

"I have never seen a political party suddenly fall apart in the way National appears to be, with so many MPs departing. Of course, many of those departures are simply MPs who have been there a long time, they are retiring, they want to do something else, they are maybe not happy with the direction of the party," he said.

"But when it comes to this latest example, it clearly is something more than that. I don't think there is going to be a lot of sympathy for the MP in question and there will be a feeling that the party itself needs to answer for why this sort of behaviour has gone on and whether they are happy for this MP to continue as being a member of the caucus for the rest of this parliamentary term."

Collins 'soft'

The Prime Minister's office was initially alerted to the incident involving Falloon via an email detailing inappropriate, drunken behaviour. The email was given to Collins on Friday. 

Dr Edwards said Collins appears to have taken "quite a soft approach to her MP". 

"She has allowed him to put out his own version of the story in a press release and she has essentially gone along with that," he said.

The political commentator said Collins had "emphasised the significant mental issues" Falloon is dealing with and asked for his and his family's privacy to be respected. 

"I think that is probably not going to be strong enough. It is reminiscent of the way Todd Muller dealt with Hamish Walker's leaking of COVID-19 patient details. 

"It is not sufficiently tough enough for the public. They will, I think, look back on this as her being a bit weak in dealing with one of her own MPs and she will probably have to get tougher over the next few days."

Dr Edwards said this soft approach doesn't "really go along with the persona of Judith Collins". 

"She positions herself as a hard-talking, straight-talking, tough politician, and yet, on the very first test of her leadership, she hasn't really been that tough. It might look a bit hypocritical, it might look like she is not really holding her own MPs to the high standards she would apply to other wrongdoings in society."

Collins became the leader on Tuesday evening after Muller resigned, citing health reasons. On Thursday, high-profile MPs Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams also resigned. 

Falloon entered Parliament in 2017. 

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