Judith Collins confident Todd Muller 'will be fine', thinks it's 'extremely poor form' to send former leaders to backbench

From left to right: Todd Muller, Judith Collins and Simon Bridges.
From left to right: Todd Muller, Judith Collins and Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Newshub

National leader Judith Collins thinks it's "extremely poor form" to send former leaders like Todd Muller to the backbenches in Parliament, and she's confident the Bay of Plenty MP will be better soon. 

"I'm speaking to him every week. I spoke to him on Saturday and he was going to a National Party function in his electorate and I think that's a good thing," Collins told Magic Talk on Monday.

"He is still not quite right but he will be fine. I think the big thing is he's had quite a few health episodes."

Muller resigned on July 14, a couple of months into the role, citing "health" reasons. He stepped down just days after ex-National Party president Michelle Boag confessed to passing confidential COVID-19 data to two National MPs. 

"It's interesting how things work out," Collins said. "The thing is he obviously wasn't able to deal with this issue of being the leader because of various circumstances. But you know what, I'm here."

Collins was elected National Party leader the evening Muller stood down, and in her first caucus reshuffle, Muller and his predecessor Simon Bridges were given frontbench positions. 

"I don't like this practise of former leaders being thrown down the backbench and disrespected. I think it's extremely poor form," Collins said. 

"To go into an election and win that election, to seek to win it and to do so, you have to have everybody on the same page and nobody backbiting and basically bitching about each other. I'm not going to have it."

Muller came under fire for his caucus reshuffles as leader. In his first one in May, former deputy leader Paula Bennett was pushed down the ranks from number two to number 14.  

Bennett resigned from politics a month later and Muller was left to defend his frontbench that no longer featured any non-Caucasian MPs because Bennett and Bridges are both Māori. 

Muller's deputy Nikki Kaye wrongly suggested frontbench National MP Paul Goldsmith is "of Ngāti Porou descent" and he had to correct her. 

Muller announced another reshuffle early last month where Bridges was given Bennett's number 14 spot and Māori MP Shane Reti was promoted to number 13 - but it did not solve the issue of diversity on the frontbench.  

When Muller stood down, Collins had the chance to shuffle the caucus again. She said at the time she wouldn't consider diversity and would "not be distracted by people's gender or ethnicity".  

But Collins ended up resolving the diversity doubt by promoting Bridges to number four and giving him foreign affairs, followed by Dr Reti at number five and giving him the health portfolio. 

Collins was able to give Dr Reti the health portfolio because she stripped it from Michael Woodhouse after he admitted to receiving confidential Government health data from Michelle Boag and not informing the Health Minister.  

Muller came under pressure for not disclosing sooner that Woodhouse, as well as Hamish Walker, had also received information from Boag. 

He was asked during a press conference if he had sought assurances that Boag had not passed on data to Woodhouse - but he dodged the question. The next day Woodhouse confessed he did receive similar confidential data from Boag. 

Nevertheless, Collins gave Muller the trade portfolio and he is ranked number eight. 

"He's got trade which is something he knows inside out," Collins told Magic Talk. "He'll be absolutely fine, and I always think you've always got to give people a bit of a leeway when they've got health issues and no one's perfect."

She said Muller is a "nice guy" who "knows his trade".