NZ Election 2020: National's Judith Collins hits back at 'abusive' criticism over pre-vote prayer

National leader Judith Collins has hit back at "quite abusive" criticism she received after being snapped by reporters praying in a church before casting her vote. 

Collins and her husband David Wong-Tung cast their advance votes at a polling station at St Thomas Church in Tāmaki on Sunday, ahead of the October 17 election. 

The openly-Christian Opposition leader was photographed and filmed by reporters praying before casting her vote. She was accused of "politicising" her faith by politics lecturer at Victoria University Bryce Edwards.

But Collins disagrees because she says she never invited the reporters in to photograph her. Speaking to Newstalk ZB on Monday morning, she rejected the accusation of politicisation. 

"No I'm not. In fact, I thought that was quite abusive frankly. I've been an Anglican all my life. I was brought up as such and we just happen to be voting in a church because our church is open on Sunday," she said. 

"The minister said, 'Oh would you like to come and do a prayer, Judith?' and I said 'yes, I would'. I didn't ask the media in and I turned around and there they were all happily taking shots, so I thought 'gosh, well, I'll just keep on doing what I'm doing'.

"Some people like to contemplate about various things, they like to meditate, and for me once a day I find it very helpful, particularly at the end of the day; I just happened to be at an Anglican church - I was hardly going to turn it down."

Collins told Magic Talk: "I could have turned around and said 'get out of this house of worship you evil media', or I could have just done exactly what I was going to do in the first place. I would have thought they would have expected it was a private moment but they came charging in."

Collins has been dropping references to her faith throughout the election campaign and some commentators are questioning the timing of it and whether politics and religion should be kept separate. 

National leader Judith Collins praying at St Thomas Church in Tāmaki.
National leader Judith Collins praying at St Thomas Church in Tāmaki. Photo credit: Newshub

"Do you run the risk of someone saying you're trying to trade on your faith?  And is that potentially more of a good thing or a bad thing? Who knows?" wrote freelance journalist Tim Dower. 

"It's going to make no difference at all to the way I vote, but there's a critic lurking in every corner looking for the tiniest thing to snipe at."

NZ First leader Winston Peters - who is also religious - took a crack at Collins, telling RNZ it is "rather sad" when "someone is using the church to sell their politics". 

"It's in the good book - Jesus said 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's'. That is a separation of Government from religion as clear as anything, in the Bible," Peters said. 

He referenced the Bible in a Twitter post: "Matthew 6: 5-6. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others...But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen."

Collins made a reference to her faith during the Newshub Leaders Debate last week when she was asked about Peters and whether he could make a comback despite polling showing NZ First below the 5 percent threshold. 

"As a Christian I do believe in miracles, but I tell you what, he won't be one of them," Collins said.  

NZ First was on 1.9 percent in Newshub's latest poll while National was on 29.6 percent. 

Collins recently came under fire for saying author Nicky Hager - who wrote the 2014 book Dirty Politics  - would have to account for his "disgraceful" books about her when it came time to "meet his maker". 

The term 'meet one's maker' refers to people having to face God when they die. 

Collins later told Stuff's Henry Cooke that we are "all going to die one day, Henry, and we’ll have to justify our actions".

Collins said on Sunday casting her votes was easy.

"It was a really easy choice, it was two ticks blue. I voted for the End of Life Choice Bill and against cannabis for recreational sale and use," she told reporters. 

Both Collins and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern have casted their votes early.