NZ Election 2020: Jacinda Ardern describes Judith Collins as 'very different' opponent to Bill English

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has described Judith Collins as a "very different" opponent to former National leader Sir Bill English, who she went up against at the 2017 election.

"Yeah, very different. Very different," Ardern told Newstalk ZB on Monday, when asked how she thought Collins had performed so far as Opposition leader compared to English. 

"I knew Bill English a bit better - obviously, New Zealand did because they had such exposure to him, and I do think it's a different party now that we're dealing with than from John Key and Bill English's time."

Comparing Collins' leadership with that of English has become an attack line used by Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson to criticise National over mistakes in its alternative budget plan. 

"National is focussed on itself and not showing the signs of being fit to govern. It's hard to imagine this type of thing happening under the leadership of John Key or Bill English," he said last month. 

Ardern was chosen as Labour's leader just eight weeks out from the 2017 election, after then-leader Andrew Little stepped down following several low polling results. 

The new Labour leader went up against English who had taken over from former Prime Minister Sir John Key after he stepped down from the role in December 2016. 

National won 56 seats at the 2017 election under English but it didn't reach the 60 it needed to form a Government, even with ACT's one seat. It needed NZ First's nine seats, but Winston Peters chose to form a coalition with Labour. 

Labour only had 46 seats and with NZ First's nine seats that only made 55, so Labour signed a confidence and supply with the Greens who had eight seats, which resulted in the current Government led by Ardern. 

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern thinks Judith Collins is a "very different" opponent compared to former National leader Bill English.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern thinks Judith Collins is a "very different" opponent compared to former National leader Bill English. Photo credit: Getty

English stood down as National leader a few months later. Simon Bridges led the party until May this year when he was rolled by Todd Muller, who only lasted in the role for a few months, making way for Collins. 

Collins became National leader 13 weeks from this year's election, but she has been hit with internal problems such as Hamish Walker leaking private COVID-19 patient data, Andrew Falloon's scandal, botched budget numbers, and MPs leaking against her

Despite Collins' attacks on Labour throughout the election campaign, Ardern says she respects any political party leader who takes on the heavy task. 

"I respect anyone - and I mean this - I respect anyone that takes a party into an election and the rigours of a campaign. It is not an easy job, particularly when you've got a bit of transition and rebuilding."

Ardern said she's learnt a lot since becoming Prime Minister. 

"I've learnt how to use the levers to move more quickly. That is one of the frustrations I've always expressed with government, things always take longer than you expect," she said. 

"But I've also learnt how to manage us through a crisis and it's actually the things that you come up against that you don't expect that matter as much as the things that you do."

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll showed Labour with enough support to govern alone, and NZ First without enough support to reach the 5 percent threshold to make it back into Parliament. 

Bill English stepped down as National leader in February 2018.
Bill English stepped down as National leader in February 2018. Photo credit: Getty

But Ardern isn't prepared to write them off. 

"I do think it feels a bit unfair to get into eulogising anyone before we've had the vote," she said. 

"But what I will speak to is the legacy of Government because of course we've just had a term together. I do think New Zealand First have made a contribution, particularly in the regions - credit where credit's due."

The latest Colmar-Brunton poll showed Labour on 47 percent, meaning it would need support from the Greens to form a Government. 

Ardern says there's nothing to fear from the Greens, despite National's campaign warning voters of an imminent wealth tax - something Labour has repeatedly ruled out, despite the Greens citing it as important to them. 

"You hear a lot of fear-mongering at election time often from the National Party. But actually, people just need to look at the reality of the last three years. Every single thing we've done we've had to build consensus across three parties," Ardern said. 

She said the MMP system protects New Zealand from extremes in policy. 

"We still in MMP see the major parties driving the consensus and the policy building... our system guards against large-scale lurches in either direction," she said. 

Ardern admitted she is seeking a strong mandate for Labour this election because she wants "an absolute focus" on the recovery from COVID-19, and "it is fair to say that in an MMP environment multiple different parties can slow things down". 

But she said that's "not to say there aren't things that can be drawn from consensus building and I will build consensus on the big issues".