Judith Collins warns National MPs not to take the Government's 'bait' and get 'distracted'

Judith Collins has issued a warning to National MPs: Do not take the Government's "bait" and get "diverted and distracted" because staying on message is of utmost importance. 

Speaking at National's caucus retreat on Monday, which was shifted from Whangārei to Wellington as a precautionary measure due to the Northland community case of COVID-19, Collins outlined how being in Opposition can be tough. 

"Being in Opposition, we can get very reactive to what's going on and one of the problems with that is that we lose track of our own line of work and what we're doing and we can end up getting very diverted and distracted by things that are thrown across the line for us to go and pick up and run with," she said. 

"You will have seen a few of those recently coming from the Government side, where they're clearly distractions thrown out there so we could take the bait and keep off the things that really matter to New Zealanders - for instance, the fact that we don't seem to have any vaccines in the country at the moment despite being 'front of the queue'."

Collins' warning comes after a devastating election defeat in October, which saw National pick up 25.6 percent of the vote compared to Labour's 50 percent. National lost 14 electorates to Labour and one to the Greens, and now has just 33 MPs compared to 56 after the 2017 election. 

Collins has admitted that National was too focused on internal issues in the lead-up to the election. In her State of the Nation speech last week, she said the public "sent us a clear message" to National after the election, and that it has been heard. 

In December, Collins described former National MP Denise Lee's leaked email to Newshub during the election campaign as a "body blow" the party could not recover from. 

In the email leaked to Newshub, Lee criticised Collins' plan to review Auckland Council as a "highly problematic idea", and Collins now admits it overshadowed her housing policy announcement because the leak was all the media wanted to discuss. 

"The destabilisation of this leak was a body blow to the National Party that we never recovered from."

Collins previously revealed that the leak cost National 5 percent. 

Collins became National leader 13 weeks from the election and had to deal with internal issues such as Andrew Falloon's scandalbotched budget numbers, and MPs leaking against her. National had also just dealt with Hamish Walker leaking private COVID-19 patient data

Looking ahead, Collins said National will be focused on "making sure we stay on track with our messaging and that everyone's working well together as a high performing team". 

"This is going to be an interesting and challenging year and every year I've noticed it just gets more interesting and more challenging," she said on Monday. 

"But I think this is our opportunity to really rebuild, to work together, to enjoy each other's company and to learn to trust and respect each other for everything that we do.

"I think the great thing is that we won't have the distraction of an election and we can get on and do our own work and at the same time hold the Government to account.

"I've noticed already that the Government has nowhere else to hide because they've got no other parties to blame, and you can see it already that that does give some opportunities for us. We've got to work really hard."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a similar message of staying focused when speaking to her MPs at Labour's caucus retreat in Nelson earlier this month. 

"I need your absolute focus," Ardern said in her speech to Labour's caucus of 65, in which she foreshadowed a year dominated by COVID-19 and vaccines. 

"We have a very big year ahead of us. None of us want those really important issues that we all feel so deeply about to be side-lined by the pandemic, and so our job is to make sure that we do everything we can to stay on top of it alongside the team of 5 million, recognising how hard that is and that it takes work and that it is a team effort."