National MP Jacqui Dean is "surprised and disappointed" that telling Judith Collins about a comment Simon Bridges made five years ago led to him being demoted and her being placed in the middle of a political storm.
That twist in the latest National Party crisis comes as Collins, who lost her job as leader on Thursday after a no-confidence vote, calls for the party's "new blood" to step up, throwing out names like Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis.
Collins on Wednesday night blindsided her colleagues with a statement demoting Bridges due to an allegation of serious misconduct from a female caucus member. That MP is Dean, who has held the electorate seat of Waitaki since 2005.
It's since emerged that five years ago, during a function at Premier House hosted by then-Prime Minister Sir John Key, Dean was in a group of MPs when Bridges made what he now calls an "inappropriate" remark about conception, specifically about sexual techniques thought to better the chance of having a girl.
Bridges, a high-ranking minister at the time, apologised to Dean after the issue was raised by then-deputy Prime Minister Bill English, but Dean said on Thursday it has continued to "play on my mind" with recent reviews into Parliament's culture and workplace safety. On Thursday, she and Bridges spoke and "he has reiterated his apology".
"As I’m sure can be appreciated, the publicity around this has been upsetting and I ask that my privacy is respected on this."
Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, Dean said she raised the incident with Collins during a conversation following meetings several weeks ago about the Francis review into Parliament's culture.
"The reason I did that was because in the course of looking at the issues ... it suddenly occurred to me later in the piece that this had happened to me and that what I needed to be satisfied was that not only does Parliament but also the National Party really have the systems and processes in place to manage situations where an MP and their behaviour is involved," Dean told the ODT.
But instead, Dean said, "we have found ourselves very notably in something that was quite different".
"That was not my intention, and I think several issues were conflated and the rest has played out."
She thanked Collins for her support, but said it was not the "outcome that might have been anticipated".
The paper says Dean was "surprised and disappointed".
On Wednesday night, Newshub was told by supporters of Bridges that his demotion by Collins had been a set-up. Bridges is thought to have been preparing to mount a leadership challenge against Collins.
Asked on Newstalk ZB on Friday morning whether the point of raising the allegation was to make it untenable for Bridges to be leader, Collins said it "wasn't just that point".
"It's the fact that I was between a rock and a hard place. Dr Shane Reti and I decided the only thing to do was what I did," the former leader said.
She said she didn't believe Bridges' comment was "properly dealt with" at the time, believing there was a "power imbalance"
Collins said on Twitter following her fall that she knew "I would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously". That's despite telling Newshub earlier on Thursday that she would still be the leader by the end of the day.
She told Newstalk ZB she felt on Thursday morning "she could be" the leader past the caucus meeting, but "I also knew when I took the step I did that it would most likely lead to me not being the leader".
So where does National go from here? She told Newshub on Thursday night that she wouldn't support Bridges or Mark Mitchell to be the next leader. She seemed to give backing to Christopher Luxon, but told Newstalk ZB there could be other names in the mix.
"We've got some great people. You know about Christopher Luxon… people have been talking about Chris Bishop, couldn't find a harder-working politician. Nicola Willis, another hard-working, effective politician," she said.
"We need a new broom and we need to be able to move forward and actually, as a party, we've got some great people. There are others as well, there are loads of people in there who could step up and do really well. We do need always to be looking forward and that's what I want to do."
She wouldn't say who she would like to vote for, but remarked it was "really nice" to be the one choosing the next leader rather than pitching herself.
"You've got to have leaders for certain times. I came in not actually having sought it. I was asked to do it. There had been the debacle of the Bridges and the Muller times and it was an election campaign. I'm very happy I did my bit. I'm very happy I made some changes that I believe were absolutely necessary."
National Party MPs will meet next Tuesday to decide their leader, with Reti acting as interim leader until then.
Collins was also questioned over her claim in her Wednesday statement that she had the unanimous support of the party board in sacking Bridges. President Peter Goodfellow has since said the board did agree to an investigation, but no specific penalties or actions were discussed or agreed to.
"It's funny how people see things different ways," Collins said on Friday. "The board backed me to make the decisions that I needed to make and I believe that went exactly where it did."
"I am not going to say who said what and why. If that is the board's recollection, it's not my recollection, it's not the recollection of some others, but we just get on with it."