Judith Collins reflects on Jacinda Ardern's 'extraordinary' work, 'her disappointment' and if she could have beaten her without COVID

  • 04/04/2023

Judith Collins, the MP who was leading National during its loss to Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party in 2020, says the former Prime Minister's overseas work was "extraordinary", but she disappointed domestically.

Ardern is delivering her valedictory speech on Wednesday afternoon after announcing in January her resignation as Prime Minister and her intention to stand down from politics.

  • Newshub will air a special, in-depth interview with Ardern on Tuesday on Newshub Live at 6pm, with coverage also on Newshub.co.nz

Ahead of Ardern's departure, Collins was asked what she would remember Ardern's parliamentary career for. 

"I have thought about this because she has been a very significant entity as such in New Zealand politics," Collins said.

"I think her overseas work has been extraordinary, very much on the level of the David Lange era… Her presence overseas and her ability to be considered a leader internationally from a little country in New Zealand is actually extraordinary."

Asked if she would support Ardern taking on an international role for New Zealand, Collins said governments should take advantage of people with "overseas clout".

"That's something the incoming Prime Minister Chris Luxon may well consider," she quipped. 

However, it was Collins' view that domestically things were different. 

"At home domestically, other than the COVID response and the mosque response, she hasn't been able to deliver on promises made. That will be her disappointment. 

"But everyone plays their role and I wish her very well and I hope she has really enjoyment work to go to and enjoys the rest of her life."

Collins was the National Party leader during the 2020 general election. It was one of National's poorest results, only securing 25.6 percent of the vote compared with Labour's historic 50 percent.

However, that election took place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when public support for the Government's response was at a high. 

Collins said COVID-19 was a "defining factor". So does she believe National would have won without it?

"I think there were lots of reasons why that wasn't going to happen. I always say to people, don't have three leaders in two months. It's never going to work."

That's a reference to the revolving door of leaders the National Party had that year. 

Simon Bridges was the leader heading into the election year, but his popularity plummeted amid the COVID-19 lockdown. He was eventually rolled by Todd Muller in May 2020.

But Muller then resigned less than two months later, citing mental health issues.

That led to Collins ascending to the leadership role. While at the time Collins said she was ready to "crush" Labour, she later called the leadership a hospital pass.

On Monday, Hipkins said Ardern led New Zealand "exceptionally well through some amazingly complicated challenges" and "New Zealand is a better country for her leadership". 

He noted she led New Zealand through the March 15 shootings, the Whakaari/White Island eruption and the global COVID-19 crisis.

"The pandemic alone, I think would be one of the biggest challenges any New Zealand Prime Minister has faced during their time in office," Hipkins said.

"I think that Jacinda led us through all of those with dignity, with humility. She had high levels of trust from New Zealanders during that period with good reason."

Current National leader Christopher Luxon said Ardern showed "exemplary leadership" after the Christchurch shootings and "made the whole country feel incredibly proud of that response".

"I think the way that she has maintained New Zealand's profile internationally has been important for the country as well. I wish her nothing but the very best going forward and wish her well."