National Party leader Judith Collins quashes leadership rumbles

National Party leader Judith Collins has quashed suggestions her position is under threat and says her MPs are “very comfortable” with the latest caucus reshuffle.

The reshuffle included stripping prominent MP Chris Bishop of the Shadow Leader of the House position and replacing him with Michael Woodhouse.

Collins said it was enable Bishop to “focus solely” on his other role as Covid-19 spokesman for the party.

In the past week Collins has been under fire over her refusal to participate in a virtual parliament because of level 4 restrictions, and instead travel down to Wellington.

She also raised eyebrows over how she handled an interview on the subject on TVNZ’s Breakfast show, after which Collins lashed out at the presenter for having a “political agenda”.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Q and A on Sunday, Collins said she rejected any notion her leadership was under threat.

It came after two columns published by the Herald over the past few days, by political editor Claire Trevett and head of business Fran O’Sullivan, that suggested with the public continuing not to back her style a leadership challenge could be in the wings sooner than expected.

Trevett said the end of lockdown could see National MPs devise “an elimination strategy of their own”, and another low poll of around 25 or 26 per cent was enough to potentially trigger a challenge, even as soon as October.

O’Sullivan wrote that the party was failing its liberal wings, and Collins’ “increasingly authoritarian approach” among her MPs was signalling weakness.

“I don’t know why they’d say that,” Collins said when asked about the columns.

“That is their decision to write that, not ours. What I am feeling very strongly is that the caucus is absolutely focused on making sure the Government does a better job.”

Collins said while “everybody wants to have every portfolio”, Bishop was “very comfortable” with the reshuffle.

“It is the biggest job outside the leader… He’s discussed it all with me, he’s very happy doing what he’s doing.

“Obviously when I discussed it with Chris it was very much on the basis of making sure he was 100 per cent on to the Covid-19 situation, which is where is main job has to be.

Collins and deputy leader Shane Reti had been consulting with the party’s MPs since December, she said.

The move would enable Bishop more time to challenge the Government.

“It frees Chris up because Chris doesn’t have 3000 staff members, he doesn’t have a ministry. He’s got to do it himself and it’s really important that I look after my MPs so they are not overly stressed or not overly occupied with other things.”

She called for the Government to set a vaccination target. Her party had come up with a target of “70 to 75 per cent”, which was similar to other countries, she said.

Reaching the target would not end lockdowns but give more options, including regional instead of national lockdowns, she said.

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