Politics

National picks Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee

New National leader Judith Collins has flagged a traditional conservative approach, with a election campaign focused on taxes, debt, the economy - and taking on Jacinda Ardern

Judith Collins has been elected the new leader of the National Party with Gerry Brownlee as her deputy, following a week of turmoil for the largest party in Parliament.

Collins stood on the podium of Parliament's Legislative Council Chamber flanked by Brownlee and the majority of National's caucus, in an bid to show unity after Todd Muller's ousting of Simon Bridges and subsequent resignation as party leader over health issues.

"There is no chance at all that I'm going to let Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern get away with any nonsense when it comes to our economy and doing her job," the National leader said.

Her selection marks the first time in 23 years the party has chosen a woman to lead it. 

Collins has made no secret of her leadership ambitions in the past, and she quipped that her selection was a "third time lucky" affair. 

"I find it remarkable that the National Party has chosen me...I'm just so privileged to be in this position and to also represent the excellent electorate of Papakura.

"I'm a very provincial Aucklander - if you can put it like that - and my heart is utterly with New Zealand. I could never live anywhere else."

Collins takes over from Muller just 53 days after he usurped Bridges as National leader. 

"The National Party is not the party of big taxes. What we are is we're the party of sensible spending. We're a party of infrastructure. We're a party who believes in investing, but we're not stupid with money because we always know somebody has to pay it back.

In a nine-line statement emailed to media on Tuesday morning, Muller said it had become clear “that I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand”.

He said he intended to take time out of the spotlight to spend time with his family and restore his energy, and would continue to serve as a National Party member and MP for the Bay of Plenty.

Collins signalled there would not be a wholesale rearrangement of shadow portfolios or policy positions - although she would not confirm Michael Woodhouse's position as health spokesman over his role in leaks of private patient data by former National Party president Michelle Boag.

 She said the party's attack would remain focused on fiscal issues and what she dubbed "the worst economic situation that we have seen in living memory".

"The National Party is not the party of big taxes. What we are is we're the party of sensible spending. We're a party of infrastructure. We're a party who believes in investing, but we're not stupid with money because we always know somebody has to pay it back.

"And the last thing that we want is to leave a legacy for the next two generations to pay back. So these are the sorts of views that we're taking into this and that's where we're always better than the other people, because we know you have to pay it back."

Gerry Brownlee is National's new deputy leader. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Muller took over as National leader on May 22, after Bridges flushed out leadership rumblings and held an urgent caucus meeting which ended badly for him.

The new leader endured a difficult first week in the job, including a mini-scandal over his decision to display a Make America Great Again hat in his office and more significant questions about the whiteness of his front bench - capped by deputy leader Nikki Kaye mistakenly labelling finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith as being of Māori heritage.

Muller also appeared to struggle during media interviews, attracting negative coverage for his stumbles, while senior National MPs Paula Bennett (Bridges' former deputy) and Anne Tolley both announced their retirements.

He appeared to recover his footing somewhat as the Government faced questions over its handling of Covid-19 border measures and isolation facilities, putting Ardern and her ministers under pressure over their perceived failures.

But there was a twist in the tale, as National's Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker resigned after admitting to leaking the private information of Covid-19 patients to media in a bid to rebut allegations of racism made against him.

Muller faced questions over the slowness of his initial response, although he eventually called for National's board to suspend Walker.

Then he was pressed on what he and other MPs knew about the affair, after former National Party president Michelle Boag - the source of Walker's leak - admitted she had also sent patient information to health spokesman Michael Woodhouse (which he did not use).

Muller had earlier dismissed suggestions Boag may have sent information to other National MPs, leading some to question whether he had misled the public.

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