National Party caucus reshuffle another chance for Collins to make her mark

6:22 am on 16 July 2020

Analysis - Judith Collins has demoted a senior MP in her first full day in the job as she clears the decks following a disastrous week for the party.

Judith Collins announces she has stripped the health portfolio from Michael Woodhouse and given it to Shane Reti.

Judith Collins announcing she had stripped the health portfolio from Michael Woodhouse and given it to Shane Reti. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Later this morning, the new leader will unveil her reshuffle at Parliament - another opportunity for her to stamp her own mark.

Two MPs got the news early yesterday - for one it was a demotion, for the other a promotion to the front bench.

Collins has waited years to lead the National Party.

Now that she has got the job, she has a reshuffle to announce - not the easiest of tasks as she has discovered.

"I must say it is more difficult being on the divvying up end than it is being on the receiving end, isn't it?"

For Michael Woodhouse, the path to future Minister of Health has come to an abrupt end.

The revelation last Friday that he too had received private details of Covid-19 patients from former party president Michelle Boag, and for weeks failed to let the Ministry of Health know, was the beginning of the end for his days as health spokesperson.

Collins hauled him in for a tell-all yesterday.

"I thought that was an error and I have spoken to Michael about that, I've told him my views and he accepts those views," she said.

That meeting ended with him losing the health role and instead being given regional economic development and Pike River recovery - both portfolios Collins previously held.

His colleague, Shane Reti picks up the health portfolio and earns a promotion to the front bench.

While it is a step backwards for Woodhouse, it is not as bad as it could have been, considering the other National MP on the receiving end of private patient details - Hamish Walker - has had his political career go up in smoke.

Woodhouse is trying to put the leak saga behind him.

"Look I have been very open about it, I talked in detail about that last week, my focus is now on this week," he said.

Todd Muller's leadership of the party ended on Monday after just 53 days.

Woodhouse would not say what discussions the pair had last week or whose idea it was for Muller to tell media repeatedly that no MP other than Walker had been given the information.

National MP Michael Woodhouse

National Party's Michael Woodhouse. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

All despite the fact he had known for days that Woodhouse had also received the information and subsequently deleted it.

"I'm not going to go into any of those discussions except to say that, like most of the caucus [on Tuesday], I was completely blindsided by the news of his resignation, I'm very concerned for him and his family and I hope to see him back soon fighting fit," Woodhouse said.

His time as health spokesperson has been hit and miss.

It was his revelations about the two women, who were related, let out of managed isolation early on compassionate grounds that led to a complete review of the entire border system.

Then there was the homeless man who apparently joined a queue at a managed isolation hotel and lived it up on the taxpayer for two weeks.

That particular case was investigated at length and ended with the Director-General of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, writing it off as an "urban myth".

Collins said she believed Woodhouse's story and doesn't think he is at all bothered by his portfolio switch - in fact quite the contrary.

"Michael Woodhouse I believe is utterly delighted with the outcome," she said.

So just how many more demotions can we expect to see from Collins?

"Well as many as I will promote," she said.

Comments like that serve two purposes.

A warning to her caucus that anyone is replaceable, while stamping her mark as a decisive leader willing to make the tough calls less than 24 hours into the job.

Her reshuffle today is expected to be minor, meaning it is unlikely noses will be put out of joint.

With an election in two months, the party will be looking to put an end to its internal politics and start focussing on the competition.

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