6 Oct 2020

Judith Collins under pressure over policy on the fly

6:28 am on 6 October 2020

National's leader Judith Collins is facing criticism from within over policy decisions that at worst are improvised and at best did not consult the party's own spokesperson.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Collins is having to respond after an email leaked to Newshub showed National's Auckland Council spokesperson Denise Lee criticising a policy announced today to review Auckland Council.

Lee called it a "highly problematic idea", a "nightmare" and "another working group", and said bypassing her was "incredibly poor form and displays a shockingly bad example of poor culture", while another National Party member said Collins was consistently "making up policy on the hoof" and creating division.

Collins' office said she was not available for an interview, but said the policy was one the campaign team had been working on "for several weeks".

"I decided to release it during an interview on Newstalk ZB this morning, and as leader of the National Party it is entirely appropriate for me to make that call," Collins said in a written response.

"I have spoken to Denise Lee about this. She, like all of National's MPs and candidates, are very focused on campaigning and spreading the word about National's plan to create jobs and let Kiwis keep more of what they earn through tax cuts."

Collins admitted to media last week that her plan to prosecute businesses taking unfair advantage of the wage subsidy was improvised, and when questioned over whether it would cause trouble said the government can "do pretty much anything it likes if you have the majority".

She had been questioned during the Newshub debate about whether big businesses who had profited off the wage subsidy without paying it back should be prosecuted.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern told debate moderator Patrick Gower she thought it was morally wrong.

Collins agreed, saying they should pay it back, and went further, saying she would try to claw it back and the party may have to change a law to do so.

"We may have to change a law - I would've thought we would've had a lot of support in Parliament to do that," she said.

Judith Collins during the Newshub debate.

Judith Collins during the Newshub debate. Photo: Screenshot / YouTube / Fair use

The next day, Business NZ criticised the move as "misguided" and unnecessary, and the Council of Trade Unions warned it was inappropriate and a form of retrospective taxation.

Collins, having slept on it, also spoke about the difficulties it might pose and appeared to soften her stance.

"When I said 'well we'd have to look how we could get it back off them', well number one they'd probably get a visit from me. That might help, with media ... otherwise we'd have to look at how we could do that legislatively wise.

"It's pretty hard to do something like that retrospectively but, you know, sometimes you've just got to think about how you can do it... I'd have to work out how to do it ... without actually unfairly affecting those people who have acted entirely correctly."

She also rejected the suggestion that such retroactive action would be cracking open a can of legal problems.

"Not really. Parliament can do pretty much anything it likes if you have the majority."

That was far from the only policy decision that appeared to have been made on stage at the debate that night, with several other commitments made which had not appeared in official party policy documents.

She also pledged inquiries into both Pharmac and Gloriavale, getting rid of the guns register, and matching Labour's commitment to free sanitary products in schools.

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