30 Nov 2023

Judith Collins becomes the minister for everything

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 30 November 2023

Some of the things she's famous for would have kept a lesser politician down. But Judith Collins' star is rising again. 

The formal swearing-in of the new coalition government by Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro on 27 November, 2023.

National's Judith Collins at the formal swearing-in of the new coalition government at Government House. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Judith Collins returns to government with more than a handful of big ministerial jobs, from the spy agencies to space, but her comeback's been overshadowed by the shenanigans of government partner Winston Peters.

The most experienced minister in the National government understated her hefty new appointments with a tweet to say she was "somewhat thrilled" to be sworn in on Monday as Attorney-General and receive seven ministerial roles.

"Totally, excitedly thrilled," Collins clarifies to The Detail. "And just a little overwhelmed."

In her more than 20 years in politics, "Crusher" Collins has been the justice minister, led the National Party when it was in Opposition ("worst job I ever had") from July 2020 to November 2021, and has been caught up in a number of controversies, including the Dirty Politics saga.


On the new coalition government and the attention-grabbing Peters she says "politics is full of people with strong personalities, and I actually think the prime minister has been absolutely masterful".

Media coverage of the new government's first week has been dominated by Peters' accusation of state-funded media organisations' lack of independence from the previous government and suggestions the media was being bought off by the the now-defunct $55 million public interest journalism fund.

Judith Collins and Christopher Luxon at GM announcement in Auckland

After losing the National Party leadership in a vote of no confidence, Judith Collins put her full support behind ascendant leader Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Collins says it is not her job as Attorney-General to investigate the claims.

"It's not like in the United States where the politicians can instruct investigations into things. It's not like that. We have a separation of powers.

"And I'm sure that cool heads will prevail and that, should there be any complaints, that those complaints would go to either the Serious Fraud Office or to the police," she says.

Former minister Peter Dunne says that Luxon has shown a disciplined approach to the job but "he's got some elements that he can't quite control to the same extent as his own team – his two coalition partners". 

"I guess what he's trying to do is set an overall tone which hopefully the other two parties will fit in with. So far the signs on that are a bit mixed," says Dunne, referring to  Peters' "bizarre moments" since the coalition was announced on Friday. 

"If a backbench MP goes rogue, or if there's a rebellion within that party over aspects of policy, where does Luxon's control as overall head of the coalition come in? He can't discipline the actual members of a New Zealand First or an ACT caucus. He can at best say to those respective leaders, 'you need to do something about this and I expect you to act accordingly'. But if they don't, it's a bit of a grey area as to what his authority is."

If there's a falling out of the leaders then the coalition is in trouble, says Dunne, but he thinks steps will be taken to mitigate it long before that eventuates.

Peter Dunne

Peter Dunne was the leader of United Future, and served as an MP for over 30 years. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Of the redemption of Judith Collins to seven ministerial roles and Attorney-General, Dunne says a "wise old owl" is needed in the new government

"You've got to give Judith credit for this: when she lost the leadership two, three years ago, she could have followed a couple of paths. She could have been the defiant, 'they did me wrong' type person, she could have gone into the sulks, or she could have just gone and settled into the new portfolio responsibilities she was given and tried to make them work.

"She appears to have done the latter, which I think is in her favour. But it also means that she's now got a bit more credibility within the party when it comes to playing the role in this new administration."

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