Judith Collins is a pit bull, with a no-nonsense attitude and a badass nickname to boot.
‘The Crusher’ is a moniker she originally picked up as Justice Minister for her policy of crushing boy racers’ cars, but soon came to represent her entire brand of politics. Among the candidates for National Party Leader, she represents a hard swing to the right and easily the biggest departure from Bill English.
In all honesty, the odds are against National winning the next election. Another boring but ‘stable’ leader isn’t likely to change anything. But Judith Collins would come in all guns blazing, and she’ll either win or go down swinging. She’s a gamble, but it might just pay off.
What makes you different from the other leadership candidates?
I’m not at all the status quo. When you’ve got nine years in government, particularly in coalitions, you tend to get very used to compromising on your policies, because that’s what you have to do.
In opposition, you should be sticking to your core values and policies as a party that’s campaigning to lead the next government.
I’ve been in opposition for six years, and I know how to be effective there. I am someone who is capable of holding the PM to account for the promises she’s made.
So does that mean taking the party further to the right?
It means taking the party back to its base, back to the people who fund us and volunteer for us. It also puts us in a better position to negotiate with coalition partners in the future, because it means we’ve got something we can give rather than just them wanting more.
National was the highest polling party among Otago University students in 2014. In 2017 you slipped to 3rd, behind both Labour and the Greens. Why do you think that happened?
Well, it’s the X factor isn’t it? If Labour had Andrew Little at the time, that wouldn’t have been the case. Jacinda came in and she excited the base, she talked about the stuff people wanted to talk about. She is an extremely capable communicator, and she was able to energise voters who would traditionally have voted Labour but had got turned off and bored.
I don’t think it was the taxpayer-funded tuition that did it. I think it was the fact that she’s a bit of a star.
And do you think you’ll be able to mitigate that?
I think I can. There’s no way you can ‘out-Jacinda’ Jacinda, but it helps if you’ve got a national profile, and to be perfectly frank it doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a nickname [Crusher Collins]. I never use it, but others do. People know who I am.
What did National do wrong in the last election and what would you do differently?
Well, for a start, let’s just accept what we did right. We did really well all around the country except in Christchurch and Dunedin, where we lost quite a lot. But it wasn’t enough primarily because we burnt off our coalition partners.
The strategy of making it quite personal and buying into the vendetta from Winston Peters wasn’t helpful either. Ultimately, he was the only game in town for us.
So does that mean National needs to develop relations with NZF or a new coalition partner?
Well, there are people talking about a new party being formed. I’m not sure about that, I think it’s significantly harder than some people think.
The fact is there are more votes out there. If NZ First lose a significant number of their votes to us, that would be helpful. It would also be helpful if people didn’t waste their votes. But we’ve got to get some of the Labour Party vote.
It’s not gonna be a huge amount, but it’ll be some.
Another thing we could do is get every single National voter out to vote. Last time we had some people who stayed home. We can sometimes get arrogant about our vote and think that National voters don’t have anywhere to go – but they do, they just stay home.
What do you think is the biggest issue that affects students?
Knowing that their degrees actually mean something. Coming out with a degree that people are going to value and pay a decent wage for. I’m a lawyer by profession, but now would I do that? Now, maybe not, because law students coming out now get paid so badly and they don’t really start to get paid until they’ve got at least six years experience.
Speight’s or Tui?
A really good New Zealand red. Mostly a Shiraz. Occasionally a Pinot Noir from Central Otago, but mostly a really good Hawkes Bay Gimblett Gravels Shiraz. It’s the only wine I like.