From August 14 2014 till December 14, 2015 Judith Collins was in exile on National’s backbench.
Her return to Cabinet came after she was finally cleared over allegations she had leaked material to the blogger Whaleoil to undermine the Head of the Serious Fraud Office which she was Minister in Charge of.
Her return came as a surprise and raised eyebrows among some of the most senior members of the Cabinet who privately felt she was too nakedly ambitious and by being so threatened the unity of the Government.
She’s been back four months and yesterday came one of her first “wins” with the news that the private prison operator Serco was to pay the Government $8 million in compensation after the Department of Corrections had to take over the management of Mt Eden Corrections Facility.
Corrections will continue to manage Mt Eden Corrections Facility with Serco providing personnel at cost until the end of the contract. Serco will make no profit from the arrangement.
She sees this as a vindication of the private public partnership model she so vigorously backed in her first incarnation as Corrections Minister.
“If things go wrong in the private sector then if we have a strong enough contract we will end up getting paid for it,” she says.
“That’s a confirmation that the contract has ultimately worked.”
Corrections is involving the private sector and non-governmental organisations increasingly in its day to day operations, a move she predictably approves of.
“Corrections doesn’t have to do everything but what they do need to do is be responsible for what’s done.”
And Corrections is one of the key departments involved in implementing Bill English’s social investment programme where data is used to identify long term social problems and where programmes (either from state or non-state providers) are designed to address those problems.
She says the data that is central to social investment helps Corrections “to know its business better”.
“90 per cent of the people Corrections deal with have been sexually abused or physically abused as children; about 70% of Child Youth and Family’s charges end up in the prison system at some stage so at some stage you are dealing with the same people Child Youth and family are dealing with all the way through we wonder why we’ve still got them at the end of all that after the interventions.
“We are not treating them as human beings who have multiple challenges.”
Listening to that her critics might start to wonder whether her time on the backbench meant she went soft.
She certainly seems much more relaxed.
She says it’s because she has more confidence “second time round” that she can handle her portfolios.
“I’ve been enjoying it,” she says.
And maybe the time on the backbench gave her some perspective.
“When difficult things happen to you, you think well I survived that.
“Didn’t die, no one lost an arm or a leg or anything.
“You think well, you can survive pretty much most anything.
“My view is that I’m very fortunate to have these roles.
“I love them to bits and I’m just really enjoying myself with them.”
And reinforcing that confidence is a sense of vindication as some of her most controversial policies from her previous term are now starting to show results.
She introduced tasars into the police and added an extra 600 cops on the beat whilst in corrections she put a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and controversially banned smoking in prisons.
But of course she is best known for her legislation to crush the cars of boy racers- hence her nickname, “Crusher”.
“Illegal street racing is nothing now to what it was before that legislation came in.”
And she’s even learned to tame her ambitions. Once asked by Rachel Smalley on TV3’s “The Nation” whether she would one day like to be Prime Minister, she replied that she hadn’t come to Parliament to eat her lunch.
Now she simply says she’s happy to be the most outstanding Minister of Police and most outstanding Minister of Corrections.
She realises it’s a good time to be in Government; partly because Labour are still struggling.
“But I’m also aware that things can change and they can change very quickly so any hint of arrogance or any hint of not listening to people or not taking a very clear defined path can actually make people turn off and just stop listening.
“At the moment we are doing very well.
“We’ve weathered a lot of storms that other countries have not weathered as well and I think the Prime Minister shows particularly good leadership when it comes to making decisions and articulating them and he’s very personable and approachable.”
But how do they get on. Though she resigned when the Whaleoil scandal broke, it was clear that that was the outcome the Prime Minister wanted. So how does she manage that relationship now?
“We get on well. We’re the only ones left of year 2002 so we get on fine. We get on well.”