Shane Reti and Judith Collins face the media

National will go into an all-day caucus today at a Wellington hotel with news last night showing that its leader’s popularity has plummeted to a new low for main parties in recent years.

Critics of Judith Collins will argue that her single-minded focus on demonstrating that the Government is in thrall to its Maori caucus with a campaign to establish co-governance between the Crown and Maori has misjudged the electorate.

Simply, it will be said; it is no longer 2004 when former leader Don Brash got a huge boost from his Orewa speech arguing that we were “one people”.

But though MPs may complain there is very little they can do about things.

There is no viable replacement for Collins at present.

Collins was at it again yesterday, claiming that she had a document showing that Ngai Tahu were about to get 50 per cent ownership of a new crown entity being set up under the three waters reforms to own and manage all South Island fresh, waste and stormwater infrastructure.

But Ngai Tahu quickly and firmly rejected her claims.

Ngai Tahu is not proposing taking ownership of three-waters assets:” Dr Te Maire Tau, chair of Te Kura Taka Pini (the Ngai Tahu freshwater group), said.

 “Ngai Tahu believes the water infrastructure asset must remain in public ownership.

“The tribe has been discussing co-governance of what will be publicly owned assets.


“Our goal is to ensure greater community representation, better environmental and health outcomes, and as a safeguard against future privatisation.”

“A media release by the National Party falsely claimed that a proposed model for three-waters delivery would give Ngai Tahu a 50% ownership stake in the assets, which are currently owned by councils and will be transferred to between three and five new Crown entities.

“A slide released by the National Party shows one option proposed by independent consultants which was not pursued by Ngai Tahu.”

National in Parliament has only a skeleton policy and research staff these days because funds for those positions are based on the number of MPs a party has.

Sources say that instead, policy is driven by Collins herself with little testing and debate involved.

She also last week claimed that an option being considered by a Department of Conservation Hui to set up co-ownership with Maori of all DOC  land was a firm policy decision.

In fact, it was an options paper described to POLITIK  by a senior DOC staffer as “blue skies thinking”.

Nevertheless, she repeated it again yesterday.

“Those recommendations would see the ownership model of the DOC estate reformed, and the functions and powers for the DOC estate delegated, devolved and transferred to tangata whenua,” she said.

“This isn’t just our National Parks; it’s the entire DOC estate.

“For example, that is 85 per cent of the West Coast; 44 per cent of the South Island.”

She is also adamant that the Maori Health Authority is “separatist”.

Her deputy, Shane Reti, says the same thing; but his concerns are subtly different.

Whereas Collins focuses on separatism, he argued on “Q+A” yesterday that key health structure principles should be guided by need.

“Whoever has the greatest need gets the resources,” he said.

“Oh, and by the way, it just turns out on almost any metric you want to name, Maori have the highest need.

“So that distribution then follows there because what we’re seeing is that this is a restructuring that’s based on inequity and based on a treaty relationship.

“And I just suggest your health needs to be based on need first.”

There are tensions within the party also.

POLITIK understands that things are now so sensitive that in a closed session of the party’s mainland conference on Saturday in Queenstown, delegates were told by party president Peter Goodfellow not to talk to POLITIK.

However, speculation that a leadership change might be imminent would seem premature.

Most of that speculation centres around Botany MP, Christopher Luxon, who is being backed by the former leader, Sir John Key.

But Luxon is new to politics. He has been in Parliament only eight months.

Don Brash had been in Parliament just over a year when he was elected leader, but he had a long record in the party as a former candidate and member and had, through his role as Governor of the Reserve Bank, a thorough background in the whole governmental process.

Though Luxon has been CEO of Air New Zealand, he has none of the day to day practical experience of politics that Brash had.

The only other feasible alternative is former leader Simon Bridges.

But whether the caucus has revised their view of him since they chucked him out almost exactly a year ago is another matter. Reid Research showed him on 4.5 per cent as preferred Prime Minister shortly before he was rolled. Collins, at least, is ahead of that (albeit only just) on 5.6 per cent.

Perhaps the most telling message for National from last night’s poll was whether the public thought the Government was separatist.

A total of 43.6 per cent answered no to that question but 44.5 per cent thought National was being divisive.

That suggests that Collins campaign is not getting traction in the same way Brash did in 2014.

Immediately after his Orewa speech, The One News-Colmar Brunton poll recorded a 17-point jump for National to give it 45 per cent support, the biggest swing for a party since their polling began in 1995.

That was probably what Collins hoped.

However, it would appear that times have changed.