National’s Leader Judith Collins is looking to stamp herself on the party with a speech this Saturday at its first regional conference.

Collins may feel she is under fire from party members with the proposals from the Governance and Election reviews published by the party on Tuesday night proposing that Caucus lose its sole power to run leadership elections.

And from within the Caucus, there has been a not-so-quiet undermining of her leadership by Simon Bridges, with Christopher Luxon named by some as a possible successor.

Maybe. But more likely not.

For the moment, she is protected by the absence of a credible challenger, and she will get support at the party conferences because many of the rank and file love her.

In an interview with POLITIK yesterday, she gave every indication that she knows full well how to return their support.

In what almost sounds like an echo of Don Brash’s 2004 Orewa speech, she is now campaigning against separatism.

Her first target is the proposed Maori Health Authority.

“What’s very clear to me is that the Maori health authority is not anything like whanau ora. It is actually a full-scale authority, which has co-purchasing powers, which also has a veto power over the decisions of the whatever they’re going to call the new health authority,” she said.

“It is something entirely different from anything that we have seen before, and it is something that is contrary to our view on equal citizenship for all New Zealanders.”


There are hints of Brash in that sentence.

At Orewa, he said: “What sort of nation do we want to build?

“Is it to be a modern democratic society, embodying the essential notion of one rule for all in a single nation-state?

“Or is it the racially divided nation, with two sets of laws, and two standards of citizenship, that the present Labour Government is moving us steadily towards?”

Collins continued the theme.

“When we look at where this is going, particularly Andrew Little’s cabinet paper, which I would have thought would be quite concerning for most New Zealanders, that on the basis of his reasoning, we will have an entirely different justice system, a separate education system with funding and separated and a veto power,” she said.

“And that is where it’s going.

“And actually, we cannot agree to that; it is simply against our principle of equal standards of citizenship.”

She dismisses the suggestion that she, like Brash, could be accused of racism.

“It’s very Orwellian to be accused of racism when I’m standing up against racism,” she said.

“I find that very Orwellian; the only thing  is the people accusing me wouldn’t know what I was talking about.”

However, she may find she has some partial support from an unlikely quarter.

Professor Peter Davis, Helen Clark’s husband, a medical sociologist, tweeted last night that the current version of the Maori health Authority went well beyond what the Simpson report recommended “to a point where it risks future bipartisan buy-in.

“I think that’s what Simpson had in mind: start with an innovative but broadly acceptable incremental first step, and expand it later, once bedded in.”

Collins can be ambiguous in her attitudes towards race issues. In contrast to John Key and Bill English, she favours the party standing candidates in Maori seats.

“They  (the party) generally, I think, agree that we should attempt to stand or stand in a couple of the Maori seats because those seats are there, and we need to have access to a voice,” she said.

“But also we want to make sure we get very good candidates who we can make sure are well placed.

 “But what they’re not going to be willing to do is to look past the fact that ethnicity is not a determinant on the outcome.

“It is obviously, unfortunately, poverty, access to health care, access to education.

“All of these things are far more determinants of outcome than ethnicity.”

All of this will go down well with much of  National’s base, but the party also has a sizable liberal faction who look to MPs like Chris Bishop, Nicola Willis and Erica Stanford.

They will want to hear from Collins about what her political philosophy is; where the party is headed overall.

Wait till Saturday, she said.

“And as anyone in the caucus will tell you, I lead with a very light hand,” she said.

“I let people have their views, and we are a broad church party.

“We all have different views.”

She said the Caucus was starting to work on issues.

“I think we’re feeling very positive about some of the work that we’ve done,” she said.

“We had a long caucus session the other night on issues, and we’ve got some more that we’re going to do on a one day caucus where we will deal with some of the big issues that we maybe haven’t dealt with so much in the past.

“So now we’re we’re looking at things and challenging ourselves and coming to respectful agreement on things.”

But it is still unclear where the party stands on crucial topical issues like climate change.

“It’s part of our discussions,” she said.

That in itself is revealing because three weeks ago, the party’s new climate change spokesperson and Collins ally, Stuart Smith, told POLITIK that the party would find it difficult to support the Climate Change Commission’s carbon budget proposals.

He said it was possible the party could withdraw its support for the bipartisan Zero Carbon legislation.

Smith claimed that he had caucus support “100 per cent” for this approach. POLITIK has found several National MPs who say that Caucus has not formally approved that position.

However, Smith did appear to have the support of Collins.

And that will be the challenge she now faces; how much will latitude will Caucus give her to unilaterally announce policy such as she obviously did yesterday on the Maori Health Authority.

She claims the public as her authority for that policy.

“I am absolutely certain with all of the work that I’ve done around the country that National Party voters do not expect us to support a separate Maori Health Authority with co-governance or even more concerning to them, veto powers,” she said.

“That is to them absolute anathema as I’m sure it is to most Labor voters.”

It may be, but National’s reviews and the questions it will ask its members centre on process.

Collins may be onside with the party membership over policy but could find herself offside, particularly with the Caucus,  with her relaxed and obviously personal approach to policy formation.