Monday, 20 Sep 2021

David Fisher: Judith Collins on bugbears and a naked run down Queen Street (spoiler alert – she isn’t doing one)

Judith Collins came on like a gale fresh off the ocean, fierce and salty with wild gusts that raised the prospect of her running naked down Queen St.

This, she says, is what it would take to get on the evening news.

The media was one of many bugbears put forth by Collins in her 90-minute visit to the Kerikeri Bowling Club today.

“They’re always trying to get her,” said former Northland MP Matt King in his introduction. “Judith is way too shrewd for that. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

There were perhaps 100 people who arrived for the Super Blues meeting. Collins, at 62, was among the youngest in a crowd with less diversity than the National Party caucus.

Collins doesn’t care about being got. On the contrary, she says, “just because the media is there, you should say whatever you feel”.

There’s some small genius to this – a thread woven through much of how Collins presented to the crowd. She was going to speak freely, she said, because “we’ve had a gutsful” of “being told what to do, what to say”.

Collins was the voice of liberation. “Say whatever you feel”. “People are being shut down all over the country. Just get out there. Go and fight for it.” The Prime Minister is about “control” whereas Collins is about “freedom”.

She got right to it – no gentle preamble. She touched on the Groundswell protest of a week ago then segued into National’s own Demand the Debate billboard campaign.

“A lot of the things the Government are pushing through now with their majority are things they did not campaign on last year or, in some cases, completely ruled out.”

And on with the bugbears. He Puapua would “ruin our democracy”, she said of the discussion document that is not government policy but the outcome of National adopting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

John Key’s intent then, he said, was to “build better relationships between Māori and the Crown”. Collins tells the crowd to use next year’s council elections to punish local body politicians who brought in Māori wards without a vote.

“That is undemocratic. Shame on those councillors who refused to go and ask their ratepayers.”

And the Significant Natural Areas issue, which has councils mapping places with threatened or rare indigenous flora and fauna. It’s a move based on the Resource Management Act, which came into law in 1991, when National was in power.

“Outrageous” was how Collins phrased it, as was the Three Waters plan to lift water treatment and provision out of local government to fewer and newer organisations covering much larger territories. The idea is to manage water at scale as the cost of doing so grows, with some councils having prepared better for the future than others.

Collins says: “We will legislate it back. We will get rid of it.”

Then into law and order. Gangs: “Unbelievable, isn’t it?” And Police Minister Poto Williams:”Isn’t she great?”

She didn’t really mean Williams was great. Rather, she says, “I think a lot of people want to bottle her.” There’s a pause just long enough for the implication to set in, then Collins explains – of course – she means to keep Williams in a bottle like a genie.

Kelvin Davis, Corrections Minister, “is the only minister in the Government to have fulfilled his promise – by letting [prisoners] out early, so they can commit more crimes, violent crimes”.

Then there’s some talk about hate speech. “You have people afraid to say what they’re thinking. It’s not right.” Followed by a dig at the Prime Minister: “And it’s not kind.” Followed by laughter.

There’s talk of “white privilege” and the “indoctrination” of children around gender. “I’m very happy to say I’m a biological woman.”

Some of Collins’ commentary – like bottling Williams – cuts fine. Like that gale fresh off the ocean, Collins is not a creature of careful control when she blows hard. Her safety net is her eyebrows, raised to suggest a joke or some subtlety. “They don’t always get through in media but you get the message,” she says, after a sarcastic dig at the fairness of Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard.

Collins asks for a show of hands as to who is on Facebook and encourages those who aren’t to sign up. There’s no fair deal out of the media, she says, and points to the Public Interest Journalism fund set up by the Government (although vastly over-inflates the amounts).

This is when she talks about stripping naked for a Queen St run. “I’m not prepared to do that,” she says. People must sign up to Facebook to get Collins: Unfiltered, as if to say the reason she’s not on the evening news is media bias and not the National Party’s floundering.

Tomorrow, Collins receives her first Covid-19 vaccine jab. The pandemic has been all-consuming, credited with lifting Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party above 50 per cent in the polls and giving gloss to a first-term Government that otherwise failed to shine.

Collins is aiming to make the pandemic her friend. “We have a Government that’s all about Covid, all about lockdowns.” It’s all about control, she says. National will “focus on the economy, focus on law and order, focus on freedom”.

At one point, Collins says: “I’m not here for the money. Or because I don’t have anything else to do in my life. I’m here because I believe.”

At another point: “Don’t give in. As soon as you do, other people win.”

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