Pressure on Collins after outburst

Last updated 08:51 05/05/2014

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Embattled Justice Minister Judith Collins' outburst at a press gallery journalist was "completely inappropriate" and she will be "very careful going forward", says Prime Minister John Key. 

Pressure is mounting on Collins to resign after she lashed out at a political journalist before issuing a hasty public apology.

Collins has faced scrutiny for weeks about her dealings with a Chinese company of which her husband is a director, and she has complained about family being dragged into political matters.

But yesterday, Collins went on the attack outside National's northern region conference in Auckland, claiming some media actions were "very inappropriate", citing the example of one journalist.

Key said on Breakfast this morning, he still had confidence in his minister, but had a coupled of "good and long conversations" with her yesterday. 

"The first thing I'd say is yes, she's been under a lot of pressure. Not because I think in the end, I think the Oravida thing is what it is. Ministers have to be careful about creating the perception of conflict of interest, the fact she wasn't as careful as she should have been allowed the opposition to get their claws into her, if you like.

"But yes, she's friends with Maurice [Williamson], and she's feeling what he's going through, but as I said to her and as she agreed with me, that was completely inappropriate. 

Key said Collins' had publicly apologised, and no more would be heard on the matter.

"And I think she'll be extremely careful going forward."

In an interview with TV3 about a separate occasion where Collins was asked to intervene in a policing matter, the former police minister said she had been approached by TVNZ political reporter Katie Bradford about her former husband potentially joining the police force.

Collins asked the TV3 reporter whether the media would be held to the same standards as politicians, days after Maurice Williamson was forced to resign as a minister because he phoned police about an ongoing investigation into a National Party donor.

Collins took to Twitter, in what appeared to be an attempt to goad TV3 into doing a story on the interview, claiming she felt it was "odd and wrong" for the matter to be raised with her.

Several hours later Collins apologised to Bradford, after Prime Minister John Key told media he would talk to her about the episode. "Yr example came to mind. Reflected on that. Shouldnt [sic] have.sorry" Collins tweeted.

Labour's Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson described Collins' comments about Bradford as petty and vindictive.

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He said she should resign as minister. "I thought it was disgraceful. Judith is clearly under pressure and needs to take responsibility for her own actions rather than hitting out at journalists."

When asked whether he thought Collins should resign he said: "I do. I think John Key now needs to take some serious action.

"She hasn't faced her conflict of interest around the Oravida situation and is now behaving in a way that is not acceptable for a minister, so the pressure is on John Key to deal with that."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman tweeted: "You know how I gave a speech describing this Govt as Muldoonist, and some people didn't believe me? #Judith."

Collins was already expected to come under pressure when Parliament resumes tomorrow after a two-week recess over the latest developments involving her controversial visit to China.

Bradford denied she ever asked Collins for help, and TVNZ claims the justice minister has acknowledged this.

"Today's reported comments have come as a complete surprise," Bradford said.

"Back in 2010 my ex-partner was considering applying for the police force - at the time it had been suggested to him that he might have an issue being accepted. I recall that this came up in informal conversation between the minister and me but I never asked her to intervene."

TVNZ head of news and current affairs John Gillespie said he had spoken to Collins who had "stated that Katie Bradford never asked for help".

Collins said in a statement that she had been illustrating that a number of people raised matters with ministers.

Key said it was acceptable for a member of the public to raise matters with ministers about policing matters, something which was totally different to Maurice Williamson phoning a senior police officer on behalf of a Chinese businessman who had made a large donation to the National Party.

He insisted there would be no war with the media. "We have a good working relationship with the media."

Key said he would talk to Collins about the outburst.

Labour MP Grant Robertson said Collins' comments were a "disgrace".

"Judith Collins hasn't taken responsibility for her own actions and here she is trying to divert attention on to the reporter," he said on Morning Report. 

"She generated that conversation with the TV3 reporter, she's the one who raised Katie Bradford's name. She's not prepared to name official that she met with when she had a dinner in China, but she's prepared to chuck Katie Bradford's name around. 

"I just thought it was disgusting, it was vindictive and it was premeditated." 

He said Collins was now a "liability" for the government. 

"I think what the emails show is that Judith Collins claims these were all casual encounters with Oravida executives just don't stack up.

"She actually had Foreign Affairs running around in circles trying to include her husband's fellow directors in the programme, making sure they're at various events. The notion she was 'popping in' on the way to the airport, to visit their headquarters, which she's claimed is just completely false." 

Politics within the National Party were driving a reluctance from Key to sack Collins, Robertson said. 

"Judith Collins wants to be the leader of the National in the future - she may well be somebody who helps generate income into the National Party - whatever it is, John Key does not seem prepared to act in a situation where a minister's behaviour is clearly outside the bounds of New Zealanders would expect.

- The Dominion Post

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