Editorial: Collins' legal threat ill-considered

MICHAEL CUMMINGS EDITOR
Last updated 12:30 31/03/2012

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OPINION: Cabinet Minister Judith Collins has been labelled "thin-skinned" for threatening legal action against two Labour MPs and a news organisation over the ACC privacy fiasco, an accusation that is either sound or scurrilous, depending on whose side you're on.

While some will argue Ms Collins is being, in NZ First leader Winston Peters' words, "a tad hysterical", others will say she has every right to protect her reputation if she thinks it's been unfairly besmirched.

What seems far more clear-cut, though, is the political wisdom of such a heavy-handed response from the ACC Minister. Quite simply, there is none.

This Government has lost complete control of its agenda, lurching from faux pas, to own goal, to scandal as its message is drowned out by a cacophony of peripheral noise.

Ms Collins might feel personally justified in taking defamation proceedings against Radio NZ and Labour MPs Andrew Little and Trevor Mallard, but she's only throwing fuel on a fire her Government needs to extinguish.

Ms Collins has been questioned about who leaked an email containing personal details about ACC claimant Bronwyn Pullar, but says she's "100 per cent certain" the leak wasn't from her or her office.

If she's so confident of her position, it would have been eminently more sensible to hold her ground and let the saga blow over.

Instead, she's thrown the parliamentary press gallery another angle to the controversy, which will fill column centimetres that could have otherwise been dedicated to what the Government is trying to achieve to better the lives of New Zealanders.

Much like Prime Minister John Key's handling of the so-called "tea tapes" controversy, Ms Collins' strong stance has only upped the ante, when taking a bit of short-term political pain and moving on would have been much smarter.

National needs to pull itself out of the political mire it's in and get back on message.

At the moment, the Opposition is having to do little more than watch the Government repeatedly punch itself in the face, then rub a bit of salt into the wounds.

While the public finds the intrigue surrounding political scandals mildly entertaining, they're far more interested in issues that affect their daily lives – the state of the economy, the cost of living, the standard of health services, the availability of jobs.

If National is to shake itself out of its funk, it needs to be far more disciplined in managing the political agenda.

It needs the public to be discussing the merits of its policies, not the thickness of its ACC Minister's skin.

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- Manawatu Standard

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