Editorial: Where to now for unwise Collins?

Last updated 08:28 21/08/2014

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OPINION: Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics has been out for a week now and it has transformed the election campaign.

One of its eventual casualties will almost certainly be Justice Minister Judith Collins, who was already on a "final warning" from Prime Minister John Key.

Once tipped as a potential future leader of the National Party - and thus a possible future premier - she will need to do a lot of hard work to rid herself of the political baggage she is now carrying.

There is a lot that is suspect about Hager's book and how it came to be written. Its source material was obtained by an illegal act - the hacking of Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater's computer system.

Any discussion about what the book reveals about politics, dirty or otherwise, has to be conducted in that context.

Whoever committed that criminal act filtered the material before making it available to Hager, and he made no attempts to get both sides of the story, so the finished book cannot be a fair and balanced account of anything.

The subsequent, and apparently continuing, release of material through the "Whaledump" Twitter feed also bears out Key's protestations of a smear campaign.

The perpetrators may or may not be Left-wing "conspiracy theorists", as he alleges, but the releases and their timings seem to be aimed at doing National the most damage. People should bear that in mind.

Nevertheless, some of the allegations are starting to hit home, and Collins has now admitted that she passed information about Internal Affairs official Simon Pleasants to Slater.

She thought Pleasants was responsible for leaking information to Labour about Finance Minister Bill English's accommodation allowance in 2009 - something that Pleasants denies. Whaleoil's subsequent blogs about Pleasants led to abusive posts and death threats.

Thus, Collins, the minister responsible for the administration of justice, became implicated in the petty and extra-judicial hounding of a probably innocent state servant. Key says that Collins has been "unwise". In fact, her action comes close to the definition of an abuse of power.

Collins has been causing Key problems for some months. She failed to disclose to him information about her trip to China during which she endorsed milk produced by Oravida, a company of which her husband is a director.

Collins was also forced to apologise to television journalist Katie Bradford and take leave after attacking Bradford on Twitter.

Collins, it will be remembered, is an architect of the Government's "three-strikes" law for recidivist criminals. The Pleasants affair is a third strike in terms of political mistakes, yet Collins remains in her job.

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Key is nothing if not a pragmatist. Had this happened a couple of months ago, Collins would probably have been sacked in order to not contaminate the election campaign.

Now that campaign is under way, however, it is difficult for Key to take that action without being seen to give endorsement to the Dirty Politics allegations as a whole. But whatever happens at the polls on September 20, Collins will remain a political liability.

- The Press

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