John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Minister smug over Judge's sudden exit

Judith Collins. Photo / NZPA
Judith Collins. Photo / NZPA

As Judith Collins reached the latter stages of her Budget debate speech in Parliament yesterday afternoon, her voice suddenly and unusually faltered, making her sound slightly tearful.

"We knew it would be emotional," interjected Labour's Chris Hipkins with a strong dose of sarcasm. Reaching for a restorative glass of water, Collins replied: "Definitely not."

Few Cabinet ministers like to play to their public image to quite the extent Collins does.

She positively relishes any opportunity to display her reputation as one tough cookie.

She had earlier walked into the chamber wearing her trademark smile of the cat that got the cream. She was indeed licking her paws.

The ACC minister's curt announcement just prior to the convening of the House that John Judge would no longer be chair of the corporation from the end of the month begged the obvious question to which everyone knew the obvious answer: did he jump or was he pushed?

The publicly stated reason was that Judge takes over as chair of the board of the ANZ National Bank a week earlier - a significant appointment, according to Collins, which will require "even more of his time".

She thanked him for the contribution he had made in returning ACC to financial health. But she then added privacy and information security was now the No 1 priority for ACC and the organisation had to "refocus" on rebuilding public trust and confidence.

With Opposition parties demanding heads roll over the Bronwyn Pullar affair, the message for Judge at his meeting with Collins yesterday morning was that he would not be staying on to do the "refocusing".

That task will temporarily be in the hands of the no-nonsense creature who has quickly become National's chief trouble-shooter - Paula Rebstock, the former head of the Commerce Commission and the chair of the new board overseeing Work and Income's implementation of National's welfare reforms.

Rebstock is also currently heading the investigation into the leaking of confidential Cabinet papers relating to the restructuring of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Unlike Judge, time-management is apparently not deemed to be a problem for Rebstock.

The sudden news of Judge's departure inevitably took some of the sting out of Opposition questions to Collins.

There is nothing more anti-climactic than a Government actually heeding calls for resignations.

Collins meanwhile - conscious that the Pullar affair has seen the departure of one ACC minister and now the corporation's chair - was playing safe, keeping her answers brief, avoiding her penchant for baiting the Opposition and using the two inquiries now under way into ACC as her rationale for not answering some questions.

She maintained this most un-Crusher like behaviour into her Budget speech. She talked about prisons. She talked about justice reforms. She even talked about the road toll. Of ACC, not a word.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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