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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Survival of the walking dead

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She sounded brittle. She looked pallid. She seemed about as energised as the walking dead. But she survived. And that was all that mattered for her National Party colleagues yesterday.

It had been assumed that Opposition parties would make life absolute hell for Judith Collins during ministers' question-time, especially as the House had not been sitting for two weeks.

In that time, more and more information has emerged on Collins' connections and dealings with milk exporter Oravida during her ministerial visit to China last October.

The pressure of recent weeks has left her very bruised. But she was not any more bruised by the end of question-time.

In part, that was the result of those Opposition MPs determined to force Collins' resignation from the Cabinet - principally Labour's David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson, and New Zealand First's Winston Peters - largely forgoing the opportunity to pour vitriol over her.

Instead, they preferred to use their ration of questions to continue to probe Collins and try to find and highlight inconsistencies in her version of events.

There is now little argument - even from her fellow National MPs - that Collins had a major conflict of interest in her dealings with Oravida through her husband being a director of the company.

But the evidence for claiming that conflict exists is still circumstantial and suggestions she has benefited financially from that link to Oravida remains pure supposition.

Labour's Trevor Mallard interjected at one point that Collins and her husband had made $500,000 in directors' fees through his connection with Oravida.

Collins said Mallard had made the figure up and demanded the Speaker make him withdraw it. Mallard refused and was ejected from the chamber.

In part, Collins survived yesterday because she knows how to answer questions without really answering them, frustrating her adversaries and avoiding running foul of the Speaker, who often insists a minister make more of an effort to reply in a more informative fashion.

So now, it is one question-time down and one to go before Collins goes on stress leave - a move which will keep her well out of the limelight before next week's Budget.

After yesterday's underwhelming performance, Cunliffe and Peters might have to revise their tactics before hostilities resume today.

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- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

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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