John Key says he had not one, but two "good and long conversations" with Judith Collins yesterday. It is unlikely they spent the time talking about the weather.
The Prime Minister - so far - is not disclosing the precise details of the pair's discussions, most pertinently whether or not he asked her to stand down from her position as a Cabinet minister, if only temporarily.
But Key's reference to the length of the conversations has to be regarded as another way of him saying he canvassed various options with respect to her immediate future as a minister.
For Key not to have offered Collins some much-needed respite from the intense scrutiny that she has been under for weeks would have been neglectful of not just National's interests, but of Collins' as well.
Clearly Collins is very much in the wrong place mentally right now. That is plainly evident after she lashed out at TVNZ's Katie Bradford yesterday, only to to subsequently issue a public apology to the political reporter.
Key this morning described Collins' outburst at the press gallery journalist as being "completely inappropriate". He added that Collins would be "very careful going forward".
The trouble is every time Collins moves one step forward, her reputation takes five steps back. Rather than endeavouring to close down the whole farrago prompted by her highly-questionable dealings with the milk exporting company Oravida, Collins says or does something to further inflame matters.
There is obviously a massive battle of wills going on in her brain between what is the logical thing to do - keeping her head down and her tongue on a very tight leash - and what is her innate preference for the pugilist approach to politics which helped get to where she is today - a senior National MP who sits on the party's front bench in Parliament and who has not been too guarded when it comes to fluttering the feathers of ambition with respect to her leadership credentials.
Forget the leadership aspirations. The question now is simply whether she can even survive as a minister.
Key is still expressing his confidence in her. But he must be wondering how long he can do so without he too starting to look foolish, especially when she persists in draining that confidence all by herself.
That confidence is not limitless. The immediate priority for Key is to determine whether he is confident that Collins is currently both confident and competent enough to handle what is promising to be a torrid question-time when Parliament resumes tomorrow following a two-week recess which has ended up providing more and fresh ammunition for the Opposition to fire at her.
Tomorrow afternoon is shaping as literally make or break for Collins.
Collins, however, does not just need protection from the Opposition. Her behaviour suggests she needs protection from herself.
In terms of personnel management, Key is thus facing making the most difficult of decisions that he has so far been confronted with as prime minister.
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