John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Pushing drama aside may be hoping for too much

Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

What had been the Punch and Judith Show yesterday became something more akin to Days of Our Lives.

For weeks, Judith Collins had doubled as Punch, rounding on those who dared to question the propriety of her dealings with milk exporter Oravida. Confrontational politics has got her precisely nowhere.

Yesterday, the whole sorry saga was consequently turning into a soap opera, with the Prime Minister cast as some latter-day Dr Paul dispensing all the wisdom an amateur psychiatrist can muster in trying to comprehend the self-destructive behaviour of his very mixed-up Justice Minister.

At least and at last, John Key has come up with a prescription which will bring an end to the Oravida affair before it really starts poisoning voters' attitudes towards National. Or so National will be praying.

The exit strategy is driven by next week's Budget. There is no room in Budget week for the kind of tempest Collins has created.

So Collins will take a few days off and presumably will not return to Parliament until Budget Day on Thursday week. By then her detractors and the media will be focused on other matters. Or so National hopes.

There is little argument that Collins needs a break. Being a Cabinet minister - even one who presents a hide as thick as Collins does - is mentally and physically challenging enough without the constant and accumulating pressure resulting from continuing accusations she had a conflict of interest.

That pressure - accompanied by her belief that she has done nothing wrong - has clouded her judgment.

Key would have found it difficult to get her agreement to relinquish her portfolios, if only on a temporary basis. And doing so would have implied a guilty verdict on the charges the Opposition has laid against her.

While Key is dealing with the problem by sending the problem away, Collins will have to get through ministers' question time in Parliament over the next two days.

She could have gone on leave immediately, absenting herself from the House. But that would have been viewed as an admission of defeat and compounded doubts about her remaining a Cabinet minister.

Buoyed by the release of Ministry of Foreign Affairs documents which give some credence to Collins' version of events during her fateful trip to China last October, Key is punting on the Opposition attack running out of steam by the time Collins goes on leave. That is not a safe bet.

You can guarantee one thing, however. It is going to be a very torrid afternoon in the House for all concerned.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- 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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