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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Red hot PM hits back in withering style

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Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It was only a matter of time before the high political stakes wrapped up in the Opposition's relentless efforts to secure the political scalp of Judith Collins would prompt a boilover of emotions in Parliament.

National MPs were going to endure only for so long the accusations of cronyism and corruption flung at them by Labour and New Zealand First.

Yesterday was the day National hit back - and, with the Prime Minister in red-hot form, hit back with some force. John Key stopped short of really dishing the dirt. But every time he got to his feet to reply to Opposition taunts, the fur really began to fly.

The catalyst for what was by far the rowdiest question time in Parliament this year was a change of tactics on Labour's part. Thinking there was little point in putting further questions to Collins when it was already widely accepted she had a conflict of interest in her dealings with milk exporter Oravida, Labour instead allocated its quota to targeting the Prime Minister to put the heat on him for not sacking Collins when the case for doing so seemed utterly conclusive.

The tactical change may have turned out to have been a strategic mistake, however.

First, it let Collins off the hook. Second, until yesterday Key had adopted a defensive stance to questions about Collins, keeping his answers as short as possible to avoid letting himself be dragged into an argument about her fitness to remain a Cabinet minister.

Seeing that Labour was now directing its questions solely at him, Key came to the House well primed for battle.

When David Cunliffe suggested that National was willing to give millions of dollars to big business interests but felt no obligation to help the Pike River Mine families, Key displayed rare anger, saying the Labour leader's willingness to play political games with those families showed just how low Cunliffe was willing to go.

When Cunliffe raised the subject of National's cash-for-access to ministers' fundraisers, Key noted Labour had set up a stand at its annual conference where delegates could pay up to $1250 for a one-on-one meeting with an MP of their choice.

No matter which Opposition MP crossed his path, Key - to the obvious delight of his colleagues - showed no mercy. It may have come too late to rescue Collins' shattered reputation.

But Key's ridiculing of his opponents was sufficient to leave the firm impression that when it comes to political parties and their fundraising techniques, there are a lot of pots and a lot of kettles calling one another black.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- 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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