Judith Anne Collins (born 24 February 1959) is a New Zealand politician, legal aficionado and education enthusiast who has been serving as the leader of the New Zealand National Party and leader of the Opposition since July 14, 2020. Following a Twitter conversation between Sir Peter Charles Leitch (the Mad Butcher) dating back to 2017 and this author, "it's Judith, not Judy".
Hailing from the mighty Waikato, Collins is the youngest of five children to parents Jessie and Percy. Originally she wanted to be a "lady doctor" but changed her mind after seeing women lawyers on television. They could "right wrongs, sort things out and be in charge. They also wore glamorous clothes", her book, Pull No Punches, reads.
At 14, Collins was at a function when she told an older man she wanted to be a lawyer. He replied by saying "no dear, you're a very nice girl so you'll get married and have children". A $5 wager fuelled her fire, so to speak. "A lot of my career I've had people telling me I couldn't do things and I've responded with 'I can and I will'."
As part of her practical training for her law degree she interned for David Lange. "This was before Lange had his stomach stapled and lost weight. He was huge. He had a terrible haircut and a dreadful suit, but he had a wonderful voice, a great intellect, kindness and the best way of dealing with constituents who came to his office wanting help."
After university Collins worked as a law clerk at the Housing Corporation (now Housing NZ) during the days of open plan and when smoking was in vogue. She went on to work at top-tier firm Simpson Grierson, focusing on commercial property.
Throughout her first years in the workforce she attended night classes to learn to type after feeling frustrated at having to wait for typists to complete the work. She also has a Master of Laws (Hons), where she likened jurisprudence to "mental gymnastics"; a Master of Taxation studies; and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety.
She became a partner at a Takapuna firm at the age of 27. With various businesses with her husband in between - including a restaurant that went to the dogs and resulted in the couple losing faith in the Labour Party - Collins set up her own legal practice, Judith Collins & Associates in 1990.
"I decided to have my own law firm because I had an impression in my mind that I didn't ever want to be made to feel guilty if I wanted to have time off to be with my child or to take my baby to Plunket."
Throughout this time, and before she entered politics, Collins became the youngest serving president of the Auckland District Law Society at 39; served on various executives for the NZ Law Society; was chairperson of the Casino Control Authority; was a director of Housing NZ; and worked as special counsel for Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.
Minister of Corrections and Police
Collins has likened her political work to that of being a lawyer, but on a pro bono basis. In her capacity as Police Minister Collins added 600 frontline police officers to the force, supported the introduction of tasers, and allowed for better access to firearms. She was coined Judith "Crusher" Collins following the implementation of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill that was passed in 2009.
"[W]hat is it that these characters care about most? Their cars, of course. Fines clearly weren't working. So I had to go to the source - and often it would be the case where once parents or finance companies get involved the chain is broken."
As Corrections Minister, Collins implemented a full smoking ban in prisons (which was challenged twice in court, resulting in a law change to maintain the ban), and doubled the number of drug and alcohol treatment facilities. She oversaw the completion of a new prison in Mount Eden, and awarded the private management contract to Serco.
According to the National Party website, 1000 further prisoners received work skills training; she boosted literacy and numeracy education in prisons; and increased double-bunking by 900 beds.
In Opposition she championed the inquiry into the effect of Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans.
Minister of Justice
Collins kicked off the Family Court reforms, the most significant changes in 30 years. She strengthened the Crimes Act by introducing non-contact orders to prohibit contact with victims. She also moderated the cutbacks to legal aid that began under Simon Power by reducing charges for family and civil cases; delaying the period for interest charged on legal aid debt; and scrapped a proposal to make it harder to secure legal aid for less serious offences.
She championed new search and surveillance laws; made it harder for serious offenders to get bail; introduced the Judacature Modernisation Bill; increased maximum penalties for sexual abuse of children online; introduced Public Protection Orders; and launched the first Adult Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court.
Collins took on the alcohol industry in 2012, aiming to ban ready-to-drink (RTDs) beverages from off-licences. The industry took issue with the ban, unsurprisingly, which resulted in the industry developing its own voluntary code.
In December 2012 she took issue with a report by Canadian Supreme Court judge Ian Binnie, which recommended David Bain be compensated for the 13 years he spent in prison before his acquittal in 2009. Various people were cc'd in, and not, which resulted in Bain filing a claim in the High Court seeking a review of Collins' actions, citing breaches of natural justice and the Bill of Rights Act.
In May 2012, Collins sued Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little for defamation over comments made on RNZ linking her to the leak of information around the accidental release of 6700 claimants' details to ACC claimant Bronwyn Pullar. Following a High Court hearing the case was settled.
Two years later Collins was accused of a conflict of interest following an overseas trip where she endorsed the milk produced by Oravida (her husband is a director) to "very close personal friends". Collins apologised.
That same year Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics, revealed that Collins was in cahoots with Whaleoil's Cameron Slater. Another leaked email came to light, which led to Collins resigning from her Cabinet positions. John Key left Collins off the Roll of the Honourables list and the Chisholm report was subsequently released, clearing Collins of the goings on in relation to the latter leaked email. As a result she was granted the right to retain the title of "The Honourable" for life, and returned to Cabinet.
Having voted in favour of the Abortion Law Reform this year she is pro-choice, saying she's very lucky to be alive. "Back then the doctors strongly recommended an abortion [to my mother], which would have been very unlucky for me."
Collins voted against the Civil Union Act 2004 and the Relationships (Statutory References Act) saying the bill was "a sop to gay couples, in which they are being told that they can have second best. That's not good enough". She voted in favour of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill in 2013.
Disclaimer: quotes are from past interviews in my capacity as NZLawyer editor, and LawTalk feature writer. Information and quotes are also from her book, Pull No Punches.