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World News

Factbox: 'Crusher' Collins has her steely eye on New Zealand leadership

(Reuters) - New Zealand opposition leader Judith Collins is seeking to oust current leader Jacinda Ardern at the country’s national election on Oct. 17.

FILE PHOTO: National leader Judith Collins participates in a televised debate with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS

POLITICAL LIFE

Collins, 61, worked as a commercial lawyer for more than two decades before she was elected to parliament in 2002, representing the National Party in the electorate of Clevedon in the south of Auckland. She served in various shadow cabinet positions, including social welfare and family, while the party was in opposition.

Collins was elevated to the cabinet when the Nationals won the 2008 election, representing a new electorate, Papakura.

Over the next nine years the party was in power, she was a minister with various portfolios, including police, corrections, veterans affairs, and justice.

She twice put herself forward to lead the Nationals when the incumbents resigned, in 2016 and 2017, but lost each party room vote.

Collins was finally elected as the Nationals leader on July 14 after Todd Muller stepped down for health reasons, pitting her directly against Ardern.

LEADERSHIP STYLE

Collins wasted no time in making an impact as leader, booting out a party colleague for sending a lewd image to a woman and going public with an allegation that led to Ardern sacking the immigration minister for having an inappropriate relationship.

Often called “steely-eyed” by the local media, Collins was given the nickname “Crusher” when she brought in a law as police minister in 2009 allowing illegal street racers’ cars to be confiscated and destroyed.

She released an autobiography titled “Pull No Punches” this year, which details some of the controversy that plagued her through her “annus horribilis” of 2014.

The year began with an apology after allegations of a conflict of interest while on an overseas trip in which she endorsed a milk product by a New Zealand export company where her husband was a director.

Then Prime Minister John Key gave her a “second final warning” a few months later after a right-wing blogger posted private information about a public servant passed to him by Collins.

When reports emerged of an alleged attempt to smear a second public servant via the same blogger, Collins resigned from the cabinet. She was later cleared of those allegations by an inquiry and returned to the cabinet at the end of 2015.

FAMILY VALUES

The daughter of dairy farmers has been married for more than three decades to businessman David Wong-Tun. Collins told The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine in 2015 of her late father’s initial prejudice against Wong-Tun’s Chinese-Samoan heritage, leading the pair to elope to Hong Kong. The couple’s son James is in his 20s.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“But what I can tell you - he has actually done some quite recent stuff with Israel and UAE and so actually that’s better than war, don’t you think? .. it’s a damn sight better than any of the other presidents that have been there before, including those you admire Ms Ardern.” Collins praising U.S. President Donald Trump during an electoral debate broadcast live on Sept. 30.

“I prefer ‘focused’ because that’s what I am - absolutely laser-focused on giving businesses in this country the confidence to invest and grow to create more jobs.” Collins to Reuters in response to her “Crusher” nickname.

“I presume it is. I’m personally not adding to it - I only had one [child].” Collins when asked if climate change was caused by humans on the AM Show program in July 2019.

Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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