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Collins backs 'highly intelligent' Luxon as new National leader as Reti temporarily takes the reigns

Newshub logo Newshub 4 days ago Jamie Ensor
Watch: Simon Bridges speaks at press conference amid National leadership crisis. © Video - Newshub; Image - Getty Images. Watch: Simon Bridges speaks at press conference amid National leadership crisis.

Judith Collins is no longer leader of the National Party after being ousted in a crisis caucus meeting on Thursday.

Her deputy Dr Shane Reti will be the interim leader until next week, when a decision on the full-time replacement will be made.

Earlier, MP Simon Bridges had accused Collins of trying to hold onto the National Party leadership at any cost, describing her demotion of him on Wednesday as "truly desperate stuff".

In a bombshell statement late on Wednesday, Collins said Bridges, the former leader, had been demoted and relieved of his portfolio responsibilities following an "allegation of serious misconduct" towards a caucus colleague a number of years ago.

The complaint relates to something that happened five years ago. A group of National MPs including Bridges, Jami-Lee Ross and Todd McClay were together with Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean. The allegation is that something was said to her of a sexual nature that Dean found humiliating and designed to dominate. The complaint was taken to then-leader Bill English, who has refused to comment to Newshub.

Live - Shane Reti becomes interim National leader, Collins stays on as MP, Bridges apologises over 'inappropriate' comment
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8:10pm - Judith Collins is backing Christopher Luxon as the next leader of National.

Asked if Luxon would have her support, she said "he might".

"I really like Christopher. He works really hard and he's highly intelligent."

Both Simon Bridges and Mark Mitchell got a "no" on if she'd back them as the new leader.

6:40pm - Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien has wrapped up the day's action on the National leadership front.

She says Collins' ousting will present an interesting challenge to the new leader.

"You cannot cage Collins, and when her wild side is unleashed - as was on clear display on Wednesday night - she's even more unpredictable, especially now she's wounded. 

"She's staying on as an MP in her Papakura electorate, and she's staying in the caucus, meaning she'll be party to all those top secret squabbles that used to stay behind closed doors.

"Whoever the new leader is come Tuesday will have to weigh up a few options to deal with Collins - reward, exile or sleep with one eye open."

Watch Tova O'Brien's full report here.

5:25pm - Elsewhere in his email to National members, Goodfellow thanked Collins for her "dedication, hard work, and service as our leader during some of the most difficult and challenging times in our Party's and also our country's history".

"Over the coming days your National Party will elect new leadership and focus on the issues that matter to all New Zealanders."

The new leader of the National Party will be announced next Tuesday, November 30.

5:15pm - National MP Stuart Smith has told reporters the ideal candidate to take the party forward is "someone who can speak to middle New Zealanders".

He wouldn't be drawn on who the candidates were, but it's understood Chris Luxon and Mark Mitchell are the front-runners. Simon Bridges could yet decide that he wants to join the race, and is currently considering that possibility.

"Every leadership decision is an important one," Smith said.

On Collins' decision to demote Bridges and release a statement to media last night, Smith said she "did what she felt she had to do".

"You follow your own values."

4:55pm - The National Party's president has denied the board signed off on the demotion of Simon Bridges, as Judith Collins claimed in a statement to media last night.

In that statement, she'd said the board had unanimously backed her call to strip him of all his portfolios over allegations he'd made inappropriate comments to colleague Jacqui Dean five years ago.

But in an email to members, Peter Goodfellow said the board "unanimously supported a first step in seeking further information from the parties involved and ensure the Member of Parliament who was the subject of the allegations was given the opportunity to provide a considered response before any conclusions were drawn", according to the Herald.

He said "no specific penalties or actions were discussed, agreed, or endorsed by the Board at its meeting yesterday, beyond our support for an investigation in line with due process."

"It was not and is not a role of the board to give approval to demote Caucus members or take similar action."

2:45pm - Bridges has made the most of the increased attention on him to promote the memoir he released this year, National Identity: Confessions of an Outsider.

He shared a tweet his publisher HarperCollins posted while he was speaking to media that read: "We'll just leave this here".

"I must say I do love the Chutzpah of this. And a good Christmas read…" he wrote.

Bold.

2:35pm - Simon Bridges addressed Judith Collins' bombshell press release last night and the ensuing chaos in a media conference from Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

He spoke about the 2017 comment that set National's leadership crisis in motion and about whether he would make another run for leadership of the party.

You can now watch that entire thing at the top of this article.

2pm - Judith Collins spawned one of the biggest political stories of the year on Wednesday night when she announced MP Simon Bridges had been demoted, as rumours swirled around a looming challenge to her leadership of the National Party.

But what do those in Collins' electorate of Papakura make of all the drama? Newshub took to the streets on Thursday to speak to her constituents before the announcement she'd lost the top job.

Unfortunately for her, she didn't find great support in her hometown. Most believed her time as leader of the Opposition was up.

Read more here

1:50pm - Bridges says despite media commentary, he was genuine in his statements about not intending to stand for the leadership.

"That has changed. I am going to consider it."

He says he is now older and wiser than when he was last leader.

"I didn't have confidence in Judith Collins," Bridges tells reporters. He says he was very unhappy with the press release.

Bridge acknowledges Collins led the party during a "difficult time", but also a time of "rebuilding". He says Collins deserves some credit for that.

1:45pm - Simon Bridges is now speaking to reporters.

He stresses that the no-confidence vote in Judith Collins was in large part due to the press release issued last night "that just wasn't correct".

He says five or six years ago, at a function at Premier House, during lunch while speaking with Jacqui Dean and other MPs, he said he wanted to have a girl.

"I engaged in some old wives tales about that, how to have a girl."

Bridges says some of what he said was "clearly inappropriate." 

Some time after this, Bill English, deputy Prime Minister at the time, told him that Dean was offended. He apologised to English and Dean. She accepted this apology, he says.

He says he wasn't aware of its impact on Dean until now. 

"I share her desire for a modern, inclusive workplace and work environment."

Bridges says he has apologised again.

He says National has lost sight of its priorities. He hasn't decided whether to run for the leadership but will consider it over the next day or two.

1:35pm - Jacqui Dean has just released this statement: 

"About five years ago, Simon Bridges made remarks that upset me at the time. They were not about me, but they were inappropriate and not something I wanted to hear, National MP for Waitaki Jacqui Dean says.

"At the time there was an apology, but subsequently it has continued to play on my mind and with the recent reviews that have occurred in Parliament the feelings have been brought back up.

"What matters to me is that all of us have a clear understanding of what behaviour we should expect in a modern workplace environment.

"Simon and I have spoken a number of times over the past few hours and he has reiterated his apology.

"As I’m sure can be appreciated, the publicity around this has been upsetting and I ask that my privacy is respected on this."

1:25pm - Dr Shane Reti says the caucus met on Thursday morning to discuss Wednesday night's statement.

The caucus was "concerned" about the content and the process in which it was released. Caucus moved for a motion of no confidence in Judith Collins, and that was successful, he says. Caucus will look to elect a new leader next Tuesday.

His role is to guide caucus through the process. He hasn't considered if he will seek the leadership. 

The new leadership wants to "bring new thinking to the room". That team will be decided on Tuesday.

Dr Reti says Collins took the best decision she could on Wednesday night. He won't discuss Collins' temperament at the time. 

"This is not our best day."

Collins will be part of caucus, Dr Reti says.

1:20pm - Refresh the page to see the livestream above with Dr Shane Reti's comments.

1pm - National's Chief Press Secretary John Mitchell has resigned from the post following Collins losing the leadership, according to NZHerald. That hasn't been confirmed by Newshub yet.

12:55pm - National says both Simon Bridges and Jacqui Dean will likely address the allegations at some point on Thursday.

12:50pm - That was a frantic half hour. Newshub's Tova O'Brien and Zane Small have the details on what's happened to Collins, who is leading National at the moment, and who could soon take the top job.

Read that here.

12:45pm - Collins has confirmed she will stand in the next election in Papakura.

"Always very proud to represent the wonderful people of Papakura."

12:40pm - Judith Collins has taken to Twitter after being removed as leader of the National Party: 

"I am pleased to say that I am just the MP for Papakura again. It’s been a privilege to take over the leadership of @NZNationalParty during the worst of times and to do so for 16 months. It has taken huge stamina and resolve, & has been particularly difficult because of a variety of factors.

"I knew when I was confided in by a female colleague regarding her allegation of serious misconduct against a senior colleague, that I would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously. If I hadn’t, then I felt that I wouldn’t deserve the role.

"I didn’t ask for the allegation to be given to me. I am proud of the support I received from Dr Shane Reti, a man of principle, and I will continue to advocate, not only for Papakura, but for those who have no voice.

"A big thank you to the wonderful staff in the National Leader’s Office, my Papakura Office, National Party members & my wonderful colleagues. I’m so pleased that I can spend more time with my family & friends & I will not miss the gruelling media schedule."

12:30pm - Stuart Smith told Newshub Shane Reti is the interim leader while they decide who is leader.

It appears a decision will be made next week, with it down to Mitchell and Luxon.

12:20pm - O'Brien says Collins is gone. Christopher Luxon is up against Mark Mitchell for the leadership. One single source has told O'Brien that it appears likely Luxon and Nicola Willis will take the leadership.

12:15pm - JUST IN: Newshub understands Judith Collins is no longer the leader of the National Party. Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien has tweeted: "Collins gone". We are hoping to break into programming very shortly. Refresh your page for the video to refresh above.

12:10pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been asked about the National Party drama and the allegations against Simon Bridges.

"I see all of this as being an internal issue for the National Party. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. My focus needs to be on managing that."

She says it's important for MPs to focus on what matters to New Zealanders. She says that's what she is currently doing.  

12:05pm - National MPs have questions down for in the House on Thursday afternoon, which may suggest they are optimistic they will be out of their meeting by 2pm. Judith Collins doesn't have a question - not unusual for a Thursday when the Prime Minister is out of Wellington - while her deputy Dr Shane Reti does.

11:50am - The National Party is in chaos again. 

It's been less than two years since Simon Bridges was ousted as leader after his popularity dropped in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as New Zealanders rallied behind the Government's elimination success. 

Since then, the party has had two new leaders, an MP was sacked for sending inappropriate text messages, an MP quit for leaking sensitive patient data to the media, and a candidate stepped down after his partner revealed he impersonated her online.

As we wait for Thursday's caucus meeting to end, take a look back at National's troubles over the last few years.

11:30am - Stuff has spoken to former National MP Alfred Ngaro, who lost his position last year after a low list ranking and his failure to win the seat of Te Atatu.

He said it was a "disappointing" situation National now found itself in and it would be "incredibly challenging" for Collins to remain as leader.

"We all believe in due process. If there's something that needs to be addressed there's a right way to do this - and it seems that is not what has happened."

That reflects the feeling of other MPs who say Collins didn't brief caucus before announcing Bridges' demotion.

11:05am - The Newshub special coverage is breaking for now. But we will have full coverage of the caucus meeting... whenever MPs emerge.

11am - Commentator Ben Thomas tells Newshub that Judith Collins has installed "loyalists" within her staff. They could lose their jobs if she was to lose the leadership or not be willing to serve any new leader.

He says taking over as leader right now wouldn't be attractive to Luxon. Bridges will probably be allowed to have another go, Thomas expects, noting that he had kept National Party polling high before COVID came along. 

10:50am - Newshub has confirmed the National Party caucus is having a break.

10:45am - Lawyer Brigitte Morten is back with Newshub's special coverage. Regarding whether Bridges can become leader again, she says National has recently seen a leadership comeback, with Bill English taking the reins in 2016. He was previously leader at the 2002 election. English was able to lead National to a strong election result, even though he couldn't form government, Morten says. 

Morten points out that Bridges has admitted his infamous Facebook post last year - that is thought to have led to his downfall - had the wrong tone and timing. She says Kiwis weren't overly comfortable with that type of intense scrutiny back during the first nationwide lockdown, but many are looking for that now. That may make Bridges attractive to voters, she says. He is popular with some Kiwis, she says, noting the large turnout to a book signing he held on Wednesday.

10:40am - Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien says there is still not a lot known about what is happening in the caucus meeting. Collins and Dean were meant to hold a press conference at 10am.

10:35am - Political commentator and lawyer Brigitte Morten says having Dean at Thursday's press conference looks political. Normally complainants are kept away from the limelight and protected, she says.

There is an opportunity for National to draw a line under the crisis, put in a fresh leader and start anew in the New Year, Morten says.

Many Kiwis are looking for a party that will voice their concern about the COVID response, including the MIQ situation. Because of that, she says there is more engagement in politics at the moment as may be normally seen at this time of year.

10:30am - Newshub has asked National if the caucus meeting will end in the next half hour. We were told they can't be sure and caucus remained behind closed doors.

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10:20am - Former National Party government press secretary and political commentator Ben Thomas tells Newshub this is "chaos" for National, with Collins appearing to seize the opportunity to bring forward these allegations ahead of a leadership challenge. He says it's a question of whether Collins is treating the allegation seriously or using it for political gain.

Thomas says National's brand has been significantly damaged over the last year and Collins appears to have mischaracterised the party's board's position in Wednesday's statement. Her leadership has been looking untenable for a while, he says. She has been ruling on a climate of fear, Thomas tells Newshub.

10:10am - Newshub's Ryan Bridge and Simon Shepherd are asking if Judith Collins did only just recently learn of the allegation against Simon Bridges.

They point out there have been multiple leadership changes since the alleged comment during the time Bill English was leader. The Newshub special coverage hosts suggest that surely that allegation would have been raised during one of those challenges.

10:05am - Newshub's Jenna Lynch says the "blue banner of doom" has gone up outside National's offices. The caucus is still meeting and there is no confirmation about when the Collins / Dean presser will happen.

10am - The National Party caucus meeting is still happening. That means the standup will likely be delayed. However, Newshub is still breaking into programming for our special coverage. You can watch that above.

9:50am - We are expecting Judith Collins and Jacqui Dean to front for a media standup at about 10am. However, as with all things in politics, that timing could change. We will livestream that above and on Three.

9:35am - National is holding an urgent caucus meeting after the sudden decision to demote MP Simon Bridges. Political Editor Tova O'Brien shares what we know:

9:30am - Jacinda Ardern will be writing a Christmas card to Judith Collins and Simon Bridges to thank them for their "unswerving support of the Labour Party", a political commentator has claimed, after the latest rip in the National Party's tenuous unity

"What a mess," political commentator Josie Pagani told The AM Show on Thursday. "It's a serious allegation, it has to be taken seriously. We don't know the details - we don't know what Simon Bridges said yet. But it is just an allegation at this stage - we haven't heard Simon Bridges' defence, and he has a right to defend himself. 

"But all of that aside, it's just a mess. The story doesn't really stack up, doesn't it? It feels like dirty politics… this happened five years ago."

Read more here

9:20am - In case you missed it, you can catch Simon Bridges speaking to reporters before Parliament on Thursday morning here.

9:05am - Asked if Simon Bridges had the numbers to topple Judith Collins, Simon O'Connor told Newshub that wasn't what Thursday's caucus meeting was about.

"This is very clearly about a leader whose actions are wrong and need to be held to account by the caucus on behalf of our membership," he said.

O'Connor says he can't work under her leadership, but doesn't plan to leave Parliament altogether. He wants to see Collins exit Parliament and force a by-election.

8:55am - Harete Hipango says there is a "house that needs to be tidied, there is some cleaning that needs to be done". As a lawyer, she's had experience with "such historic matters". 

Asked if National needs a change of leadership, Hipango says: "We will find out."

"I have confidence in what the National Party stands for which is the values of representing New Zealanders, which is about opportunity, and I just think at the moment the opportunities the National Party has had, we just need to get things sorted out."

8:50am - Arriving at Parliament, Jacqui Dean says she will be speaking alongside Judith Collins at 10am, so doesn't want to comment until then.

"I am kinda gonna leave it until 10am," she says.

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8:45am - ACT Party leader David Seymour says he can't predict the internal machinations of the National Party. He says his party is focused on its relationship with voters.

"I don't have any information… we just work with whoever we have to in Parliament. That is what MMP gives you," Seymour says.

He says National's crisis doesn't help with having a stable democracy. 

"I think it is troublesome for New Zealand to have problems with democracy." That's especially important, Seymour says, amid the Government's COVID-19 response and implementation of the traffic light system.

"I have worked with five different National leaders with varying degrees of success."

8:35am - When asked by Newshub whether he had confidence in his leader, National MP Ian McKelvie says: "Well, that is a very strange question to ask."

He then laughed and said it was a "difficult thing to answer".

"I don't think it is appropriate for me to answer that question right now."

It was for caucus to decide who will be the leader, McKelvie said, but then also said he didn't believe there would be a vote.

Paul Goldsmith wouldn't comment, saying he needs to have conversations in caucus.

8:25am - Speaking to The AM Show, Newshub's Tova O'Brien says Collins' comment earlier shows she is "defiant" and "digging in". 

"This is pistols at dawn. Only one person can remain. This is looking increasingly like a kamikaze mission from Judith Collins and it is hard to see her surviving this."

O'Brien says there will be a leadership challenge, followed by a series of press conferences. She says there is a question now of whether Bridges has too much reputational damage. Luxon is also not ruling out a leadership tilt.

If Collins goes, O'Brien says Shane Reti would also be gone from the deputy leadership.

The ticket being bandied about, O'Brien says, is Bridges as leader and Erica Stanford as deputy. Luxon would be in the finance role. She says that is a "strong" line-up that unifies different factions of the caucus.

"This is the least united any opposition party has ever been in my political memory."

8:10am - Judith Collins has told Newshub she will still be leader by the end of the day.

"It's a matter of principle. Every woman and every man should feel safe in their workplace. What is really important is that you don't deal with allegations by sweeping them under the carpet."

8am - Christopher Luxon won't rule out challenging for the leadership at caucus on Thursday.

"These are matters for caucus. We will discuss it there."

He wouldn't comment on Collins' action on Wednesday night

7:55am - National MP Barbara Kuriger tells reporters outside Parliament she has a lot of unanswered questions. She won't say if she still supports Judith Collins as leader. She says the caucus was shocked and she had no heads up of the situation. 

Shadow Treasurer Andrew Bayly says it is important to speak with caucus before commenting publicly. 

"It is a traumatic time for us," he says.

He says he continues to have faith in his "great" party. 

Matt Doocey also said he wanted to meet with his caucus colleagues before taking any position.

Simeon Brown believes it is important for caucus to meet and to hear from Collins and Bridges.

Melissa Lee only said "no comment" when questioned by reporters.

7:45am - In case you missed it very late on Wednesday night, here's Tova O'Brien's piece on Simon Bridges' demotion, including information about the alleged comment and whether the board was fully behind Collins' action.

7:25am - National MP Simon O'Connor - who is Simon Bridges' brother-in-law - says the situation is "pretty bad". He wants both sides to share their story, but wants Collins to resign.

"Her actions are downright appalling," the MP says. "The National Party must get rid of Judith Collins as the leader."

He says National supporters are "beside themselves". He also believes there are questions for the wider leadership.

"I cannot work with Judith Collins as leader and am handing over all my portfolios this morning".

O'Connor hopes other MPs take a stand.

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7:20am - Simon Bridges has called Judith Collins' behaviour as "truly desperate stuff" and reflects that she will go to any length to hold on to the leadership. He sought a caucus meeting on Wednesday night, but Collins wouldn't have one, Bridges says. He wants to speak to caucus before providing much more comment. He will then hold a press conference.

© Provided by Newshub

7:15am - Speaking to The AM Show, Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien says media are awaiting Simon Bridges.

National is in "chaos" and one source says the future of the party is at stake, O'Brien says. She understands a leadership challenge is likely. 

She says caucus members appeared to be "blindsided" and "dazed" on Wednesday night when leaving Parliament.

O'Brien says the comment Bridges allegedly made was "around conception".

The following comment may offend some readers:

The AM Show host Ryan Bridge says the gist of the conversation is alleged to be along the lines of "hey Jacqui, we have been talking about how to have a daughter. Do you think I should do long, slow strokes, or short, hard strokes?"

7:05am - National MP Mark Mitchell has labelled leader Judith Collins "deeply disrespectful" for announcing Simon Bridges' demotion without briefing caucus, and won't rule out a leadership challenge being mounted on Thursday.

Speaking to Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien late on Wednesday, Mitchell said caucus would come together on Thursday - the first time the MPs had met on the issue.

"There has not been any caucus meeting yet. It is really important that happens. Once we have come together tomorrow, we will be able to come out and give you a much clearer picture of what is going on," the MP said.

Asked if there would be a leadership challenge, Mitchell would not rule it out. 

Read more here.

6:55am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live updates of what is surely going to be an eventful day for the National Party.

After Judith Collins demoted him late on Wednesday night after an allegation of serious misconduct, Simon Bridges will on Thursday morning read a statement to the media. That will happen sometime after 7am.

National MPs will then meet for the first time since Collins' announcement. Collins, deputy Shane Reti, and the female MP who has made the allegation will then hold a press conference at 10am. Newshub understands that MP is Jacqui Dean.

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