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Return of Collins in Govt reshuffle could prove a master stroke

Opinion Piece

Restoring former minister Judith Collins to Cabinet after a year in the wilderness could turn out to be a master stroke for Prime Minister John Key for a number of reasons — some of which may not be immediately evident.

First, Key was able to respond to claims she had been denied natural justice. Having stood her down to allow an inquiry into her conduct by a retired judge, and her then being cleared, in many ways she should have been allowed to return. There was still, however, the taint of her support for Oravida — a company her husband is involved with — while on official business in China.

Second, he has placed a potentially troublesome MP with leadership ambitions (who was building backbench allegiances) in a position where she will be bound by the rules of collective responsibility. This will put a brake on her natural inclination to speak out on subjects dear to her heart, and to attract publicity. No more Collins’ speeches at Act Party conferences.

Then there is the fact Key has killed two birds with one stone by making her the Corrections Minister. It was Collins who put the Mt Eden Prison contract out to tender in 2009 so it is only fair she should be the one to fix the disasters under Serco management. In her first press conference Collins promised to be “all over this”.

It also allowed him to gently move aside Sam Lotu-Iiga who was clearly struggling with the hospital pass he had been given.

Judith Collins herself will have to make some adjustments to her naturally combative style if she is to ever fulfil now-faded predictions that she could become a future prime minister.

Steven Joyce has also lost stature over the Northland by-election bungle, but Paula Bennett’s stakes have risen as a possible future leader and Amy Adams is also on the rise. Any of these three would probably appeal more to their colleagues and the wider public.

So the woman who revelled in the nickname Crusher is back but the whole political situation has changed. She may need to work on a new quality — patience.