Lifelong feminist Judith Collins wants cabinet job back

UPDATE: PM offers lukewarm support.

Papakura MP Judith Collins made no bones about her desire to be reinstated into the cabinet in an interview on TV One’s Q+A programme over the weekend.

Although Ms Collins said she “never really felt in exile” after resigning from the cabinet over allegations arising from Dirty Politics, and that she is having “fun” as a local MP and a columnist for the Sunday Star Times, her demotion still clearly rankles.

“I was forced to resign over allegations I was completely exonerated for” she told interviewer Heather du Plessis-Allan.

“I’ve made it very clear that that's exactly where I'd like to be,” she said.

This morning, Prime Minister John Key gave her cabinet comeback bid lukewarm support, saying "If a slot opens up, she'll be considered — along with a couple of other names."

When asked, “Is that where your ambitions end, or do you want to be leader as well?” Ms Collins responded with, “Come on, I’m not even in the cabinet. I’m on the back bench.”

“But I'd say to you that there is no timeframe, from my point of view. It's completely up to the prime minister.”

Asked if her recent comments on women’s issues – including “Ponytailgate” – were part of an effort to soften her image, Ms Collins, said, no, it was an expression of her lifelong adherence to feminism.

“It is something that's important to me. That's why I take up these issues, because I can, and I will,” she said.

“And, you know, there's no difference between women's rights and human rights, because we’re human.”

Despite that, she declined to be drawn on the Prime Minister’s failure to address women’s rights “head on” during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia.

“It's up to him to make that decision,” she said, “I’m not going to question the prime minister's role,” going on to note New Zealand does not have the luxury of dictating other countries’ behaviour. 

RAW DATA: Q+A transcript: Interview with National MP Judith Collins

Watch the interview here

HEATHER So I began by asking, 'Are you on a comeback?'


JUDITH What as?


HEATHER Well, comeback from- You've obviously been put into exile, so you're coming back from that?


JUDITH I’ve never really felt in exile, because I’ve been, thankfully, re-elected as the member for Papakura. And I’m just getting on with my work, and I’m on select committees, and I’m having a lot of fun, and I’m loving writing, cos I’m writing now, every week, and just those sorts of things are things I enjoy doing.


HEATHER Yeah, you are. You have a column every week. You’ve recently appeared on a comedy show, of all things.


JUDITH I know.


HEATHER How did you enjoy that?


JUDITH It was so much fun, actually. I'd do it again.




JUDITH Yeah, I would.


HEATHER And you're here, and you've done a fair bit of media recently. You were the one commenting on ponytail-gate when virtually nobody else was. Is this part of rebuilding your profile?


JUDITH Well, I was commenting because I was asked to comment by the media, and I thought, 'Actually, I can comment on this.' I understand the issues, and I understand the people, particularly the Prime Minister, and I know he wouldn't have been intending any harm, so I felt very confident to comment on that.


HEATHER Did you get in any trouble for commenting on it?


JUDITH No. No one's told me I shouldn't have been commenting. I mean, I would have commented anyway. It's a sensible thing, and as a senior woman involved in politics, I felt very much- very comfortable commenting.


HEATHER I’ve noticed- I just want to go back to that comedy show — one thing you said on that comedy show was, 'One should never ever underestimate the power of resurrection.'


JUDITH That wasn't bad for a spur of the moment comment, was it, after that sort of attack?


HEATHER It wasn't. You'd certainly got it in the neck on that show, but what does that mean? Are you resurrecting?


JUDITH Well, I’ve never been dead, so... (LAUGHS) but it was a comedy show, but to be perfectly frank, I’m very dedicated to working for Papakura, and I’m very dedicated in my role as an MP, so I take it very seriously and work hard, but I also have a lot of fun.


HEATHER You might not feel like you've been dead or that you've been in exile, but you've certainly fallen a long way from the positions you once held. Would you like any of those positions back? Would you like to be back in Cabinet?


JUDITH Oh, obviously, and I’ve made that very clear. I mean, I was forced to resign over allegations that I was completely exonerated for not long after the election. I’ve made it very clear that that's exactly where I'd like to be, but I’m also very clear that in the meantime, I’m happy working, giving good value for money for the taxpayer — I hope they feel that — and actually getting on with my life. I’m not going to sit around waiting for something to happen. I’m busy enjoying myself, and also, the way I see it, providing some value for the people in Papakura.


HEATHER Have you talked to the Prime Minister about coming back to Cabinet?


JUDITH Oh, we're having talks all the time about various things, but-


HEATHER Have you talked about that specific...?


JUDITH Oh, look, I’m not going to go down the detail on that, Heather, and I think it's not fair to do so. But the Prime Minister- he knows me very well, as I know him very well.


HEATHER Why is it not fair to talk about that?


JUDITH Well, it's not fair to have discussions or to repeat discussions between the Prime Minister and myself. That'd be very disrespectful to the Prime Minister.


HEATHER What timeframe are you working with to get back into Cabinet?


JUDITH Well, it's completely up to the Prime Minister, so...


HEATHER And is that where your ambitions end, or do you want to be leader as well?


JUDITH (LAUGHS) Come on, I’m not even in Cabinet. I’m on the back bench. But I'd say to you that there is no timeframe, from my point of view. It's completely up to the Prime Minister. And all I’m doing is not sitting back and doing nothing. I’m getting on, doing my job the best way I know how, and contributing. And, for instance, the columns I write are always about things that I think are interesting, and I hope most people find they are too. And Phil Goff and I have these regular weekly discussions by email and things, and I think, actually, that's a great thing to do. It's a good thing to be getting out there with ideas that I know people consider are important.


HEATHER Okay, a lot of what you're talking about in the media at the moment are women's issues. Do you really care about it or is this something to soften up your brand?


JUDITH No. For 56 years, I’ve been a woman, Heather, and for 56 years, I’ve been involved in- from school and all the way through and in careers such as law, where women were very badly treated at one stage. And now I’m in politics, and actually, there is a difference in the way in which women are treated. I have been a restaurant owner. I have been someone who's been involved in the workplace where women predominate as well as where we're a minority. So, yes, it is something that's very important to me. That's why I take up these issues, because I can, and I will.


HEATHER Do you describe yourself as a feminist?


JUDITH I’ve always described myself as a feminist.


HEATHER What does being a feminist mean?


JUDITH It actually means being pro-women and actually pro-human rights. And, you know, there's no difference between women's rights and human rights, because we’re human.


HEATHER Well, you bring this up. Should the Prime Minister, when he was in Saudi Arabia, have addressed women's rights head on?


JUDITH It's up to him to make that decision. I’m not going to question the Prime Minister's role, but I will say this, is that New Zealand is not- we do not have the luxury of being a country where we can dictate to other countries what they do or how they behave. Because if we did try to do that on major trading partners, we'd probably find ourselves trading with very few countries whatsoever. Because New Zealand is one of the few countries where women actually do have equal rights according to law and in practice in most cases. But don't get me wrong on this — there are loads of opportunities for us to improve.


HEATHER Sounds a little bit like a bob both ways. I mean, you either are a feminist, and you attack these issues, or...


JUDITH Well, I’ve been a feminist a lot longer than most people. I’ve been a feminist all my life.


HEATHER If you had been on the trip to Saudi Arabia, would you have covered up like Bronagh Key, or would you have done what Michelle Obama did and worn what she wanted, which was her natural dress?


JUDITH I probably would have tried to be very careful about my dress, and certainly, when I was in Afghanistan, I wore a dress with a scarf, and I wore my own clothes, but I did not, sort of, cover myself from top to tail. But I thought it is important, when you're in other people's countries, to actually not become the standout- or your dress to become the point that everyone needs to talk about. We're actually there for serious business about other things as well. But I would say I would be very concerned about that situation, and I wouldn't want to make an international incident when I’m actually there for a trade mission, so I’d think about that very carefully.


HEATHER Seeing as you are a feminist, would you like to take this opportunity to come out and publicly back the woman at the centre of the ponytail-gate saga?


JUDITH Well, I’ve already done that, haven't I? I’ve said that the Prime Minister... And I’ve backed his apology and the fact that he's admitted that he shouldn't have done that. But I’d also say about the Prime Minister — I know him very well. He would be absolutely mortified that he's caused any hurt to Ms Bailey. And as for Ms Bailey, I’ve always said that she's perfectly entitled to take the action that she did. But I also say it's a very difficult position. When I was a student at university many years ago, like many others, I waitressed so that I could get myself through university. I know what it's like. I’ve poured coffee down someone's lap when I’ve felt they needed to be controlled a little bit better. I’ve done that, and I’d do it again. No problem at all.


HEATHER Okay, well, apart from the coffee-pouring incident… You've have to forgive me, but it sounded a little like you were backing the Prime Minister in that statement, not the waitress.


JUDITH Well, I’m backing both of them, you could say. The Prime Minister has said very clearly he did— he apologised, and I think very sincerely. And, actually, what else do people want? Do they want blood? What is it? The Prime Minister's made a mistake. He's made an error of judgement, and he has, like many other people, made a mistake in his life. Well, actually, he's very sorry for it.


HEATHER I think, to answer your question, some people wanted a little bit more than simply the Prime Minister saying, 'I’m sorry, I did wrong', and the matter being left there.


JUDITH Well, he's personally apologised to Ms Bailey. He's apologised on television. He's suffered a tremendous of, I could say, condemnation from people. But, actually, Ms Bailey is also someone who I think we need to be very careful that she doesn't become attacked, as she has been a little bit, and I think that's really unfortunate, because so often we see women at the centre of situations who end up becoming, in fact, not just the whistle-blower, but they become a target of abuse, and that's something we shouldn't have happen either.


HEATHER Just to go back to one of your columns — I noticed recently that you supported Helen Clark in her bid for the head of the UN.


JUDITH Yeah, that's a great idea. Don’t you?


HEATHER Well, I can't argue with that myself, but you said the reason that you backed her is because she's a woman…


JUDITH Well, also because I thought she was the best woman for the job.


HEATHER ...and a good candidate, but you also went on to say we are seeing a new wave of women leaders emerging around the world.


JUDITH Absolutely.


HEATHER Do you hope to be one of them?


JUDITH Oh, no. I’m very happy to back others. I’m very happy to back people like Hillary Clinton, who I’ve met, had dinner with, lovely discussion with – someone's who's vilified because of some of the actions of her husband, for goodness sake, and actually, she's someone who I back, and I back Helen Clark on that role, and I think if we look overseas, as New Zealanders, we should always back our people, our Kiwis, and that's what I wanted to do.


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