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Politician of the Year: Judith ‘Crusher’ Collins

Monday 17 Dec 2012 10:28 a.m.

Judith Collins simply smashed her way this year, says Political Editor Patrick Gower (Getty)

Judith Collins simply smashed her way this year, says Political Editor Patrick Gower (Getty)

It was the year of the ball-breaker: and therefore Judith Collins is my politician of the year.

No doubt this will make plenty of people angry, because "Crusher" has her enemies not just on the Left, but on the Right.

But the fact that she is now widely recognised as a front-runner for National's leadership shows just how big a year Collins had.

She simply smashed her way through the year - nearly everyone who came up against Collins came off second-best.

Few other politicians can say they didn't come off second-best at times this year.

Norman’s moment of madness

Greens co-leader Russel Norman's been cited by most of the commentariat as politician of the year. He had a great year, rising as defacto leader of the Opposition and was a superb economic communicator, even putting himself up as a future Finance Minister.

But Rusty came off second-best when he came up against himself. Yes, that moment of madness when Norman thought getting a laser printer to copy off some New Zealand $20 notes could pay for the Christchurch rebuild and solve New Zealand's economic woes. It is frankly impossible to name someone who suggests printing money as politician of the year.

Prime Minister John Key had by all accounts a terrible year. But hang on - Key ended the year with a poll-rating of 47 percent, virtually the same as election night. Now you can't complain about that. That's all Norman was able to achieve with the Greens - and Norman doesn't actually have to do anything, just play opposition. But Key had a shocker at times, he certainly came off second-best.

David Shearer certainly came off second-best, at times losing even to the blogs. Full credit for a (very) late come-back though, but he too had a shocker.

How Collins survived the ACC scandal

That takes me to Collins - she did not come off second-best, even when hit with the full-on wave of destruction that was the ACC Bronwyn Pullar scandal.

It wiped out Nick Smith as a Minister. It swept so far it even briefly touched Key - nobody seemed immune.

But Collins wiped out the chairman John Judge, and board members Rob Campbell, John McCliskie and Murray Hilder. Chief Executive Ralph Stewart freaked out and jumped.

Heads rolled.

Collins never looked entirely safe throughout - it was "harum scarum" stuff by her.

Collins was under extraordinary pressure. It seemed she had mishandled it - that there were things that would come back at her. They haven't - yet. How she managed that, I don't know.

Labour's Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little tried to take her on over it. They lost - backing down for a settlement after it hit the courts, when Collins did them for defamation. Collins put a hit on Mallard - that should not be under-estimated as a political hit. Collins beat up Mallard.

By the time the ACC report came out, Collins had it under control. The heads had rolled - this in a country where heads never roll.

In a scandal to hurt so many, for Collins to come out virtually unscathed shows considerable political skill. And maybe some luck.

Collins got to work on her justice portfolio - it's not headline-grabbing stuff, but I've heard good things from with the justice sector about "funding pool" she's set up. It allows money saved in one agency to be passed to another agency, which makes sense.

She got the alcohol reform bill through - no mean feat in itself - but watered it down.

She also showed a softer side by winding back predecessor Simon Power's legal aid reforms.

Power is another of Collins' victims this year though. She has systematically dismantled his justice sector reforms as she seeks to stamp her own mark on the portfolio.

Power must watch on from his Westpac office with disdain.

But he is just another notch for Collins this year: Judge, McCliskie, Hilder, Campbell, Stewart, Mallard, Little, Power. That's a total of eight scalps or hits. And, yes, they are all men.

This ruthless streak has been seen before - it has become her modus operandi. Collins tried it on Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews, although he managed to hang on. And the Police Commissioner Howard Broad got the message and left quietly, never really to be seen of again.

Binnie never stood a chance

So the Canadian judge Ian Binnie never really stood a chance.

Binnie was appointed by Simon Power - that was probably his first problem.

And then Binnie recommended a compensation payout for Bain - and that really was a big problem for him.

Collins clearly doesn't want to be remembered as the Justice Minister who paid Bain compo. And I don't think the Cabinet is that keen on paying Bain compo either.

Paying out Bain would annoy a lot of people. Both Collins, as well Key and Steven Joyce like being on the right side of public opinion - and that means no compo payout, if at all possible.

Collins' personal motivation cannot be discounted either - as she plays to the public gallery ahead of a leadership tilt one day, she does not want to have "paid Bain compo" on her CV.

So the rest is history. Well, Binnie's report is history thanks to Collins.

And thanks to Collins, Binnie's reputation in New Zealand is history too, and no doubt tarred in legal circles beyond too.

Thanks to Collins, Binnie is political history here. Her ninth scalp or hit this year by my count.

Many will criticise Collins' approach here. Once again it was reckless stuff. Once again it was theatrical.

But once again Collins somehow pulled it off.

She has now seized back total control over the Bain compensation claim. And you don't do that without making a mess.

So some may not like Collins' tactics this year - but they worked.

Next year there must be more policy and less politics from Collins - she must sort out ACC to really prove her mettle.

But this year Collins made a move.

She survived and managed the ACC mega-scandal. She put Bain's Compensation claim in a choker-hold.

She got her way time and time again.

She has cemented herself as a potential future leader of the National Party.

And not once did she come off second-best. It was ball-breaking stuff, it wasn't always pretty, but it worked - and Collins is my politician of the year.

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