New Zealand's opposition National Party ousts leader

Current National Party leader Judith Collins (left) demoted former leader Simon Bridges, citing his alleged "harassment and intimidation" of a female colleague.
Current National Party leader Judith Collins (left) demoted former leader Simon Bridges, citing his alleged "harassment and intimidation" of a female colleague.PHOTOS: JUDITHCOLLINS/FACEBOOK, SIMONBRIDGES/FACEBOOK

WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - New Zealand’s main opposition National Party will get its fourth leader in less than two years, continuing a period of instability that has helped boost support for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s governing Labour Party. 

National Party Members of Parliament ousted Ms Judith Collins as leader in a caucus meeting on Thursday (Nov 25), her deputy Shane Reti told a news conference.

Mr Reti will serve as interim leader before caucus meets to elect a permanent replacement on Nov 30, he said. 

The leadership change was precipitated by a statement Ms Collins issued late Wednesday saying she had been made aware of a serious, historical complaint against former leader Simon Bridges.

She demoted him and relieved him of all his shadow portfolios.

Mr Bridges has been the leading contender to replace Ms Collins ahead of the 2023 election after sustained poor polling results for National. 

"The caucus was concerned with the content of the press release and the process by which it was issued," Mr Reti said. "Caucus moved a motion for a vote of no confidence in the leader and that motion was successful."

The ructions at the top of the National Party date back to the ousting of Mr Bridges from the leadership in May last year.

He was rolled by Mr Todd Muller, who held the position for less than two months before Ms Collins took over in July 2020.   

Ms Collins led National to a heavy defeat in the 2020 election and the party has continued to poll poorly since.

It had 28 per cent support in a Colmar Brunton poll taken earlier this month compared with 41 per cent for Labour.

Ms Collins had just 5 per cent support as preferred prime minister against 39 per cent for Ms Ardern. 

It remains unclear who will assume the National Party leadership.

Other than Mr Bridges, names mentioned in local media include Mr Mark Mitchell, a former minister of defence, and Mr Christopher Luxon, a first-term MP and former chief executive at Air New Zealand. 

Ms Collins said she knew she would likely lose the leadership when she became aware of the allegation against Mr Bridges and decided to act upon it.

However, "if I hadn’t, then I felt that I wouldn’t deserve the role," she said in a tweet. 

Mr Bridges on Thursday morning dubbed the move 'desperate" and said Ms Collins would "go to any length to hold on to her leadership."

The allegation concerns remarks Mr Bridges made to fellow MP Jacqui Dean about five years ago. 

"They were not about me, but they were inappropriate and not something I wanted to hear," Ms Dean said in a statement.

"At the time there was an apology, but subsequently it has continued to play on my mind. Simon and I have spoken a number of times over the past few hours and he has reiterated his apology."