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Marlborough Express - 2021-11-26

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Smith looks to party’s future

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National MP for Kaiko¯ ura Stuart Smith says he went into yesterday’s meeting, which saw party leader Judith Collins ousted, with no expectations. ‘‘I wanted to hear what was received first, and learn all of the details in the background before we could make a decision and that’s what happened,’’ Smith said yesterday afternoon. The National Party ousted Judith Collins as leader yesterday, the party’s third leadership change in two years. It came after Collins demoted former party leader Simon Bridges on Wednesday, and stripped him of all of his portfolios over a complaint about alleged comments he made to female National MP Jacqui Dean in 2017. Dean was said to have been walking past a group of MPS, including Bridges, when a crude comment was made by him. He is understood to have apologised later. Dean confirmed yesterday morning she was the woman who made the complaint, while Bridges told media he regretted the comments and had apologised again. Collins announced Bridges demotion late on Wednesday night without consulting the wider caucus of MPS. Collins had planned to hold a press conference at 10am with Dean. Instead, her 9am caucus meeting stretched on for hours, and she eventually announced she had lost the leadership early in the afternoon. Smith said it was disappointing the caucus meeting had to occur. ‘‘But it had to be dealt with, and it has. We will now work on appointing a new leader,’’ Smith said. ‘‘I guess you could say it is positive. There was an issue between Jacqui Dean and Simon Bridges, that has now been dealt with, although it was dealt with . . . years ago, but clearly hadn’t been dealt with properly, but it has now.’’ He said it was ‘‘one of those things’’ that happened in workplaces. ‘‘The thing is we deal with these things and move on, and that’s what we’ve done,’’ he said. National MP Simon O’connor, Bridges’ brother-inlaw, earlier called for Collins to resign and described her actions as ‘‘just downright appalling’’. MP Shane Reti is the party’s interim leader until a leadership vote is held on Tuesday. Challengers for the leadership are former Air NZ chief executive and rookie MP Chris Luxon and former policeman Mark Mitchell. As Collins hurriedly left Parliament in a taxi yesterday, she described the National Party leadership as ‘‘a really hard job’’. ‘‘I’ve done everything I possibly could, and I just wish everyone well.’’ Asked if she regretted issuing the statement about Simon Bridges the night before, she said: ‘‘Never.’’

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