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Collins to lead National, Brownlee elected as deputy

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Judith Collins has won the National Party leadership contest and Gerry Brownlee has been elected as her deputy, the National Party has confirmed.

Collins has won the top job after a contested vote.

“I feel privileged to have been chosen to lead the National Party at this important time in our history.

“My focus as leader will be helping rebuild our communities and dealing with the economic and jobs crisis by getting Kiwis back to work.

“Only National has the experience and skills to get us through this. We are a strong team and I look forwarding to forming the next Government.”

The caucus meeting started at 7pm.

There were reports of a contest for the leadership.

Gerry Brownlee has been elected as the deputy leader, the party confirmed.

Collins addressed media in Parliament’s Legislative Council Chamber, along with what looks to be almost every National MP in caucus.

She apologised for “keeping you up so late.”

She said she was privileged to be voted the leader.

She pointed to all her MPs and said “as you can see here, this is our front bench”.

The team would take the fight to Labour during the election, she said.

Collins said it was important New Zealanders have a choice to lead them through the worst period of economic uncertainty ever.

She said she came from a Labour family and she never thought she would see this day.

The caucus meeting to decide who replaced Todd Muller started at 7pm.

There were reports of a contest for the leadership.

Asked how she would unit National, she said it was important National had a common goal: To get rid of the current Government.

She said it was important to give credit where credit is due but “there is no chance I am going to let Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern get away with any nonsense”.

She praised her fellow MPs and would not say what happened in caucus. But when pressed, she said: “We just love talking”.

Asked who would be finance spokesman, she said Paul Goldsmith.

“It’s third time lucky,” she said, when asked about the leadership run – it was her third crack at the leadership.

Brownlee said she was there to “support the rest of the team”.

He said he never wants to be the leader of the National Party.

The team laughed a number of times.

Collins said she “may have had some advance warning” that Muller was going to step down.

“I was devastated for Todd Muller and his family”.

She said when Muller is able to come back, he would be an important part of the National team.

She said she was “flabbergasted” when she heard the news.

Asked about a reshuffle, she said there will need to be some movement – but not much.

“We are not that many weeks out from an election.”

Asked what her first job as National leader is, Collins said: “Winning”.

She said both her and Brownlee need to be going across the country to win votes.

“It’s important that we send some strong messages out to our base,” she said.

That base has been a bit “discombobulated.”

“I am hoping that the National Party will collectively crush the other lot, come September 19,” she said, when asked if she could shake the nickname ‘Crusher’

She said she never worries about what happens in the past.

“We’re just going to have the most fun as we take back the country.”

She said she wasn’t expecting anyone to change their minds about retiring from politics – including Paula Bennett.

Asked what she had over Jacinda Ardern, she said: “Experience, toughness and the ability to make tough decisions”.

But she warned that Ardern should not be underestimated.

She also said National was better than Labour: “I can tell you that our team is better than their team.”

She said Ardern only has three ministers that she has confidence in – whereas she has a whole team.

Asked about working with NZ First, Collins said she was focused on winning as National.

She said caucus decisions would stand – caucus has already decided not to join with NZ First.

“We’re a serious party, with serious policies,” she said.

Collins said there would not be a lot of change when it comes to National’s policies.

She said the big thing for her is feeling the strength of her team.

“We want to be back in charge of the Treasury benches.”

She said this was not about her, or Brownlee – “it was about the people”.

She said she respects Ardern as a person, but it was about the team.

She said New Zealand is a country she “loves more than anything”.

Being Prime Minister would be a massive honour, she said.

It would also be a massive responsibility.

Asked about the last week’s leak, she said the whole thing was “really sad”.

She said Hamish Walker has paid a “huge price” for what he did.

“Whatever mistakes people made, they are still people.”

She said there were “still a few things to work out” when it comes to Michael Woodhouse’s role as Health spokesman.

She said it was pretty obvious that National is not a party of higher taxes.

“I think it might be time for a drink,” she said as she concluded the press conference.

Earlier

Rodney MP Mark Mitchell was understood to be also considering a tilt, as is Hutt South MP Chris Bishop.

Earlier, MediaWorks reported former leader Simon Bridges was not entering the leadership race, and that Mitchell and Louise Upston have formed a team to bid for the top jobs.

Following tonight’s caucus meeting, Bridges confirmed he did not put his hat in the ring.

At 8.30pm, clapping was heard from the caucus room.

Louise Upston told media after landing in Wellington that Muller’s resignation had come as a “total shock”.

“It’s a real shock – there’s no two ways about it. My thoughts are with him and his family and as the National Party caucus we’ve got a job to do to fill that gap.”

Upston said she didn’t think caucus would be “rushing” their decision.

“It’s really important for the country to know the National Party has their best interests at heart and so we will be selecting a leader that we believe has the attributes and ability to lead our fantastic party for now and in the future.”

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