Justice Minister Quits on Misconduct Claim Before N.Z. Poll

A senior New Zealand cabinet minister has resigned following allegations of misconduct, less than a month before Prime Minister John Key leads his National Party into elections.

Justice Minister Judith Collins quit over an accusation that she undermined the then-director of the Serious Fraud Office in 2011 when she was the minister responsible for the office, Key said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Collins denied any inappropriate behavior, he said.

“The relationship between a minister and their chief executive is vital, and goes right to the heart of a trusted, effective government,” Key said. “Ms. Collins accepts these are serious allegations and that resigning as a minister is the honorable step to take in these circumstances.”

The resignation is a hurdle for Key, 53, as he seeks to lead his party to a third three-year term on Sept. 20 with the economy growing at the fastest pace since 2007 and a budget projected to be in surplus for the first time in seven years.

Polls show that while National has the most support, its potential coalition partners are smaller than those expected to side with main opposition party Labour, and a swing of just a few percentage points could be enough to unseat the government.

Labour leader David Cunliffe called on the government to hold a full commission of inquiry into the matter.

“We must clean up politics in New Zealand,” Cunliffe said in an e-mailed statement today. “As your prime minister, I won’t stand for dirty politics.”

Election Focus

Collins, a former lawyer and company director elected to parliament in 2002, said in a separate statement that she had asked Key to hold an inquiry so she could clear her name. She will continue to represent the seat of Papakura, she said.

“The election should be focused on the issues that matter such as law and order, health, education and the economy, and I do not want this matter to be a distraction for the Prime Minister or the National Party during the campaign,” she said.

Collins also quit her ministry portfolios for the Accident Compensation Corp. and ethnic affairs. Christopher Finlayson will be acting minister of justice, Craig Foss will be acting minister for the ACC, and Hekia Parata will be acting minister for ethnic affairs, Key said yesterday.

No party has won an outright majority since New Zealand introduced proportional representation in 1996. In a Colmar Brunton poll published Aug. 17, National had 50 percent support, Labour was on 26 percent, the Greens 11 percent and the Kim Dotcom-backed Internet Mana party had 4 percent. The survey of 1,000 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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