Judith Collins’s ascension to the National leadership is, without doubt, the biggest story in New Zealand by far – but, like most news from across the Tasman, local legacy media are slower to catch on. Especially as it’s not (directly) about their sainted socialist fairy princess.

On the actual night, The Guardian was the only major outlet to carry the story. The time difference apparently meant that it was too late to make the print edition of The Australian, but the name “Crusher” was front and centre of its online edition next day. The ABC and Fairfax mastheads took nearly a whole day to pick it up at all.

Of the two major outlets to report it early, the differences were telling. Especially in their lead paragraphs.

The Australian’s was straightforward, hard news reporting.

Two women will go head to head in New Zealand’s general election for the second time in the country’s history after the opposition party elected Judith Collins as its new leader.

Ms Collins, a former police minister, was elected National Party leader in an emergency caucus meeting on Tuesday evening after the shock resignation of Todd Muller, just 10 weeks from election day.

That’s how news should be done: just the facts, up front.

By contrast, the Grauniad’s lead was shorter on facts, but long on narrative-setting colour.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, widely known for her exhortations to kindness and compassion, will face Judith Collins – a combative, tough-talking conservative lawmaker who styled herself after Margaret Thatcher – in the country’s general election in September following a leadership vote in the centre-right National party.

Collins, who has long held leadership ambitions but whose party is floundering in the polls, will face an uphill battle to persuade voters away from Ardern, one of the most popular New Zealand prime ministers of all time. Her centre-left Labour party is riding high in the polls after Ardern’s government quashed the spread of Covid-19 in the country, with many regarding the prime minister as something of a saviour figure.

Everything but the “Boo! Hiss!” signs telling their readers what to think.

Ardern: “kindness”, “compassion”, “popular”, “saviour”.

Collins: “combative”, “tough-talking”, “conservative” – and, worst of all, “Thatcher”. To a Guardian reader, that’s as scary a swear-word as “Hitler”.

If that’s not enough to make up what passes for a right-on Guardian reader’s mind, there’s this:

While Collins’s predecessor had said he would not oppose the government “for opposition’s sake,” her ascension sets the stage for a clash of ideologies on the campaign trail: the 61-year-old politician, who has decried the “woke left”, said in May that she was “sick of being demonised” for being white.

It’s a wonder they didn’t photoshop a white hood on her.

The Australian left it up to its choice of image to tell a story. There’s Ardern, dressed in her Women’s Weekly best, but looking worriedly over her shoulder at Collins, turned out just as well, if more conservatively, but looking triumphant and determined.

The rest of The Guardian’s story is reasonably straightforward: Collins’s background, the brief and turbulent tenure of Todd Muller – but, of course, how many readers will read the whole thing? Especially when they’ve already been prompted what to think.

The Australian’s backgrounder is more in-depth, noting things like Michelle Boag’s leaked emails. Some of the quotes in the Oz would make The Guardian’s readers faint with horror, should they have been exposed to them:

Ms Collins said the PM was an excellent communicator but execution was something else entirely.

“Communication’s one thing, execution’s another, and I haven’t seen that much coming out of the Government,” she said. “Poor old Jacinda Ardern, she’s got three competent ministers that she can rely on, and pretty much everyone else is not someone you’d actually put in that job.”

In late developments, the ABC finally, grudgingly reported the story late the next day. Its report, though, barely covered half the ground of even The Guardian. That’s what a billion taxpayer dollars a year buys us, apparently. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald only shoved in a single paragraph about Collins at the end of an almost-entirely unrelated story: yet another hagiography of Ardern.

That’s New Zealand according to the Australian media for you.

Two publications; two takes on Judith Collins’ ascension. The BFD.

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