Early lifeCollins was born in Melbourne, Victoria, and educated at Monash University and La Trobe University. Before entering parliament, she was a social worker and union official and held several positions with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA), including as National Industrial Officer for five years.
Political careerCollins first entered parliament as a Senator for Victoria in 1995. She was appointed to the Senate to fill a casual vacancy caused by the death of Olive Zakharov. At the time, Collins was the only Victorian female Labor representative. From October 1998 to November 2001, Collins was Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and Employment, Training and Population. In 2003 Senator Collins was made the Shadow Minister for Children and Youth. At the 2004 election, she lost her Senate seat to Steve Fielding of the Family First Party. In 2006 she was preselected for the number one spot on the Labor ticket in Victoria for the 2007 federal election, replacing Robert Ray (Australian politician), Senator Robert Ray, who did not contest the election. Collins was elected, and her term was due to start on 1 July 2008 when Ray's term expired. However, he resigned on 5 May 2008 and she was appointed to the casual vacancy. She was sworn into the Senate later that month. Collins was promoted to the Second Gillard Ministry as the Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations on 14 September 2010. In March 2012, she became the first woman to be appointed Manager of Government Business in the Senate following the retirement of Mark Arbib, Senator Mark Arbib. On 26 June 2013, following the return of Rudd as leader, Collins was elected Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate by her parliamentary colleagues. She replaced Penny Wong, Senator Penny Wong, who was elevated to Senate leader. This was the first all-female Senate Government leadership team. Collins was active on many Senate committees, including: * Chair of the Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education References Committee * Chair of the Economics References Committee * Chair of the Privileges Committee In January 2019, Collins announced that she would not contest the next election, citing "family health issues" for her decision to quit politics. She resigned from the Senate on 15 February 2019, and was announced as the new head of the National Catholic Education Commission on the same day. She commenced her role on the 18 February 2019. On 12 October 2021, she was mentioned in a corruption hearing in Victoria, Australia.