John Key was on The Nation at the weekend. I can’t see the transcript online, so here are some extracts, starting with Sky City:
Rachel Okay, let’s move on and look at the Convention Centre, the Sky City Convention Centre. Do you have some unease if you like that the Auditor General is now investigating that tender process?
John Key No, actually I think it’s a good thing. I mean people will say well he would say that. My view’s the complete opposite. I think it’s a good thing because there have been people making claims, and you saw it with David Shearer and to a certain degree the Greens on Thursday, making claims which are completely incorrect. And so the good thing about the Auditor General coming in is that assuming it comes through a clean bill of health, it won’t stop their criticism by the way, because what they say in Opposition and what they did in government are quite different things, but it will at least be able to put that to one side. Let me just take you through that for a moment. The involvement I had as Minister of Tourism was to go and talk to a number of critical players and as part of a general conversation say to them hey look New Zealand’s interested in building a Convention Centre. I did that with Sky City. I did that with the people out at the ASB Centre, the Edge. I did that with Ngati Whatua. That’s not unusual. I mean and to argue that that would be unusual would be say well look I have discussions with people in Whangarei about building a Museum there, and I have discussions with people in Auckland about building a cycle way. So now what we’re talking about is okay, was there undue influence or was the process correctly handled? That’s what the Auditor General is saying. So let me tell you this. For a start off okay, in terms of the expression of interest process my office had absolutely no involvement, no correspondence, no phone calls – absolutely nothing. So when the Auditor General comes in there will be no correspondence, no phone calls, no discussions at all. Zero.
And on the substance:
John H Well the flattery’s fine but this is a serious question isn’t it, about that social cost aspect?
John Key No but this was gonna be my point. My point was that I always thought there would be people like you and other commentators that would come out and say I don’t like this particular trade off, which is a cross subsidisation of income. I accepted that. But you see when you say you look at the social costs we’re also looking at an environment where we know the number of pokie machines now around New Zealand is reducing. So we know this year there’ll be 468 less, so that’s gotta be taken into consideration. Secondly, there are people that have problem gambling, you and I both know that, and that’s risky, but they could go to Sky City Casino or any other pokie machine anyway at the moment, and further by the way they could get on the internet as they’re listening to this show and they could gamble 24/7. So there are ills there and there are ills with drinking, and there are ills with all sorts of things in the world. I can’t necessarily stop them, but I think in the context of the harm minimisation which – the only thing I’ve ever said to Sky City is harm minimisation reduction is off the table, Len Brown won’t accept it and I wouldn’t accept it.
And on the surplus target:
Rachel You’re raising that issue now. Let’s talk about the economy. This week the Reserve Bank forecast that a return to surplus could take another two years beyond what you would like to do. How wedded are you, how committed are you to returning the country to surplus?
John Key Well I’d like to do it by 2014/15, and that’s the government’s stated aim and goal, and we’re doing everything we can to get there. If you look at the start of this year I came out and gave a speech that said look, it is obviously very volatile internationally and Europe’s going worse than we thought, and if I thought that getting back to surplus would make things much worse and drive the economy into recession, then we’ve given ourselves the political freedom if you like to take a step back from that, but we’re not walking away from that 14/15 target unless we absolutely have to.
Alex You have indicated that you’re willing to bridge another couple of years if that does happen.
John Key We had to yes.
If Europe goes ape, we definitely will miss 2014/15 target. On Chch:
John H The speed of Christchurch, government has real ambition around the speed there and it’s tied a lot up with that speed. Is that at the heart of tension with Christchurch City Council in that they are not able to meet what you need from them?
John Key To be honest I think it’s just the sheer pressure on a small organisation. The one thing I’ve learned being Prime Minister is that government has frankly great officials, they have huge capacity to fund things, and they have the capacity to respond, and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Civil Defence emergency or something else, they have the breadth and depth to cope. You’re asking Christchurch, you know a council, it’s a big council relative to New Zealand but it’s still a small organisation, to deal with a massive event, and that’s what causes the tension.
Councils are geared up to deliver business as normal, and modest expansions. They are not geared up to rebuild an entire CBD. On mining:
Rachel But look at Backhurst on the Denniston Plateau there’s some 20 consents 14 months ago – I mean who would want to do mining in this country, it’s a nightmare. Is there a limit to environmentalism?
John Key Well for a start off it’s – oil is our fourth largest export, behind dairy and sheep meat and wood, it’s our fourth largest export. So we’re already doing a lot of it. You know gas has been a big part of the New Zealand economy for 30 years. What we’ve said as a government is look we accept all of the environmental concerns, that’s why we’re putting through EEZ legislation so if there’s deep sea drilling and the likes it’s professionally done. But we’ve openly said we want to see more oil and gas exploration, potentially more coal mining in New Zealand. Potentially the use of lignite, certainly iron sands, and we’ve unashamedly said that we think we can balance that with the environmental concerns that people have to grow the overall cake. The people that are opposed are Labour and the Greens and they’re the same people that are opposed to absolutely everything and then by the way David Parker gets up and says I’m sick of John Key talking about Greece. Well hullo-o. We live in the real world not Planet Labour, you know.
Heh. And on the polls:
John Key There’s a range of different issues but I also accept this is a democracy, and MMP is designed you know to never get a majority. So that’s the way the system works. The thing I don’t accept by the way is that you know the Greens and Labour, okay look we need to put a bit of perspective around the polls. Yeah the polls have eased back a little bit, we all accept that, they might even ease back a bit more frankly over the next six months. That’s because you know the government’s doing (a) some things that are edgy, mixed ownership model, (b) they’re doing some things which are you know there’s lots of challenges out there, but you have a look at it. We are polling on you know all the polls that I can see at the moment, clearly Roy Morgan late last week, TV3 and TV1, we are polling what we did virtually on election night. Since 2008 there’s only been one European government that’s been re-elected, that’s the Germans. You know David Cameron’s polling 28% Labour are polling 45% in the UK. In Australia Gillard’s on her knees. So we’re the only incumbent government in four years that’s held our numbers. That shows you for all of the claims that commentators make about our government, we are for the most part understood, not always universally popular in every decision we make, but I think supported that we’re on the right track. And we are ambitious and positive and everything else we hear is negative, and I’m sorry I think that’s why it resonates with the New Zealand public.
You can watch the full interview here.
The panel obviously forgot to ask him about the most vital issue consuming the body politic – his ghost Twitter followers!Tags: John Key, The Nation