Key is attending Waitangi

February 4th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

On Tuesday, leaders voted 38-14 in favour of stopping Key attending, but were overruled by Ngapuhi elders.

Key said marae trustees had issued him a formal invitation after another meeting on Tuesday night, with “all of the same privileges and procedures there’ve been in the past”, and he would attend the event.

However, the large crowds of protesters expected at Waitangi were a complication, with the possibility that it could be too unsafe for him to get onto the marae.

“In a practical sense, if there’s so many people that they physically block the cars from getting in, I can just envisage a situation where I don’t actually get on the lower marae.”

He was “not looking for an excuse to get out”, and said he was happy to defend the Government’s support for the TPPA deal at Waitangi.

Almost any other PM would have happily take the vote as a great reason to not attend, and make them look ridiculous.  It is a measure of his commitment to good faith relations that Key is willing to endure the abuse and threats.

I’m not optimistic that the radicals won’t go over the top and it could get very nasty.

Watkins on Waitangi

February 3rd, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Remember when Titewhai Harawira used to be one of the reasons politicians stayed away from Waitangi?

You reap what you sow, as they say. On Tuesday, Harawira phoned with a personal appeal for Prime Minister John Key to attend the traditional Waitangi Day commemorations at the trouble-plagued Te Tii Marae.

But if Key stays away it will be because he’s sniffed the winds of public opinion as Waitangi threatens once again to descend into conflict and acrimony  – and judges that voters have had a gutsful of the annual Te Tii Marae sideshow setting the tone for our only national day.

No, if he stays way it will be because they voted 38 – 14 not to invite him.


Day off for the PM!

February 2nd, 2016 at 3:18 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key will be blocked from going on Te Tii Marae.

Marae elder Kingi Taurua has confirmed the final decision was made not to invite Mr Key onto the marae at a hui today.

“They put it to the vote and the vote decided it, not to allow him on.”

Excellent. PM gets a day off.

As the marae has decided they no longer want the Government to attend, I presume they no longer want money from the Government for any activities at the marae!

UPDATE: Radio NZ is reporting that he has been invited on. But possibly not allowed to speak. I guess all will become clear in time! It may be that Ngapuhi have voted one way, but the marae the other.

If I was the PM, I’d not turn up. He has said he’ll attend whenever invited, but they appear to have voted that they don’t want him there. There are thousands of others places in NZ that do welcome him, and welcome the opportunity to debate issues with him.

UPDATE2: TVNZ reports:

Ngapuhi representatives spent the day locked in talks at Waitangi.

A vote was held this afternoon on whether Mr Key should be blocked. The result was an overwhelming 38-14 in favour of stopping him from coming on to the marae.

But Te Tii elder Emma Gibbs then told ONE News those from the marae had overruled the decision and he would be welcomed on – but wouldn’t have speaking rights.

Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua reacted angrily to that claim and said in fact Mr Key would be blocked.

Ms Gibbs says as locals, they will continue to welcome anyone on to the marae, even if others disagree.

Again, there are many other places you can go.

Garner on Key and Labour

February 1st, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Duncan Garner writes:

How on earth can Labour beat John Key?

This thorny question must have totally consumed Labour’s MPs at their recent caucus retreat.

I can’t imagine any back-slapping took place. More back-stabbing. After all, what is there for them to celebrate?

A sunny January?

Whether you like Key or not you have to concede that he’s one smart, pragmatic holder of the vast but crucial Centre ground.

And Labour’s only helping him by looking divided and hopelessly confused over the controversial trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

No less than four former Labour Party leaders support the TPPA: Phil Goff, Mike Moore, Helen Clark and David Shearer.

They’re in the prime minister’s camp as leader Andrew Little takes his caucus towards the Greens.

Yep Labour once again shifts left.

The truth is, if John Key is a rabid Right-winger he’s disguised it well. He just wants to stay in power.

And Labour’s doing its best to help him by looking shabby, confused and divided.

This belated anti-TPPA posturing – too feeble and too late in the game – feels contrived and lacking in conviction.

I don’t know what Labour really stands for these days, and I’m sure, Goff, Moore, Shearer and Clark are struggling to answer that question too.

Labour is the gift that keeps on giving. Especially for Key.

Helen Clark must shake her head and wonder.

Key’s Auckland announcements

January 27th, 2016 at 2:33 pm by David Farrar

John Key made a number of announcements in his speech today:

  • Funding for the City Rail Link to advance from 2020 to 2018, to allow construction to begin in 2018
  • A streamlined consenting process for the $1 billion East-West Connection between the Southern and South-Western motorways, so if consented construction can start in 2018
  • Looking to widen State Highway 20 between Neilson Street and Queenstown Road

He also announced some non-Auckland projects:

  • $115 million to complete four regional projects.
  • The by-passes in Taranaki to allow motorists to avoid Mount Messenger and the Awakino Tunnel
  • Funding to replace the single lane Motu Bridge on State Highway 2 near Gisborne with a new two-lane bridge.
  • Replace the Opawa Bridge on State Highway 1 near Blenheim with a safer bridge to accommodate increasing traffic volumes in Marlborough.


The Press on a 4th term for Key

January 27th, 2016 at 8:32 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

So what are the potential threats to Key’s hopes for a fourth term? Unless something goes drastically wrong between now and the second half of next year, it looks unlikely the Labour Party under Andrew Little will be in a position to pull together the next government.

They need to persuade 200,000 more NZers to vote Labour to be in with a chance.

In terms of successors to Key being actively groomed or quietly blossoming within the National Party’s caucus, there will be some definite contenders post-2017. But In terms of challengers who might actively challenge his leadership before that election or after, that is harder to foresee.

Near impossible to imagine.

If Key does lead National to its fourth successive victory, it will then become a question of when he might stand aside. Would it be within a few months of the election or as late as possible? That last strategy runs the risk of locking a leader into the next election campaign and yet another possible term as prime minister. Voters will need to know how far into that fourth term he might stay as leader.

He can’t say in advance because you become lame duck, but my pick would be during the latter half of the 2nd year, so after around 11 years in the job.

Who might be Key’s possible successor? It depends who you listen to, but the personable, fifth-ranked Paula Bennett is a rising star of some charisma. Now minister of climate change issues as well as social housing and state services, she is also associate minister of finance, a sign, some say, that she is being groomed by Key.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is a steady pair of hands but would be a case of “been there, done that”. Steven Joyce has vast experience and is in the same mould as a Bill Birch or Michael Cullen, but does not have the populist touch needed. Neither does Gerry Brownlee.

Then there’s Judith Collins – she has her supporters in caucus but may be a bit too divisive. Jonathan Coleman and Simon Bridges are possible leaders of the future, and so is Amy Adams, but she is currently a long shot.

I should point out Bill English has said he will never seek the leadership again.

That Key says he realises he is not indispensable appears an encouraging sign of self-awareness, a trait some other leaders have struggled to master. Short of a major change in fortunes, he could well still be prime minister in two or three years’ time.

Key has actively worked to promote successors, unlike some of his predecessors.

Quin says Key is implementing a Labour agenda

December 29th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Phil Quin writes in the Business Spectator:

But personal style and policy restraint alone do not explain Key’s durability. It lies in his masterful positioning, aided in no small way by his opponents’ ready willingness to shimmy left to accommodate him. As a result, New Zealanders get a National Party Prime Minister to oversee and implement what is essentially a Labour Party platform. Among voters — as opposed to perpetually outraged partisans — this feels close to optimal.

If you were to review the John Key years with names and labels redacted, the ideological impetus of the governing party would not be immediately apparent.

To the naked eye, policy differences between Key’s National Party and the previous Helen Clark-led Labour government (1999-2008) are barely discernible. Key kept Labour’s massive family tax and benefit scheme intact, maintaining or boosting expenditure on health and education. He extended free doctor’s visits from children under 6 to under 13 and, for the first time since 1977, Key even increased unemployment and other welfare payments in real terms.

Meanwhile, his government rolled out a national broadband scheme and rebuilt earthquake-struck Christchurch with the kind of central planning that wouldn’t seem amiss in Beijing or Hanoi. On the world stage, Key’s noncommittal internationalism is indistinguishable from Helen Clark. And if the government’s account is to be believed, their Trade Minister spent less time at the recent trans-Pacific Partnership talks advocating economic liberalisation than defending New Zealand’s exceedingly generous, and inarguably socialist, pharmaceutical subsidy scheme.

Quin has a point. However I would argue (and will post on this in 2016) that Key has done stuff which is both traditionally left (welfare boost, universal health expansion etc) and stuff which is traditionally right (partial asset sales, welfare reform).

Chris Kahui attacks Key and Bennett

December 22nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil reports:

AN IRATE Chris Kahui has taken to Facebook to support Maori nationalists seeking to undermine the John Key-led National Government.

The usually reserved Kahui, who was acquitted back in 2008 of murdering his three-month-old twin sons Chris and Cru, has fallen in behind extremists wanting Key’s Government to legislate for the return of confiscated Maori land. …

Recently Kahui ‘shared’ this post from Maori Life on his Facebook page: “What a pathetic leader you are John Key and your best mate Paula (Bennett) who likes to tell people they can’t have the support like she did many years ago. These two should be run out of the country for good. Two low life scum of the earth people,”  

You know having Chris Kahui call you a low life scum of the earth person is probably a great compliment.

Key on what matters and what doesn’t

December 18th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting interview of the PM by Tracy Watkins.

But that’s still nearly two years away and Key is focused more immediately on the year that’s been – it was a year that started with Andrew Little still new in the job as Labour leader, and making a decent enough fist of it that Key might have been worried. But he’s not.

“With the greatest respect, all they’ve done is stopped arguing with each other,” he says.

“Okay so that’s a positive I suppose. But they haven’t really done a lot, their numbers are not moving. …and as I said to our guys [our] numbers are good, we’re advancing our agenda for 2016, we didn’t lose a minister [to scandal] this year, so broadly speaking it’s been a very solid year for us and across the things that we would care about.”

By that he means National got the books back into surplus  – “and that’s a big tick for us, very few Westernised countries have managed that”.

He ticks off the other plusses – National is  advancing its agenda in areas like welfare, education and health, it got the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement over the line, and – one for the greenies – it made the Kermadecs an ocean sanctuary.

It’s good steady progress and that’s why the needle hasn’t budged on National’s support, he maintains.

“If you think about why our numbers aren’t moving it’s because no one expects perfection from the Government because I don’t think any government can achieve that.

“But across all the indicators the voters care most about – the economy, law and order, health and education – we’re delivering.”

No surprise that I agree, but the PM is right. People care about things that affect their lives.

And it has been a year where the Government didn’t just manage to balance the books, but gave beneficiaries the first real increase in 43 years, did the biggest marine sanctuary in the world, saw crime continue to drop and good progress towards health and education targets.

Ponytail-gate was the big political story of the year.

Waitress Amanda Bailey complained Key repeatedly pulled her hair, even after she pleaded with his minders to make him stop.

It seemed shockingly strange behaviour for a prime minister. It polarised public opinion. And Key’s opponents made a meal of it.

It was a chance to chip away at Key’s personal mana.

So was he diminished by it?

Not at all, says Key. Those Opposition attacks just did not resonate with people. He knows that because of the polls. And as we all know, it is an article of faith with Key that the polls don’t lie.

“[My numbers] didn’t move when they polled right around it, they polled immediately after it, we poll every week and and it never did anything. In fact, to be honest, my numbers went up.”

It was a story that had the potential to harm Key. But the media and opposition went so over the top with the story, that people then started to feel sorry for Key, an his numbers did go up. If there had been a less frenzied response to it, then it may have ended differently, but once again the opposition are their worst own enemies.

The thing is they never seem to learn.

Turei gets ridiculous in her attacks on Key

December 11th, 2015 at 7:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has also hit out at Prime Minister John Key’s comments on so-called “jihadi brides” – saying they are particularly insulting to Muslim women and show he thinks “the only good use of a women going overseas is as a wife”.

This is beyond pathetic. Once upon a time the Greens claimed not to do personal attacks, but that is long dead.

In case anyone else is stupid or malicious, Key was not talking about all women going overseas or all Muslim wonen going overseas. He was talking specifically about women travelling to Syria where it is controlled by the Islamic State.

Does Turei think they are there for the jobs, the tourism, the shopping, the beaches, the educational opportunities, the practice of medical skills?

It is not unreasonable to suggest that women travelling to Islamic State controlled areas are going to be jihadi brides, considering there have been numerous reports of women travelling there to do exactly that, and almost no reports of women travelling there for any other purpose.

But never mind, let’s just try and smear John Key as a sexist neanderthal because you know the Greens don’t do personal smear attacks.

Tis the season to apologise

December 10th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

What’s this? Detente? Or has Christmas cheer arrived early for our politicians?

As Parliament met for the last time this year, Prime Minister John Key finally backed down and gave a heartfelt apology for tarring Labour as the party that “backs rapists”.

Labour leader Andrew Little rose in return to apologise for criticising Speaker David Carter as being too partisan.

The dual apologies was a nice end.

Smart politics on Labour’s part also. The privilege complaint against Little was for saying that the Speaker is too partisan, but a very specific allegation that he conspired with the Government to disqualify his members’ bill.

As the Clerk of the House had revealed that he had advised the Speaker that the bill should be disqualified (as it was near identical to another one that had been voted on this year), then Little was facing the unedifying possibility of a hearing where he either has to call the Clerk a liar, or admit he made the conspiracy theory up. So it is a smart move to make it go away.

A demob happy Steven Joyce delivered chocolate santas around the press gallery.

Even Annette King’s two fingered salute to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was done in good humour.

It all felt like a strangely cheerful end to what has been a particularly toxic political year.

 Even the spectators who dropped paper from the public gallery onto the heads of MPs seated below them seemed to enter into the spirit of things. They were there to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But from a distance, the paper could have passed for confetti. 
People who do that are idiots. If ever our public galleries get turned into cages where large plastic screens separate people from the chamber, it will be due to these morons.

Key on diplomacy

November 25th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting Q&A from Audrey Young with the PM on diplomacy. Some extracts:

Q. Which leader have you got to know a bit better on this trip?

A. Justin Trudeau. I’ve ended up talking to him, for some reason, I don’t know we’ve ended being in these break-out groups and talking to each other. He is extremely friendly and really personable and a thoroughly nice guy. In my heart of hearts I sort of almost didn’t want to strike up an immediate friendship because I was very good friends with [Trudeau’s predecessor] Stephen Harper and feel slightly disloyal. But I have a responsibility as Prime Minister to do my job and also anyway he is just a really nice guy.

Key’s developed good relationships with leaders on the left and right.

Q. What did you make of the Filipino people and why do you think the country hasn’t done better?

A. They are really lovely people and they are incredibly polite so they are very, very nice people and I feel quite tall there. I’m the Sam Whitelock of the Philippines.


Q. What do you think of Malaysia?

A. I like it. On the basis I am never going to be an ambassador so I am not pitching for a job but if they were sending me somewhere, I think as High Commissioner to Malaysia, there’d be a lot worse places to go than Malaysia. The food is great; it’s an interesting place; and I like the climate.

I’ve only ever been to Malaysia for conferences. Would be nice to properly look around one day.

Q. Obama and Turnbull both greatly admire you and it is pretty clear Chinese president Xi Jinping is a fan too. Is that just personally flattering or good for NZ in any way?

Hopefully both. In the end there is no point having stores of political capital unless they can be used for the benefit of the country. That’s where the benefit is. Xi Jinping, I think, but I wouldn’t to overstate things, but I reckon he genuinely does like me. In our bilateral, he was really engaging, really smiley, didn’t use his notes. That is highly unusual for a Chinese leader. He just talked about the issues, how he saw things going.

That is probably the key sign – when you are confident enough to just talk, rather than follow the script.

Obama, I think in a lot of ways we are just easy. A) I’ve been around the whole time he has been around. We speak English. In our system he’d probably be almost right of me. The Democrats are, on our basis, very similar politically to where [National] are. He’d be stronger on climate change, for instance, and maybe the odd issue but generally speaking, pretty right wing, relative to our system. It’s just that the Republicans are very far right.

Cue screams from some commenters here!

I always remember after the G20 [in Brisbane where New Zealand was a guest] I had some intervention [verbal contribution to the issue under discussion] and Cameron texted me and said ‘in all the G20s I’ve been to, that has been the best intervention I’ve heard.’ And Obama came up to me with Cameron afterwards and he said: ‘Ah, it’s a shame you’re not bigger. You’re fun to have around.’ Doesn’t mean they are going to invite me back when they host the G20 but it was kind of flattering.

Our small size can work for us though.  We’re not seen as big enough to threaten anyone!

Q. What is the secret to your success at international diplomacy?

A. Have your own style. The one thing that they like is I don’t read out the MFAT notes. I obviously use them to inform the kind of point I’m making and we have a serious point.

I remember one TV series which had two leaders meeting and they agreed to save time, they’d just pass each other their briefing notes :-)

Q. Are you meeting Merkel at COP21?

A. No, we are going to Berlin afterwards. She invited us back. She had such a great time in New Zealand. She loved New Zealand [when she visited before the Brisbane G20]. She came up to me at the G20 and said she had such a great time and she really loved all the nature stuff. She said so much of her time is spent in meetings inside. The Germans love nature anyway, I reckon as a general characterisation. Her staff said to me she got more coverage in Germany from releasing a kiwi [on Motutapu Is] than what she did at the G20.

Heh.John K

Pity being the PM’s Press Secretary

November 24th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article from Audrey Young detailing a week in the media pool travelling with John Key. Covers the breaking of the news about Paris to Vietnam and APEC.

The parts that made me laugh was these:

Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper gets a pic on his iPhone, and more: his request for Key to talk to ZB’s Leighton Smith is turned down by the press secretary. Soper texts Key personally and gets the okay immediately.


Afterwards, TV3 asks the press secretary if Key could do a down-the-barrel-of-the-camera piece for Story before he leaves the hotel. There’s no enthusiasm. The reporter texts Key who says yes immediately.

Poor press secretary. Their role is to play bad cop and try to keep the media requests manageable. But when the gallery all have the PM’s number and can just text him directly, well of course they do.

Young notes:

Most visits abroad, Key has two “stand-ups” a day worked into his schedule in which he is asked questions on domestic issues and those relevant to the place he is visiting.

He almost never declines to answer a question. He almost never gives a brief answer.

While it must make life challenging for his media team, I do like the fact he is so open to the media.  In a average week there may be seven or more press conferences or stand ups.

In the absence of any action or decision required by the Government, Key dispenses with being Prime Minister and becomes commentator, giving his opinion on anything and everything.

Which is generally fine, but he really should stop speculating on what the Reserve Bank may do!

The bathrobed PM

November 22nd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A group of Australian journalists can perhaps understand why Barack Obama yesterday asked Malcolm Turnbull if Australians “talk to the New Zealanders”.

There aren’t many world leaders who’d be confident enough to walk through a crowded hotel lobby in a bathrobe.

But most world leaders are not John Key.

Key, who’s been in Manila for the annual APEC summit, was spotted by some Aussie journalists gadding through the lobby of the opulent Peninsula Hotel on Wednesday night, barefoot and clad in nothing else but a bathrobe.

I presume there were togs underneath!

“It takes a special breed of world leader who’s happy to walk across the crowded lobby of a five-star hotel in a terry-towelling bathrobe,” wrote an impressed political editor from The West Australian.

Asked about it by New Zealand journalists, Key initially tried to pin it on a case of mistaken identity.

“I don’t know what was going through Malcolm Turnbull’s mind,” he said.


Key commented that it wouldn’t be a world leader who’d do such a thing, rather a “junior world leader”.

He said he was on his way back from a swim in the pool.

Don’t see what the fuss was about.

The President of the Czech Senate

November 18th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

All these Europeans just look alike!

TVNZ reports:

“It’s all part of my global master plan to increase my sphere of influence in the world and make people believe I have so many more people under my control,” Mr Key quipped to reporters later.


The context not reported in the media

November 13th, 2015 at 6:58 pm by David Farrar

Pete Burdon blogs:

The comment John Key made in Parliament yesterday about rapists and child molesters has been taken out of context to make it sound worse than it was.

This post is not written to debate the rights or wrongs of the comment, but to point out what it actually meant in context. I was in the public gallery at the time.

The Prime Minister was asked what the Government was doing for the detainees. His response what that the best support was to get them back to NZ while awaiting their appeals. He added that it would take longer for some like rapists and murderers because he wanted to make sure that other New Zealanders on the same commercial flights as them were safe. That would take more time and could involve other options like chartering planes.

When this explanation was dismissed by opposition MPs, he said something like, “You can support the rapists and murderers, but I’m more concerned with the safety of other New Zealanders when they are coming home.”

In that context, it’s more understandable why he made the comment. He wasn’t talking about rapists and murderers generally, but only those who could potentially be a threat to other travellers. You would think that’s a sensible response, but judging by the response to his reasoning for the delays, Labour appeared to disagree with it. That led to his comment. This context has been left out of many media reports.

Hansard backs up this interpretation, if not the exact words:

Andrew Little: Which of his statements of earlier today is correct: his statement to Radio New Zealand that the New Zealand detainees are “free to leave” and “are staying there voluntarily” or his statement to reporters that the New Zealand detainees who wanted to leave face many weeks of delays in a remote detention centre before they can go anywhere?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start, I did not make the last statement. What I did point out was that it depends on the circumstances. In terms of an individual, there are a number of factors that have to be considered: firstly, as I pointed out this morning, whether the person has travel documentation, a passport; secondly, whether the person has a history of violent or criminal activity; thirdly—

Hon Annette King: You said it was easy.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it is not actually easy, because these people—some of them are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers. These are the people whom the Labour Party is saying are more important to support than New Zealanders, who deserve protecting when they come back here.

Burdon is correct that the context is that Key was explaining that you just can’t out some of these people onto a commercial flight if they have a history of violent activity. Labour rubbished this, which is what Key responded to.

Later on he said:

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We spent a considerable portion of the one-on-one meeting that we had with Malcom Turnbull talking about this issue. Two Ministers have gone to Australia to talk to Minister Dutton about this issue. I have raised this issue with Prime Minister Abbott. There have been considerable conversations going on. When it comes to these people coming home to New Zealand, they are free to come home, and we will allow them to come home and we will ensure that they can come home as long as they have the travel documentation. They cannot go on a commercial aircraft if they are violent or if they have mental health issues. I have a responsibility to the New Zealanders here at home that they are looked after. What the Labour Party is saying is: “To hell with the rest of New Zealanders; these people should be put on a commercial aircraft and despatched to New Zealand.” Well, you back the rapists; I—[Interruption]

So Key was focusing on Labour saying he should just be able to magically wave a wand and fly every detainee back here tomorrow. Key pointed out why that is not possible for ones who have serious violent offending, and his comments were aimed at that.

Fisher on the intelligence agencies

November 10th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A long and interesting piece by David Fisher on the intelligence agencies:

John Key has opened up the spy agencies to public scrutiny in a way which we have never seen in New Zealand.

We know more now about what they do and even how they do it.

We know how the two agencies are managed, in that the GCSB and NZSIS both have top-flight lawyers in charge.

There will always be those who say we don’t know enough. For those people, we now have improved oversight of the agencies. This also happened under the Prime Minister’s watch as minister in charge of the agencies.

The new Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn – another superb lawyer – has been a breath of the freshest air.

Mr Key has since stepped away from directly overseeing the agencies, which is a further liberation. It seems right that the most powerful weapons of state should sit with someone whose role is to objectively challenge his Cabinet colleagues.

Now, even at a ministerial level, the SIS and GCSB answer to a lawyer, this time Attorney General Chris Finlayson.

In terms of oversight and public disclosure, we are heading into an era unparalleled in our history. Citizens now have more ability to see and have explained the tasks done in their name. Again, it might not be enough but it is considerably more than we have had before.

I’m glad to see this recognition. If you go back 10 years, no PM would answer any question on the intelligence agencies. The oversight reports were few and extremely bland. It is vastly different to what we have today with both the Inspector-General and the two directors going into considerable detail (within reason) of what they do.

That’s where we have come to, three years after Mr Key had to admit Kim Dotcom and one of his co-accused had been illegally spied on by the GCSB. He also had to apologise – a concession which must have been galling.

That single event appears to be the point at which the Prime Minister stopped taking at face value the assurances given by the intelligence agencies, and began a programme for reformation which is huge in its scale and largely behind closed doors.

I think that was a catalyst, aided by the Snowden revelations. He sent in the Cabinet Secretary to review their compliance, and having found it lacking, then made her one director, and two deputy solictor-generals the other director and the Inspector-General. They are not just all lawyers, but all lawyers whose background is very focused on legal compliance.

But there have also been reports which paint a picture of the state of New Zealand’s intelligence services, past and present. None are individually explicit in their descriptions of how bad it was but the collective run of reports gives an impression of the intelligence community as an isolated part of government, lost to the public they were serving, changing purpose and shape under a cloak of secrecy.

There is a pattern which flows through these reports, whether it be NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge’s investigation into the GCSB, or the Performance Improvement Framework reviews or the most recent Gwyn report. Every reviewer is insistent staff at these important and powerful agencies all had good intent, but that they were left operating in frameworks not quite right, or in some cases flat out wrong.

It is almost tragic the intelligence services sought out such eager and patriotic staff only to subject them to a bureaucratic acid trip.

Part of the problem I think is that the culture was too mixed in with the military, and the senior leadership all tended to be ex-military. Top military officers often have some very fine skills, but they are not necessarily all the skills you need to have an agency working correctly.

John Key’s response to a community which cultured problems and surprised him with embarrassment was to throw back the curtains, hire his own directors and to put serious lawyers in charge. There are those within horrified at their new reality, which includes the need to “inform the public of what we do and why it is so important”, as one recently disclosed report stated.

Accountability and transparency make the intelligence community one in which all New Zealanders have a stake, by simple virtue of it being more accessible.

John Key has made some mistakes in this area, such as personally requesting Ian Fletcher to apply. But I do think there hasn’t been enough focus on the massive changes he has introduced, and also how he personally has been far far more willing to talk on details of intelligence operations than any predecessor. There are some dangers with this, as you can’t go into detail on everything, and where you draw the line has consequences. But our level of transparency and independent review is far greater than in the past.

Caption Contest

October 26th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Photo from NZ Herald.

Submit your captions below. As always, be funny not nasty.

Watkins on Key

October 21st, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Is Key too honest? It would be a bit rich to take him to task for that, given that honesty is an attribute we prize most highly in politicians. So the answer to that is yes and no. The Key we press gallery hacks see day to day is a politician through and through, someone who weighs up his answers, who knows his opponents’ weak points, and who understands the impact of his words. …

And then there is the other Key, the one who throws caution to the wind, jokes with a shock jock about his gay red shirt and horses around by pulling a waitress’ pony tail. That’s Key the anti-politician, the bloke who’s just like you and me, or someone we know at least. That connection with voters, still strong after nearly a decade, is National’s not so secret – and clearly most potent – weapon.

So Key the anti-politician will confess to Radio Hauraki that he stole. But Key the politician expands with the explanation that it was an apple off a neighbour’s tree.

My theft was milk bottle money and a chocolate bar!

Only in NZ

October 16th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

John Key says he does wees in the shower and admits he has stolen stuff. However, he won’t say whether or not he’s “fed the chickens”.

The Prime Minister appeared on morning radio show Hauraki Breakfast this morning, playing a round of a game called, ‘Thank You For Your Honesty’.

In the regular segment, hosts Matt Heath, Jeremy Wells and Laura McGoldrick grill participants with a series of 10 silly, often rude, questions, which they then have to answer truthfully.

“Was the Virgin Mary really a virgin?” Wells asked Key. “No,” Key replied decisively.

In other questions, Key said he had never pashed a man, did not “trim his downstairs” and had never sent a “dick pic”. But he said had “done wees in the shower” and admitted he found Wendy Petrie attractive.

However Key refused to answer the rather rude question Wells put to him of whether he had “fed the chickens” in the last month.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve got to take the fifth,” he protested, saying he didn’t want to answer in case his wife sued him.

Only in New Zealand would the Prime Minister be asked a question like that on radio by Jeremy Wells!

I’ms somewhat surprised that the PM knew what the term means!

Key endorses Clark, not Rudd

October 2nd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

At a meeting with Key in New York on Thursday (NZT), Clark said she would “neither confirm nor deny” she would be seeking the top job – “as was said about nuclear weapons for many years”.

But Key is offering his wholehearted backing should she decide to throw her hat in the ring, saying Clark would be the best person for the job. 

“I’m doing everything I can and will do if she becomes the genuine runner for secretary general … I genuinely think she will be a great leader of he UN and hope she gets there.”

That included having a word in the ear of other world leaders including “one or two I play golf or hang with”, Key said – a reference to US President Barack Obama, who he has joined on the golf course previously.

Key said it would be huge for New Zealand if Clark won the job and the fact they were once rivals “wouldn’t stop me having a lot of pride in her” if she succeeded.

I think it will be someone from Eastern Europe, but if the regional rotation system breaks down, then of course we should back Clark. Regardless of your views of her as PM, having a NZer achieve the top UN job would be huge.

A rival challenger could be Australia’s Kevin Rudd, whose move to the US has fuelled speculation that he intends throwing his hat in the ring.

Key said he had heard the speculation but had not spoken to Rudd about it.

Asked if he would support Rudd’s bid Key said: “If he stood and no one else did we’d back him.”

Oh that is hilarious – we’d back Rudd if no one else stands. Laughing out loud. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Trans-Tasman on Key

September 25th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Trans-Tasman writes:

What those who label Key as “Teflon John” or “Lucky John” can’t fathom is the leadership skills the PM brings to the job. These include an ability to communicate unmatched by previous PMs, and an unerring instinct connecting with the issues of the day, allied to a systemic cheerfulness. Key’s own personal chemistry has blunted the inherent rivalry visible in previous administrations where Ministers jostled for advancement. The result is a sense of teamwork between the PM and his senior Ministers unrivalled in NZ’s political history …

Key exploits the architecture of Govt, with cabinet committee agendas deeper and more challenging than in previous eras. Ministers who demonstrate they know what they are doing are given their head to do what needs to be done in their portfolios (witness Hekia Parata in Education). But then it is Key who delivers the surprises, as in the decision to raise benefits for the first time in 43 years. Some commentators say the Govt hasn’t done enough in reform, ignoring the welfare, education and social policy developments (which have totally de-fanged Labour), and dismissing the $40bn cost of the Christchurch rebuild as an inconsequential bagatelle. What may prove even more disconcerting to Key’s opponent is his determination to win a fourth term.

I’m going to do some posts next week looking at what reforms National has managed, that would appeal to centre-right people, but also what policies they have implemented that appeal more to centre-left.

People say Key operates from the centre, but this is not quite right. His overall policy programme is centrist, but he actually does do a fair amount of centre-right policies – it just he also does some stuff that usually you expect from a left Government. Overall by darting to the left on some issues, it allows him to advance policies on the right also.

There is no joke writer

September 25th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Nelson Mail reports:

And so the question remains: Who writes this stuff?

Who is the unnamed man or woman that sits in Prime Minister John Key’s corner silently passing him zingers written on paper napkins under the table? This staffer (one imagines you could only pay someone to do this job) has collated an incredible trove of whimsy in Key’s seven years in power.

There has been that one about being eaten by members of Ngati Porou. The one about killer paedophile not being invited around to the Chilean president’s place for lunch.

Knowing the PM’s media and comms staffers, I can say with certainty that none of them write his jokes, or certainly not ones about being eaten by Tuhoe. In fact they probably are the onces wincing the hardest when he tells such a joke.

There was also the one, or was it the two, about having a gathering in Australia and not knowing which Prime Minister would show up.

Key told that one twice on Thursday.

These jokes have always been bad. But they are bad in the same way dad jokes are bad, or jokes told to audiences of business people are bad.

The former may cause a slight, uncomfortable cringe and no harm done. The latter will attempt to be edgy and often lame but will always be met with raucous laughter.

For some reason audiences full of business people are prone to raucous laughter no matter the subject matter. This is as it was in Nelson.

The prime minister has thrived on both these forms of humour. As he has evolved into a more comfortable political animal, his demeanour while telling these jokes has become more relaxed, more confident. They have become something of a signature of Key’s. If Key is not joking then you know something is wrong. Most of the time he is joking.

So the unnamed staffer should be given a pay rise out of the prime minister’s own pocket because bad jokes seem to have as much to do with brand Key as anything else.

Of course, that is unless Key writes this stuff himself.

Yep, he does.

Vance on Key on the global stage

September 22nd, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance looks at John Key on the international stage. First an amusing tidbit:

A few years ago, Key was on an official trip to the tiny Pacific Island state of the Marshall Islands, and he had some down time. A local fisherman invited him out for some ocean fishing.

But Key was expecting a call from David Cameron, so he took a satellite phone out.

Just minutes before the scheduled call, he hooked a tuna. As he fought to bring the big fish on board, Cameron called – and was bemused by the noise in the background. Asking what it was, Key explained he was out fishing.

A bemused Cameron replied: “Oh, to be leader of a small Pacific island nation.”


“Obama tends to be pretty wonky. Key is less wonky than Obama but he can go there, so he has the vocabulary and the interests to dig deep into fiscal and social policy. Obama loves that level of discussion … I think Key is less that but he is a good reader of people – he is a very effective politician in that sense.”

Bower predicts Air Force One will touch down here before Obama’s term ends in 2016. “The White House has people looking at what countries he hasn’t been to…New Zealand is seen as a real friend. I think it is on his mind and if it is possible he really will.”

Key gained respect in Washington business and policy circles as defence and security ties with Wellington improved, Bower says. “Key has been fundamental in pushing that through. In Washington, he would get very high marks…he can talk about ISIS, China, South East Asia with a granularity – not all leaders have that capability.

For some reason some people think Key is not a detail person. He generally delegates to Ministers and doesn’t interfere, but he has a very detailed knowledge of what is happening in pretty much all areas.

In August, Key embarked on a round of speed-dialling to close the TPP deal. His charm alone was not enough to persuade other leaders to give ground on dairy tariffs in recent negotiations.  Canada, in particular, was immovable and the talks stalled.

If they were not on the verge of an election campaign, we may have got somewhere.

Outside of New Zealand, Australia is where Key has his biggest fans. Business leaders and conservative politicians respect his reforming agenda, Australian Financial Review journalist Luke Malpass says. “Raising GST in Australia is abominably difficult and he did it with barely a blink – and of course the big one is balancing the budget. “

He also has appeal for ordinary voters. “Australian politicians surround themselves with a phalanx of advisors, are very inaccessible and talk almost exclusively in soundbites. Key is quite a straight talker, he answers questions.”

As I said in my op ed, Key does multiple media stand ups a week, and many of his public functions also allow questions from the audience.  He is incredibly accessible.

Australian Financial Review Op Ed

September 18th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

After new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that he hoped to emulate the political style of John Key, the Australian Financial review asked me to do an opinion piece on how Key has been successful, in contrast to Abbott and others. It was published yesterday. You can read it here or it is embedded below.

DPF Oped