Key on Q+A

was on Q+A yesterday. A number of interesting aspects of the interview:

JOHN KEY – NZ Prime Minister 
 Well, I think that’s the, sort of, $64 million question or maybe the 1.35 billion question, given the number of people here.   I mean, what we know is we produce what they want to buy.  That’s the really good news part of the story.  Fundamentally, they want food, whether it’s ultimately aquaculture or dairy, meat, it doesn’t really matter.  They want that food.  They want the quality of that food.  They want the assurance that the food will be of a standard that they expect.  Secondly, they want to educate their children, and they want to come and travel.  And there are specialist areas where it can be a niche in the Chinese market, like, say, Rakon is to New Zealand, for instance.  But in this market, you know, a niche can be a very, very big order for New Zealand, so there’s lots of potential.

CORIN Tim Groser – I heard him say on this trip New Zealand’s trade to China – China could be our biggest trade partner within two years at current growth levels.  What does that mean for New Zealand longer term?

It means we may be not so fucked as the rest of the world when Europe crashes 🙂

JOHN  Well, I think the good news part of the story is, I mean, we’re here and we promote this relationship and the trade aspects of this relationship because we genuinely believe it means better jobs, it means more jobs, it means, you know, greater opportunities for New Zealanders.  I mean, the challenge always for New Zealand, I think, is a) making sure that we maintain our brand and quality, maintain margin so we make money, and the second thing is we don’t want to become solely China dependant. I mean, this is a market that could at one level buy everything New Zealand produces, but the reason we go to Latin America, as we did a few weeks ago, or we sell to other markets and focus on them is that in our history, we’ve been solely-

While China will become our largest trading partner, we must make sure it doesn’t become our only one.

JOHN Okay, but let’s put that in a bit of context.  If you take the situation where Ian Fletcher was appointed, so, you know, we had significant media coverage and, you know, a lot of very, very& highly critical claims being made personally directed at me, right? 
CORIN But you did not make it clear when you were asked that you had shoulder-tapped Ian Fletcher.

JOHN  I was asked a specific question in Parliament not with any warning, as a supplementary question, didn’t even know it was coming, it bore very little relation to the primary question at the end of a parliamentary question session, and, actually, the answer I gave was perfectly correct.  Now, if the test is I’ve got to give you absolutely all of the full information – it comes back to the point I was making last week – then I need to actually slow that process down so that I can be- you know, I can meet the people’s expectations-

CORIN Did that episode get to you, though?  I mean, you only a couple of times in your whole time as Prime Minister have you lashed out at the media.  Were you genuinely wounded by that?

JOHN  Well, firstly, it wasn’t at all media, and secondly, the point is that my view was that there wasn’t balance on the way that that was being reported. I mean, you had the State Services Commissioner coming out totally supporting what I was saying, and, actually, that wasn’t always fully covered in that way.  My reputation matters to me because, you know, I am honest and I am up front.  I also am way more accessible than virtually any other leader in the world, so if you want to go and ask other leaders, you have a limited number of questions, you have lots of warning what they’re going to ask them about, they have lots of time to prepare questions.  I do two or three stand-ups a day, and I’m asked questions about a huge number of issues. 

It is a fair point that Key as Prime Minister is more accessible than not just any of his foreign counterparts, but also I think more so that any of his predecessors.

Helen Clark, to her credit, did re-institute the formal weekly press conference, and was more available than her predecessors. But I’m pretty sure that she didn’t do anywhere near the number of media standups that Key does – a lot of her engagements would be photo ops only.

They collect and publish data in the US on how often the President has done press conferences, interviews and gaggles or stand-ups.

It would be fascinating if anyone collated and published the same data on NZ Prime Ministers.

On the wider GCSB issue I’m one of those who said I thought the phone call to Ian Fletcher was unwise, and I stand by that. It would have been better to have just passed the details onto the SSC.

But one has to understand how different PMs have different styles, and they come with both pros and cons – and you generally can’t just choose part of a style.

Some refer to Key’s style as CEO style. He is constantly engaging with people, including (very importantly) those outside Wellington. He talks constantly to numerous leaders in business and other areas. He is very focused on getting the job done, more than process.

What this means is that sometimes he’ll not get the process right, and make a mistake.

But you know what. If I have a choice of a Geoffrey Palmer type Prime Minister who is a stickler for proper process at all times or a John Key type Prime Minister who actually gets things done, I know what I’m happy with. Now that’s not to say it is a choice between too extremes. In no way am I saying process is not important, just that you have to accept different leaders have different strengths and weaknesses.

CORIN Do you still want to do this job?

JOHN  I do. 
CORIN Do you want to carry on?

JOHN Well, look, you know, the thing is I’m actually enjoying it.  As Prime Minister, what are they going to remember when they look back?  And the answer is going to be is the economy strong, does the education system work better, does health system work better, is New Zealand a stronger, more confident country?  I’ve been Prime Minister for four and a half years.  My own personal view is that we are building that sort of New Zealand.  Now, you know, is there perfection?  There will never be perfection in politics, but you can do your very best and you can see the course, and that’s what we’ve done.  I really believe passionately that- And again, I’ve read lots of stuff in the media that I’m not going to be there in 2014, I’m not going to run National in the election, that’s not true.  None of that is true.  I’ll be there.  As long as National wants me there, I’ll be there in 2014.  Why?  Because I don’t think we’ve actually finished the job yet. And, you know, there will always be some weeks that are better than others, but for the most part I’m in an incredibly privileged position.  You know, I’m the 38th prime minister of New Zealand, and I’ll always be grateful to the New Zealand public that they gave me that chance.

If anyone thinks that John Key won’t lead National into 2014, they’ve either been having too many drinking sessions with David Shearer’s office (as Mr Robins at The Standard appears to have done) or they’re deluded.

If National wins a third term, it would not be guaranteed that Key would want to lead National into a 4th election. But that falls into the category of “nice problems to have and resolve” if National gets re-elected in 2014.

Next month, National and John Key will have been in power for four and a half years – half the nine years of the last Labour Government. I’ll blog some interesting poll comparisons comparing the parties and leaders at the 4.5 year marks.

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