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.