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Letter from Elsewhere: What I heard John Key Say

Letter from Elsewhere - By Anne Else

What I heard John Key Say

In February 2003 I heard John Key say "After 18 years in the international currency, bond and derivative markets, I hung up my banking boots for New Zealand politics."

And I heard him say, "I always had a long-term view of going into politics, so I suppose I was always careful…I mean, I got offered all these rinky dink tax deals, but I always paid my taxes."

In March 2008 I heard John Key say, "I think the characteristics that you need anyway [as a politician] are.. honesty and integrity."

Then I heard him say, "I mean ultimately you never really, I mean we don’t really know the issues that will dominate the New Zealand political landscape in 12 months or 24 months or 36 months…countries all face issues - many of them come completely out of the blue - and so in a lot of sense, the public, while they focus on policies, inevitably the public will sort of look at what type of person you are, and they will try to get a sense of how you might react to any sort of individual um, sort of problem, or sort of challenge you might face. And so I think the fact that they can trust you has got to be paramount in the end - I mean I wouldn’t vote for someone I didn’t think I could trust."

And I heard him say, "I think you have to have a reasonable sense of sort of values and perspective, and what is you know, driving you, and what is the fundamental sort of, you know, what bottom lines are there? What are the things that you are prepared to compromise on, what aren’t you prepared to compromise on?"

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In April 2008 I heard John Key say that Labour "seem to get their focus groups and their polling out and that decides what their next policy is. They're about buying an election, we're about building a long term future for New Zealand."


In 2005 I heard John Key say that he believed in a clear separation of church and state: "I think we largely live in a secular society, I think there are many religions operating in NZ and it is in the best interests of the state to make decisions that are on a secular basis so they don’t discriminate."

In 2005 I also heard him say, " I support families. In modern New Zealand they come in many shapes and sizes, so let me tell you that I for one will not pre-judge the construction of them. They are in my view the most important institution in our society, and any government I have the privilege of leading will do what it can to support them…I would support any gay or lesbian couple bringing up children, I would hope for them what I want for any children and that is for them to give the best parental instruction and love and attention that they can for the children that are in their care."

In April 2008 I heard him say, "We are quite happy to engage and involve the private sector and the not for profit sector, we do not see the government as the sole solution to every problem, that’s why we don’t think we need to run increased government expenditure at the same rate as this current government."

In September 2008 I heard him tell the Every Child Counts conference that National was "likely" to merge the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Families Commission.

Then in October 2008 I heard him tell a forum organised by Family First that he would abolish the Families Commission and instead fund faith-based and other services. I heard him say that groups such as Family First and Ian Grant’s evangelical organisation Parents Inc. did not need "bureaucrats telling them what constitutes a family". I heard him tell Family First, "National’s door will always be open because we know you have insights into issues that a government may not see or understand."

In 2006 I heard John Key say "Personally I have no problems with Civil Unions… there was an argument put forward that civil unions would undermine marriage, and I never believed that line. I have been married for 22 years and the fact that a gay couple may choose to have a Civil Union would have absolutely no impact on my marriage to my wife."

The same day, I heard him say "I see myself as the elected representative of the people of Helensville. I try to reflect that in my voting on conscience issues, as opposed to a personal vote from my own perspective. I had done some polling, I wouldn’t say it was extensive, but I did some polling in my electorate and on the basis of that polling I voted against civil unions."

In March 2008 I heard him tell a student paper, "I’m not deeply religious, and I don’t believe in life after death."

Then I heard him tell Investigate magazine, "I have lived my life by Christian principles". And I heard him tell the Jewish Chronicle, "I will be the third Jewish prime minister in New Zealand".


In 2006 I heard John Key say, "Tax is a cost of capital [for business]. It reduces their investment returns and it makes more projects less likely to take flight. Most businesses want to grow as much as they can. So do I think they spend their whole life focused on an agenda, a hard-core agenda of trying to push tax cuts? No. I think they leave that to us."

In April 2008 I heard him say, "Well the priority is to do this [cut taxes] and that is to reduce the tax burden on working New Zealanders." In July I heard him say, "I think New Zealanders do expect to get a tax cut of around $50 a week."

Then I heard him say, "we're making a difference to New Zealanders, if you're gonna give them $5 a week it's not going to make a difference."

In September 2008 I heard John Key say how National would cut taxes. In October 2008 I heard him say how National would cut Kiwisaver, by cutting back both the employer’s contribution and the government’s contribution.

I did not hear John Key say that for those families earning less the than the average wage, the extra amount National is giving over Labour drops rapidly to the point where a family on $40,000 is actually better off with Labour’s cuts. Nor did I hear him say that by the end of the entire tax cut cycle in April 2011, over 80 percent of National’s tax cut money will go to the top third of income earners.

In 2006 I heard John Key say, "I don't agree with basically turning three out of four New Zealanders into welfare beneficiaries and delivering something to someone earning $142,000 through the welfare system, when you can deliver it through the tax system. To me, it makes a lot more sense to deliver it through the tax system."

In July 2008 I heard him say, "National wants to offer New Zealand families certainty about the future of the Working for Families system. That's why we intend making no change to it."

In 2003 I heard John Key say that "the single best way to reduce that [superannuation cost] liability is to raise the age of eligibility".

Then in 2008 I heard him say that "[as] a National government we won't be lifting the age of eligibility."

In August 2008 I heard John Key say, "I believe a responsible government, a compassionate government, must do all it can to provide financial certainty to the New Zealanders of today and the New Zealanders of tomorrow."

Then I heard him say, "Only immigrants with United Nations refugee status

should have access to social welfare in their first five years. After all, our ancestors

weren’t met at the wharf with a social welfare cheque."


In Parliament in May 2005, I heard John Key say, "The impact of the Kyoto Protocol, even if one believes in global warming—and I am somewhat suspicious of it—is that we will see billions and billions of dollars poured into fixing something that we are not even sure is a problem."

In November 2006 I heard John Key say, "I firmly believe in climate change and always have."

In May 2007 I heard John Key say, "I’m going to speak about the biggest environmental challenge of our time: global climate change. The National Party will ensure that New Zealand acts decisively to confront this challenge. The scientific consensus is clear: human-induced climate change is real and it’s threatening the planet. There are some armchair sceptics out there, but I’m not one of them."

In May 2007 I also heard him say, "Right now the only way farmers can significantly reduce their emissions is by selling their stock. Farmers all over the world are going to need a better way than that to be ‘climate-friendly’, so New Zealand should get ahead of the curve by pushing along research and development in this area."

In 2008 I heard John Key say, "The definition of environment is too broad, which allows costly and time-consuming arguments over irrelevant issues…National will simplify the [Resource Management] Act by limiting the definition of environment to natural and physical resources, and prohibiting objections with respect to trade competition.

Then in October 2008 I heard him say National would scrap the $700 million Fast Forward science and agricultural research scheme, and drop the 15 % tax credit for business research and development.


In February 2007 I heard John Key say, "The [National] Caucus today confirmed that the Maori seats will be abolished, which we anticipate will take place around the time of settlement of historic Treaty claims."

In April 2008 I heard him say the case for abolishing the Maori seats "goes all the way back to the arguments made by the Royal Commission in 1986 and further back which was the Maori seats were a temporary measure, I mean they were there because Maori males couldn’t get a vote because they weren't land owners and I think we've moved on."

In June 2008 I heard John Key say, "We’re not a country that’s come about as a result of civil war or where there’s been a lot of fighting internally, we’re, we’re a country which peacefully came together".

On 14 October 2008 I heard him say "I've never given that assurance [that the Maori seat abolition policy would be dropped if National needed the Maori Party's support after the election]. There is no formal agreement. I’m sorry, but [Peter Sharples] has got it wrong."

On 16 October 2008 I heard John Key say he did tell the Maori Party he was prepared to drop a policy to abolish the Maori seats in Parliament. "They've raised it with us on numerous occasions and I've made it quite clear to them it's not a bottom line for us."


On many occasions I heard John Key say "I grew up in a state house." In 2006 I heard him say, "I look at it as a great marketing ploy for me."

In August 2008 I heard him say, "My father died when I was seven years old. My mother, my two older sisters, and I had no other family in New Zealand. For a period of time after my father died, my mother relied on the safety net provided by the Widows Benefit. My family was poor, and we knew it, but the benefit gave my mother enough security to keep us together and keep us focused on a time when things would improve. By having our most basic needs covered as a family, we were able to hold on to that most precious human emotion – hope. Over time, my mother moved off the benefit and into work."

That same day I heard him say, "National is going to have an unrelenting focus on work", and will require DPB recipients, once their youngest dependent child is aged six or over, to spend at least 15 hours per week in employment, training, or job-seeking activities.

And I heard him say, "National is going to introduce … a reduction in benefit, before a full suspension of the benefit applies… we will expect to see [these sanctions] used more frequently, in cases where people are not complying with their work obligations."


In August 2002, when John Key became National’s transport spokesman, I did not hear him say that his family trust owned 50,000 shares in Tranzrail. Nor did I hear him say that in May 2003, not long before he met with Rail America, which was considering a bid for Tranz Rail, he personally bought another 50,000 shares.

I did hear John Key say, "I hope that the interest shown by Rail America will be picked up by others." But I did not hear him say that on 10 June 2003 he sold his personal parcel of 50,000 shares for about $51,000, doubling his profit in just five weeks.

In 2008 I heard him say, "I don't ever believe I've traded shares for my own personal benefit since I've come into parliament."

In 2003, when John Key became Deputy Finance Spokesman of the National Party, I heard him say that he could see no reason why the government owned three quarters of the electricity sector and "no compelling reason to own Air New Zealand".

In April 2008, I heard John Key say that "in the first term of the National government there will be no state assets that will be sold either partially or fully". Then I heard him say, "if there's any change to that position then we'll come back to the people of New Zealand with transparency and seek a mandate for that."

And I heard him say, "I'm not gonna write our sort of policies for 2011 before we've even had the 2008 election, but I'm telling you and I'm telling New Zealand quite clearly that we will not be selling state owned enterprises in the first term of the National government."

In 1991 I heard John Key tell the Australian National Crime Authority that he resigned from Elders Finance on June 24, 1988, and was placed on leave until 31 August because he was going to a rival, Bankers Trust.

In 2007 I heard John Key tell the Dominion Post that in 1987, "three months before any of those deals got decided [the H-fee deals, of $39 million on 11 January 1988 and $27 million on 7 September 1988, that put Allan Hawkins of Equiticorp in jail], I had left Elders. I never did the deals, I never knew about the deals, and wasn't involved in them."

On the question of whether he admired Andy Krieger, the man whose huge currency speculations buffeted the Kiwi dollar and who later became one of Key’s biggest money market customers, I heard John Key say, "yes, I think at the time, yes, he was a very intelligent guy. He was a pioneer, in the sense he was one of the few people in the world who understood the options market before it was really established. He blazed a trail and that gave him a strategic advantage early on."

And I heard him say he did not believe a moral issue arose for the traders who make these speculative attacks on currencies, or for the dealing rooms that carry out their orders. "I don't really see it as a judgemental business. You're simply executing orders for people."

Speaking of the time he sacked 500 Merrill Lynch staff, I heard John Key say, "They always called me the smiling assassin."

Much later I heard him say, "In the end I had to carry out wider responsibilities, but I think I'm fundamentally a nice guy, but have to follow instructions."


- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service. Anne blogs at

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