Former Prime Minister John Key has spoken about his time in the top job, including successes and regrets, while giving his valedictory speech in Parliament Wednesday.
Economic reforms such as the introduction of 90-day trial periods, government infrastructure investment including the ultra-fast broadband initiative, support for the film industry, advancing New Zealand’s trade agenda and Treaty settlements were billed as successes.
“I’m proud to have led a government that balanced the books,” he added.
Disappointments included losing the flag debate, the Kermadecs issue, and that he had voted against the civil union bill, although Key did say he was glad about the passing of the gay marriage bill. That the Trans Pacific Partnership did not get over the line was another regret.
Key began by referencing his upbringing in a Christchurch state house, and on how his mother had influenced his pragmatic beliefs – Key said he saw himself as a pragmatist, and not an ideolog.
While some had said his pragmatism indicated a lack of principals, Key said that was not true. Principals had been instilled in him during an un-privileged upbringing rather than from the politics 101 textbook, he said.
“Mum taught me the things that allowed me to succeed,” he said. This included that you really can change your own life not by wishing it were different but by working to make it different, Key added.
Key noted that he had come to Parliament from a different route to many – from Wall Street rather than having come through the party ranks. But while not political at a younger age, he said he had always been a National Party supporter.
In his early years in Parliament, Key said he had received advice to watch top politicians in the House of Representatives as a way to find his feet. He referenced Michael Cullen, Rodney Hide, Winston Peters, Bill English and Simon Power as colleagues whose speeches he watched.
Life in Parliament was odd due to the glaring spotlight and relentless scrutiny, he said.
Serving as Prime Minister had been an incredible privilege, Key said. He noted National entered power in 2008 at a time of economic recession, as unemployment was rising and finance companies were falling over.
He could not help a plug for the infamous cycleway idea that came out of the government’s Jobs Summit, noting how then Finance Minister Bill English had been sceptical on the idea.
Key acknowledged English’s work as his deputy, and said he thought English would prove to be a highly successful PM of this country. “People from Southland get to the point quickly,” Key said after reciting a story about meeting a bunch of school kids from English’s former Clutha-Southland electorate.
Key referenced his infamous three-way handshake with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, saying his natural enthusiasm had sometimes led to problems. Travel, including trips to Balmoral in the UK, China and the Marshall Islands had been a good perk of the job, he said.
He also referenced times of tragedy and disaster while Prime Minister. The Christchurch earthquakes and Pike River were events Key said he would never forget, praising peoples’ resolve, particularly in New Zealand’s second city.
A special mention was given to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, who Key said deserved a lot of credit for his work after the quakes. “Christchurch and New Zealand owe Gerry a huge debt of gratitude.”
But Key said no news grieved him more than that of the loss of New Zealand troops overseas. Despite referencing decisions to send New Zealand forces overseas, Key did not directly reference allegations made in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book released yesterday, Hit and Run.
Current Finance Minister Steven Joyce was thanked for his work as the National Party’s campaign manager and as a close advisor.
Included in the speech were a number of anecdotes, including on the day Key did a parachute jump with the SAS. On landing, he texted Bill English saying “I’m alive,” to which English responded “Bugger.” “Gonna give it another go?”
English was obviously “just a bit more ambitious than I’d thought,” Key said.
Key concluded by thanking his coalition partners, advisors, golfing buddies and family. He said he believed he was leaving having made a positive difference to the country.
“It’s been a privilege and honour and a blast. Goodbye and good luck.”