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Outright majority gives Key an unprecedented opportunity to pursue much needed reforms if he can ignore thoughts of a fourth term

Outright majority gives Key an unprecedented opportunity to pursue much needed reforms if he can ignore thoughts of a fourth term

By Oliver Hartwich*

The 2014 general election delivered some remarkable results. Strengthening support for a government after two terms is almost unheard of; and despite allegations of scandal on numerous fronts, the opposition failed to capitalise on any of them. There can be no doubt that it was an unmitigated triumph for the government and Prime Minister John Key personally.

Straight after winning his third election, it was telling to hear the Prime Minister already muse about the possibility of a fourth term. To be fair to John Key, he said “Fourth term sounds great, but you’ve got to earn it.”

He is absolutely right.

Winning elections is not an end in itself. Once in power, the goal has to be to do what is right for the country. It is not sufficient to protect the government’s enduring popularity and secure another election victory in three years’ time, even though that is what the electoral cycle forces our politicians to do.

This election had offered New Zealanders a real choice, not least thanks to the policies proposed by Labour and the Greens. Had they been elected, we would have seen higher tax and spend, government interventions across a number of markets and areas, and a departure from established monetary policy practices. As many commentators (and also Labour MPs like David Shearer) correctly observed, the platforms the main opposition parties presented were the most left-leaning package in at least two generations.

New Zealanders have overwhelmingly rejected this retro-style, semi-socialist agenda. But in doing so, voters have not only punished Labour and the Greens. They have also given National and its support partners a mandate to pursue very different policies.

Over its first two terms, John Key has turned the necessity to work with coalition partners into the virtue of political incrementalism. One might even say that Mr Key and his Minister of Finance Bill English have turned this incrementalism into an art form.

By doing what was arithmetically possible in Parliament, they have successfully kept a check on government spending, started promising reforms on social welfare and social housing, and introduced new initiatives for school education. These are by no means negligible achievements under the circumstances Key and English faced in their first two terms.

Key’s third term should be different, nevertheless. He should feel emboldened both by the electorate’s rejection of the opposition plans and inspired by the first ever absolute majority under MMP.

Absolute majorities under MMP are a rarity. In Germany, it has happened only once over 65 years. It is highly doubtful that Key or any of his successors in the next decades will again have the luxury of getting their agendas implemented without taking minor coalition partners into account.

It is also worth recognising the enormous political capital John Key has accumulated. He is the kind of political leader countries only get every few generations: someone who can easily connect with people from different backgrounds and who can also effectively manage both his party and his cabinet. As far as political leadership goes, there is currently no-one in the developed world who even comes close to these leadership qualities displayed by John Key.

The Prime Minister should see that now is the time to go about those reforms which he may have wanted to implement in the past which he could not do. Now he has the political mandate, the parliamentary majority and political capital to achieve whatever he sets his eyes on. The question is, will he go for it? Or will winning his fourth term hold him back from becoming a bolder reformer than he has been so far?

Where bold reforms are needed is obvious. There is the pay-as-you-go superannuation system with its unsustainable retirement age of 65. There are interest-free student loans, elements of middle class welfare, and the dominance of government provision in health and education. There is the overly complex Resource Management Act, which stifles both residential construction and the exploration of natural resources. There is the complex issue of local government, both its functions and its funding. And finally, especially after this election it should have become clear that the way MMP currently operates does not make New Zealand’s political landscape more stable.

In all of these areas, Prime Minister John Key could make a massive difference if he wanted. It is highly unlikely he would be able to tackle all of them simultaneously but Key and his government should now come up with a list of at least three big ticket items that should be dealt with before the 2017 election. My personal preference for this list would include a radical rethink of the RMA, further education reforms alongside the government’s super-teacher policies, and indeed changes to MMP.

There is a difference between being electorally popular and doing what is right for the country in the long term. Since Key has been likened to Konrad Adenauer, the Chancellor who won Germany’s only absolute majority under MMP back in 1957, Adenauer should also serve as a warning. Adenauer only secured his absolute majority thanks to introducing a pay-as-you-go pension snowball system which all of his advisors told him was financially ruinous. Adenauer ignored all such warnings and governed comfortably but Germany is still paying the price for this policy choice.

Key has proved himself to be an exceptionally skilled politician, especially when operating with slim majorities. This term will show whether history will also judge him as one of New Zealand’s great Prime Ministers. If he is bold enough in his third term, it might even secure him a fourth term.


*Dr Oliver Hartwich is the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative. The NZ Initiative writes a regular weekly column for This is the first article in the series.

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Oh great so now the far right comes out of the woodwork, despite ACTs wipeout.
So ignore thoughts of a fourth term if these are much needed? That strikes me as a stupid comment.  If such "upgrades" could show themselves to be worthy inside 3 years (and in three years there should be such a positive effect) they would logically guarantee National a 4th term. If they guarantee the loss of a 4th term then they are simply wrong and wont work.

Agree steven.
John Key has a mandate but that is to keep doing what he has been.  He has a mandate to keep National a centre party - not swerve off to the right and bugger it like Labour has done by swinging left.
It's not pay day for the far right wingers who are greedily rubbing their hands together - sorry Hartwitch.

I am not sure that Dr Hartwich is really that great a great fan of John Key:
“Instead of turning the tide on the greatest crisis facing the New Zealand economy, the government seems to have chosen good politics over good policy,” Dr Hartwich says.

Oliver Hartwich:
"...there is currently no-one in the developed world who even comes close to the leadership qualities   displayed by John Key".
Not to diminish Keys success,  but you  miss the German Chancelor Helmuth Kohl, in office from 1982 to 1998, his main achievement besides many others  during the  Cold War era, was the reunification between West- and East Germany, a mamoth task.

Hopefully John Key takes advice such as that given above, and swiftly puts it in the garbage can.
More gyrations from left to right are the last thing that NZ need, and indeed that is all that will be achieved if National go wild banking on this being their one big chance to make change.
John Key needs to be humble and realise that although one million people voted for him, that there are over 4m people living in this country.
He needs to realise that maybe not everything is going exactly right and look at ways to make those things right.  He needs to realise there are serious housing issues, realise that immigration to Auckland is actually not necessarily in the best interests of NZ.  He needs to realise that after four years the Christchurch rebuild is not going as good as it should and many thousands are still suffering.  He needs to realise that regional towns and cities are still doing it tough.  He needs to realise that fighting with teachers and unions gets nowhere.
John Key needs to get the whole country to see his vision and not just be swayed by the extremists like Slater, Collins and Ede.
Lose the "my way or the highway"  attitude of several high ranking ministers and get a collaborative, inclusive approach that moves NZ forward.  Why can't the unions support National?  Why can't greenies and those who want to preserve culture and the arts support National?  Why can't National be the party of All of the Nation?

Lol.  Nope, he's got a mandate.  The polls told the others to go lump it, and the 3M that didn't count at the polling booth aren't going count for the next 2 years.

Pretty much, after the mess the others made of it (the election) he's got free reign.

Nope, Key only got 30% of those eligible to vote and that ain't a mandate.

Its always amased me why the left is unable to think rationally

By rationally, you mean the same as you?

Actually it is quite the contrary, the intelligensia are made up of left predominently left wing. Just goes to show you can be stupd and rich, in fact it is a prerequisite.

Surely Sarah Palin would be proof of that

Any RMA reform should of course start with a few skyscrapers in Epsom, which I take it David Seymour is fine with.


I thought NZ has just rejected the idea of Germans telling us how to run our country.

... they just assume that we require their assistence , because the MMP voting system we chose to replace FPP with , was designed by them ...

Why not Finnish, btw? I guess the big guy is German when he is unpopular and Finnish when he entertains the crowds again. 
In any way, why did "NZ" let him in the first place with his criminal record? 

criminal record for what?

Keep it in your pants Oliver, the salivating is unseemly.

Yip , John Key is great , but we need to keep some perspective here , and avoid a cult mentaility. It would be ridiculous to go around shouting  "John Key Akbar "

Undoubtedly popular, but what legacy will he leave - Kiwisaver, Kiwibank, working for families, interest free student loans, the RMA? 

 no-one in the developed world who even comes close to the leadership qualities   displayed by John Key".     
Er... Angela Merkel?  Not so chummy as BBQ Johno but the most effective leader of the most successful country in Europe.

OK then , let's put it to the BBQ test : It's Saturday night in your backyard , the BBQ is firing on all cylinders , the TUI is chilling down , and your buddies are arriving ...
... who amongst the following politicians would easily fit in with your evening's fun ...
John Key ..... David Cunliffe .... Helen Clark .... Bill English .... Grant Robertson .... Te Ururoa Flavell ...
... it's bloody easy to see who we can relate to when you frame it like that ...

Guy Fawkes night?

I reckon Winston. Haha. Be a bit more of a laugh than the above list.

None of 'em Gummy... they are all boring.
Give me Rob Ford from Toronto!

Sorry Gummy, but I would even take you over that lot.

In reply to Philip Temple
Berlusconi maybe?  he ran a corrupt govt yet managed to keep getting voted in......mind you the Italians were happy as alot of money was made in real-estate under his government, but in the end they realised the economy was not in such great shape after all.

which, strangely enough was worse for the few not receiving government paychecks...

Angela Merkel is a disaster for Germany and Europe. This former East German Communist cadre has extended billions of loans, billions of loan guarantees, billions in debt forgiveness, and billions of payments into various bail-out funds and gotten what in return? NOTHING. An Italy and France who use German taxpayers' money to "buy themselves time" and not reform or change anything of any substance dragging down Europe with them.
Merkel is arguably the worst negotiator in human history. Paying the tab for no return. Italian ECB chief, French EU currency commissioner and IMF head, the Bundesbank marginalized. 
The only thing Merkel succeeds in is in keeping up the fairy tale of being an effective leader. Germany is currently doing well despite the German government, not because of it.

Yay John is back! Now we can borrow another 60 billion.

Fo non citizens get the vote in germany?

John Key's major virtue is the absence of anyone in the NZ political circus who could credibly challenge him. 
Still, Hartwich is right in thinking that Key could make a big difference, if he wanted to, because of the air of inevitability that surrounds him now. But that is not John Key's style and it is probably better that way. 

Having lived through the Nixon years, the present parallels are striking.  Looking forward to some putting in jail time.

the only ones doing jail time are likely to be our large german resident..
and the labour leader when he gets home and faces the missus

So you are happy to put ppl in jail even before any charge is proven and despite it is at best a civil charge?
So much for ppls rights eh....

My turning point for this large German gentlemen was when he incited the students to chant "F*** John Key". I've seen this sort of behaviour in those black and white WW2 documentaries and we don’t need it in our country.  So there, I am more than happy to see him with his new orange onesie singing Dargon's "Take me to April sun in Cuba"

Rendition to Gitmo?  Keydom/Nixon/Bush getting melded togther here, but guess they're all really the same deep down.

I think that was a significant moment for many people CM.......and many people made the very same point re WW2 documentary similarities in behaviour.

well if it only a civil charge then ..why doesnt he hop an a plane,nip over to the USA and defend himself..?
as for peoples rights..
what aboput NZ,s rights to have a uncorrupted election?
what about his workers rights to be paid the minimum wage? or get paid full stop?
what about Slaters rights to have his personal emails un hacked and then presented in an anti national light?
your best mate lost Steven..time to get over it..

Greens party often being referred to as Water Melon party; only green on te outside and inside it's all red..!

they are all about wealth distibution..  its all about all the poverty ..dont you know?
interesting facts about NZ poverty statistics..
if the top 10% of wealthy people left NZ then the poverty rate would decline..
if Bill Gates and his 10 best mates moved to NZ the poverty rate would increase ..
go figure..

Ah, No. The poverty figures work from a median, so if Bill Gates and his 10 best mates moved to New Zealand, if you put the incomes of all people in New Zealand in a row 4.5 million long, the poverty line (at least using the standard OECD measure) would move 5.5 people along that line of 4.5 million people. 5.5/4500000 is not really a significant movement.

That might be so
But a lot of people would suddenly feel an awful lot poorer than before - relatively speaking

i know they work on a median.the argument is would they go up or down answered it  correctly.. poverty would rise (all be it a small margin..just a point to prove the stats trotted out are crap.Poverty actually reduced by their measure in the GFC,  go figure)

Because the civil action has been turned into a criminal witch hunt where the result has been already bought and paid for in a banana republic.
Un-corrupted? indeed that can go down so many levels.
Slater's rights? yet he quite openly used others stolen emails, climategate for instance....
Not my best mate quite the opposite, but I want fair justice for him and others.

Oh the hypocrisy of the left - happy to publish Cam Slater, Wikileaks and Peter Gleiks amateurish Heartland theft and fraud but get all snooty when it comes to the the Climategate leaks...

Cart before horse.  Various right wing bloggers etc have already published such "info" hence if he cant stand the heat, when his actual actions come to light, well tough.
Actually when we look at climatecagte we find despite the fact they were stolen that there is no sign of illegal, undemocratic or incorrect actions on the part of the scientists.  Unlike the emails from various parties from the right that look undemocratic at the least.

not sure if "cant stand the heat"is a problem for Slater.
since the stolen emails his support/blog traffic has gone through the roof.
He is now the go to guy for comment as many in theMSM have hitched their wagon to dot com and are now looking foolish.The msm namely Corin Dann/gower /campbell/various herald/stuff reporters now all look a bit silly for trying to talk up the left and put the boot into the right.
Now they are turning like a pack of dogs onto Cunliff to get some copy..

Whaleoil's traffic stats are amazing. I am particularly amazed by the way that, if the traffic stats are true, he is (per head) more read on the French speaking Caribbean island of Martinique than English speaking New Zealand. 

Yeah, he's got a huge audience in bots. Dotcom did a traffic analysis of the site and posted it on Twitter.

Great, another 3 years of John Keys and his WEALTHY BANKER MATES screwing over this country and RUINING THE ENVIRONMENT so corporations can make obscene profits and syphon them overseas. WAKE UP PEOPLE!! He's a liar and spies on YOUR EMAILS to keep the people enslaved in a system that only looks after the rich. Meanwhile, CHILDREN ARE GOING TO SCHOOL HUNGRY!! Two hundred thousand children live in total poverty whilst the rich get richer. MAKES ME ASHAMED TO BE A KIWI!! need to calm down.. the only true poverty in NZ is a poverty in parenting/budgeting and contraception skills..  on second thought..
maybe you are just a troll.. so go right ahead

Pure gold. Take a trip oit of NZ and get some perspective.

I think you're in the wrong place Mark. Facebook is over there >>>>>>>>

Another three years of an aspirational government who want to get people off benefits and into jobs. A government which recognises the fact that a huge number of citizens in New Zealand are employed by small businesses and that you cannot crush these businesses and push people into benefits. A government that gives people a hand up, not one that concentrates on giving people hand outs. And I think my last point is the crux of it all. Why did so many people like myself who used to vote Labour give National at least the party vote if not the electoral vote? They want a government who will encourage them to have a go to make a better life for themselves. It was so funny and ironic to see the left call themselves" progressive."
People were not fooled by that message. If anything they saw the left as parties who will hold people back on benefits and low incomes. 

well said ..Margret Thatcher summed it up well when she said
"the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples money.."

NZ is certainly on a short fuse when it comes to borrowing other people's money.
Private and public debt can be viewed here and here. Quite a sum for the ~ 3.0 million eligible voters
The government's 2013 budget projected that net core Crown public debt in June 2015 will be $68 billion, up from a low point of $10b in June 2008.   
That $58b increase represents about $33,000 per New Zealand household.
Future ministers of finance are saddled with higher ongoing interest costs and future taxpayers are saddled with higher taxes to cover those costs.Read more

A short fuse and a small economy.
How is the IMF's balance sheet going?

Yet National are talking tax cuts within 3 years(?)....debt cant be that bad then can it.
It is of course when we get GFC mk2 and the banks need bailing out and the OAPs will expect it.

SH...I think if you go back to around Oct of 2008  you'll find a treasury report pre election that NZ was predicted to blowout to around $44 billion.  Tlhe nine years of a Labour Government and feel good factor was all rather like a mirage....
Can't remember who posted the treasury link up on interest a week or two back....might have been profile or happy.

Think a bit harder - nonetheless, wishful thinking won't diminish the reality that the Nats have left a socialist legacy of the spend-and-borrow economy where the favoured crony capitalists put their hands out more successfully than the majority, who are inevitably charged with the liability to repay Key's smoke and mirrors scheme. what would you have done if you were PM?

.... I'd have ordered T-bone steaks and shrimps for an election night BBQ ... not stoopid pizzas .... nor lamb !

I think you can work it out for yourself - my criticisms are clear and without any element of doubt.

... I think you're more of an aubergine parmigiana man ... am I right or am I right ?
I'm right , aren't I !

SH...I think many of your comments would align you to ACT party policies.....but you support NZ First don't you?

I despise charter schools and yes I voted for NZ First and have done so for quite a while.