While he doesn't look like it to us, outsiders see John Key as a 'radical'. Jenesa Jeram tries to reconcile the views

While he doesn't look like it to us, outsiders see John Key as a 'radical'. Jenesa Jeram tries to reconcile the views

By Jenesa Jeram*

They say the grass is always greener on the other side; for New Zealanders looking to Australia, it often rings true.

The sun seems to shine a bit brighter there, the pay packets are a bit fatter, and they have koalas.

But times are changing.

The decline in long-term migration figures to Australia is just one example.

And the reason is simple: Australia may have cuddly koalas, but New Zealand has John Key.

When I attended a conference in Sydney last week, I was struck by the Australians’ enthusiasm for anything New Zealand in general and our re-elected government in particular.

What surprised them was John Key’s apparent ability to get the public on board with his "radical" reform agenda.

Radical? Really?

At least on our side of the Tasman, Key hardly ever gets described in such ways.

And indeed, at first glance, not a lot has changed since Key first took office.

National has preserved traditional Labour policies such as state-funded education and health care, Working for Families tax credits, interest-free student loans and KiwiSaver. And as long as Key remains in office, superannuation reform is off the table.

But this seeming stability obscures some changes that are indeed quite radical.

Increasing GST and reducing income tax was no small feat.

Nor are charter schools, asset sales, loss of lifetime tenure for state houses, and increased obligations for beneficiaries.

As the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher put it, John Key “has coaxed his country into swallowing the pills of reform yet entrusting him with power once again.”

So here’s the paradox: Key’s government looks reformist from a distance but his policies do not appear to be particularly bold when looked at in New Zealand.

The question is, how does Key manage the kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reforms, while implementing some truly substantial changes to New Zealand’s policy landscape?

The answer to this conundrum is that Key exemplifies the art of what one might call “radical incrementalism”. Key has a good sense for the electorate’s appetite for change.

The public has to be on board – and reforms take time, patience and good explanation.

That’s the real story other countries can take out of Key’s incremental radicalism.

It’s not about tricking your patients into swallowing the pills, or promising false cures that won’t deliver results. It’s about educating the public on why these pills are necessary to build a strong, healthy economy.

And hopefully, in time, the electorate will start demanding the pills themselves, with the knowledge a thriving economy transforms lives and living standards.


Jenesa Jeram is a research assistant at the NZ Initiative in Wellington.

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NZ-ers are still waiting with bated breath for NZ to experience Keys' promise before the election that "We are on the Cusp of Something Really Special".

What is that something special? decreased funding for the public service/universities/health boards? decreased commoditiy prices exposing our dependency on dairy? threats of increased interest rates for home-owners? hollowing out of regional areas into Zombie Towns? continued sale of farms/property/companies/public institutes to foreign buyers? blaming beneficiaries for poverty traps & increased casualisation of jobs?

And he;ll say his 47% again gives him a mandate for all of the above.

... as a former currency trader , and a very successful one at that , I wonder if the special something is Jolly Kid shorting the NZ housing market ?

While delivering NZ and its assets to the global ruling elite.  All while showcasing NZ as a model    
example for other nations to emulate. 

U.S. dairy interests are vigerously protesting against NZs dairy market access and want Fonterra broken up, yet the media and Key are pretty much ignoring the protests.
The TPPA will bring no benefits to the NZ consumer, it will make us like Cuba was in 1950.

Yep and the farmers are niave if they think a deal with the US will open up the markets for them.
Thing is for me we have what they want, let them come to us on our terms and not theirs.

Any farmer that keeps up with what's going on knows USA will never be a significant market for us due to the lobby power of their ag industry.  Their farmers have been protesting about us for years. USA farmers have a somewhat unwarranted fear about NZ.
A friend was among a group of farmers who recently went on a sponsored trip to the USA visiting farms in the heart of dairyland USA. Said farmers there were receiving $11/kg from cheese.  Notable things taken from the visit which were 2-5000cow farms and family operations were: 
1. unhappy cows
2. unhappy staff (hispanics paid $7.50/hr)
3. Farmers didn't appear to know their cost of production.  My mate said they got blank looks like it wasn't even a consideration for US farmers to know.  Wondered if it is because they have an income 'trigger level' where the govt will step in and support prices.
4. Some kiwi farmers considering building barns here were completely put off barns as a result of the visit.

The TPPA is a perfect weapon for them to get rid of Fonterra, because Key will role over for U.S. interests, he did for Warner brothers. Tthe NZ consumer subidizes the export market paying New York market prices, its why Fonterra has dragged down the rest of NZs economy, as the Reserve Bank increases interest rates every time they have a hgh payout. Why hasnt Wheeler dropped interst rates since Farmers lost 6 Billion in the last two months. We are worse off with a good economy as our living cost rise and our wages dont. Keys mythical 3.6% average wage increase was a economic prediction in Xmas 2013, no reporters have bothered to point that fact out. Keys going to bugger us if the dollar drops to 65 USdollars, NZ will be a prison.

If he did, National would be un-electable.

He rolled over for Warner brothers, and Helen cared less about Labour on Election night 2008,
abandoning it for her U.N. job, already nicely set up. Perople said she would stay on and look after 'her' electorate.

Gregnz, the consumers don't subsidise farmers by paying export prices.  As a private business (farmer) why should I be obligated to sell my product on the domestic market for less than I could get for it on an export market?  If you want to pay less than export prices then the government will have to subsidise consumers.  
Don't under estimate the will of Farmers to keep Fonterra.  It is a privately owned company - not a publically listed one.
Warner Bros was a push over for the government. Taking on the Farmers will be a whole different ball game to that.  ;-)  That's not to say they may not try.
Any farmer who has been around a while has seen incomes fluctuate and that goes with the job.  Why should Wheeler drop interest rates because 6 billion has been taken out of the economy? 80+% of farmers have no or manageable debt.  
Agree - we don't want a 65c USD exchange rate.

I really value posts from folk with skin in the game on this subject. Thanks CO. That one's a keeper.

Helen Clark was exactly the same. She made radical changes without anyone noticing. Even more radical than John key. One example is getting rid of the Privy Council and setting up the NZ Supreme court. Now that is radical.
I think we call them devious politicians

John Key has mastered the art of seen to be doing something when actually doing nothing.

You could also use, follow me, I will be right behind you.

The FSA merely offered a level playing field for all NZers, otherwise it would have been locked up and sold. Maori can still use it on an individual scale, just the elders cant bank it.  Given how little $s seem to be getting down to grassroots  maori that maybe not so bad.

That is the tribal way.  Elders and leaders lead,  others get to pick which team to follow

The NZ supreme court was well documented and not un-realistic, I mean why should someone appeal to a foregin court? makes no sense for a nation.

Has more to do with incremental change often with real consequences never making the media or being reported.

In a bid to shore up Auckland property prices and as proof of his marriage equality credentials The PM is to promote bigamy as a new incremental way forward. At the present moment only one wife or husband is allowed.  ‘However with the breakdown of tradition concepts of marriage now enshrined in law the time has come for incremental change to allow for multiple participants in marriage and of course civil unions. This change will meet the needs of the housing market as it will now enable 3  incomes from each ‘family’ to fund their borrowing needs’.
This government is not going to sit back while the rungs of the housing market in Auckland are move ever  further and further apart. This simple incremental change to the laws pertaining to marriage will alleviate some of the pressure and who knows in the future 4 ,5 even 10 incomes may be required as house prices continue to spiral. This simple incremental law change is future proofed in that it allows for as many  marriage participants as is required to meet the ever growing demands of the  finance industry.

Australia is coming down to meet NZ, thats why Key hasnt mentioned catching up with Australia this election. Three election wins is enough to guarantee him a knighthood,  then he wont need to stick around, except for the TPPA. Why is the consulate position is Hawaii still open, until someone is appointed to it, Keys a shoe in. No reporters will bother to ask that question.

to be fair, for Australians Tony Abbott is the basis of comparison to John Key

Key doesnt care about 'his' electorate, he just got put in there because its a safe National seat.
He might make a show to appease the supoprters, smile and wave, thats about it.
Most in his electorate wouldnt know what any Nationals policies are, especially from this last election.
The share sell of of the power co's was a absolutely stunning economic gain, for the Australian company doing the share marketing. 

Greg, you lost, get over it , it's eating you up.