John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: SkyCity backlash has Key's blood up


In Richard Prebble's opinion, John Key is possibly the most talented politician the former Act leader has seen in his lifetime.

That is some accolade. You could say it takes one to know one. Like him or loathe him, the now-retired Prebble would also make the short-list for any unofficial "best politician" award. So he knows what he is talking about.

Having talked up Key's talents at Act's conference last weekend, Prebble, however, would not have got himself in the kind of bind Key has over the potential "free" national-convention-centre-for-more-pokies deal with SkyCity.

With his claim that the media is guilty of "wild conspiracy theories", Key is starting to exhibit some of the antagonism towards the Fourth Estate he displayed during the last election's teapot tape fiasco.

The Prime Minister was unusually sarcastic at his post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, staring down one journalist by telling him that in spite of his best efforts to kindle one there was no conspiracy.

Key then declared to the rest of the media pack that it might "come as a shock" to them that Finance Minister Bill English did not have a spare $350 million to allocate to building a national convention centre.

It was pretty mild stuff. But it is an indication of how frustrated Key is by the public and media backlash over the SkyCity proposal.

As far as Key is concerned nothing has changed from last year when he was proactive in trying to stitch together a deal to get a convention centre built. He remains unapologetic for being so interventionist.

That is not surprising. He was getting bouquets from many quarters for being so. He is thus struggling to recognise what has changed. And in respect of the healthy forecasts of more jobs and extra tourist dollars, while you can argue about the accuracy of the estimates, nothing has changed.

Yet, everything has changed. Last year's wheeling and dealing took place against the backdrop of a pending election. Attention was focused elsewhere than on a convention centre.

The story has now shifted from being about the jobs and tourism positives to one about pokies and problem gambling negatives.

Key is right. The new ingredients in the story make for an environment ripe for conspiracies. However, the media would not be doing its job if it did not investigate the ins-and-outs of the negotiations.

Key seems to have belatedly woken up to this inevitability, arguing that if poker machines did not exist then people would simply find other avenues by which to gamble. That argument is only slightly stronger than the utterly counter-productive one mounted by SkyCity that claimed Lotto does more harm to society than its Auckland casino.

Prebble's parting shot was to suggest that those in the media who had hailed Key as being able to walk on water had now decided he could not even swim. No one is arguing that. What is happening is that Key is finding himself swimming more and more against the prevailing tides.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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