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Challenges ahead but first, a break

By John Armstrong, Audrey Young

Political editor Audrey Young and political correspondent John Armstrong talk to John Key about his holiday, the election this year, Paul Henry and Will and Kate's wedding.

John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

How would you like to be spending the first week of the new year?

The most important thing will be being with Bronagh and the kids, but in this case it'll actually only be Max, Stephie's in France. It's just family time. The job is an amazing privilege but it demands an enormous amount of time away from Bronagh and the kids. I wouldn't actually care where I was or too much what I was doing so long as I was having fun with them.

What do you do when you're at your holiday home in Hawaii?

We always do quite a bit of exercise when we are up there, go for decent long walks, we eat out quite a lot because there's great restaurants, we'll definitely be playing lots of golf. Max is 15 and is starting to seriously annoy me with his yet untapped but obvious potential. And he gives running commentary as you play so that's annoying as well. So we'll be playing quite a bit of golf. I've got Tony Blair and John Howard's books. John Howard sent me a copy of his book so I'll read it.

How is Bronagh adjusting to the job?

I think she is for the most part enjoying it. She is naturally shy so she is not a person that seeks the limelight but I think she takes her responsibilities seriously. I didn't ask her to come to the Pike River funeral; she just knew that was what she should do and she wanted to do that. There's been lots of other examples where she has been doing quite a lot of work for a number of charities but she is always going to be a person that is under the radar screen because that's the way she wants it.

Other than instability in support parties, what reason would you have for going earlier than November?

I would be very reluctant to go early. You can never say never but my view is that the electoral cycle is quite short. In return for a relatively short electoral cycle, the voters expect you to go the distance. If I had used the Botany byelection as an excuse to create a general election I think I would have been punished quite severely for that. It's almost an admission that you think that somehow your current polling is an aberration or you don't trust yourself to be able to carry on enjoying public support. In my mind that is not the position we are in. I think we have got to work every day to enjoy that support. But I think we can do a good job for the people of New Zealand and if we do then they'll support us.

So November 27?

That's a Sunday from memory so I can rule the 27th out. I can't rule the 26th in but I can rule the 27th out.

Is the next term likely to be your last?

No, I wouldn't say that. I'm really enjoying the job. I've made it reasonably clear I don't want to go back to Opposition. I don't think it suits me as a person. I'm not a negative person and a lot of Opposition is negative. And I think most New Zealanders would expect of me that I'm here to make the contribution I can make and if I can't make a contribution then filling in a seat I don't think would either fulfil mine or their expectations. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. It goes very quickly. So I wouldn't say a second term would be my last term if I got a term. I just know I don't want to be Leader of the Opposition.

Who else are you hoping to meet in 2011 apart from Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is due in February?

The big trip is likely to be the UK, where we will be picking up where we left off from the cancelled Balmoral trip so, [British Prime Minister David] Cameron. My expectation is we would probably go to France, potentially Germany and Moscow. We are hopeful for a trip to India with Manmohan Singh and, look, all indications are we will go to the White House but your guess is as good as mine. Primarily what you are going to see are visits in the early part of the year because that is obviously the time we can do it.

Are you planning to go to Will and Kate's wedding?

The answer to the question is I don't know. What we do know is that heads of state are likely to be invited, so that's governors-general. Whether Commonwealth Prime Ministers will be invited, I don't know. I don't see any case for me being singled out as Prime Minister and not a lot of other prime ministers. Nor would I say to the Governor-General "I'm going to go" when every other Governor-General is going. So in other words if it is all just governors-general and no one else, then no, but we don't know.

Will the new Governor-General will be named in January?

I don't know if it will be January. Believe it or not there hasn't been a serious conversation about the contenders with any of the senior ranking ministers. I've literally thrown a couple of names at them to see what the snap-card response would be - shock and awe or huge delight - and there's been a bit of both responses. Like "don't' even think about it" was one response from a very senior minister. In my head I've got about three names which I think could fit the criteria. It's quite a difficult job in a way. The person really has to be in a position where they are not going to work again. They can't be too old to not be able to see out a five-year term in reasonable health if they can. They have got to be someone who deserves the mana of that office. They have got to be politically acceptable. The Queen would not want us to create a domestic fuss over it.

And when your senior colleague said "don't even think about it", on what grounds?

Well, thought the person was "untrustworthy and obnoxious" was the way they described it, to which I said okay. I had a sense it would be a reasonably controversial one.

Was it Winston Peters?

No it wasn't Winston Peters, bless him. I could do a Holyoake and go and do the job myself ... They told me not to make the appointment too quickly because it leaks. I'll come back and address it in the early part of the new year. I had one name I was really keen on and in the end I kind of decided on balance no. The person is extremely good but probably doesn't tick one of those boxes ... it was really the last one about whether he would be politically acceptable. We could ultimately put anybody in but I think we would want to respect the convention that it is generally seen as politically acceptable.

Labour have dubbed you "smile and wave", suggesting you're politically shallow? Does that annoy you?

No because I read John Armstrong's [Herald correspondent] columns in the weekend and they look good. In the end my personality is always going to be upbeat and optimistic. It has been ever since I can remember and that is my natural default setting. That doesn't mean I don't take my responsibilities seriously and I think where there have been tests of me as a leader I'd like to think I'd passed those tests. There'll be plenty more in front of me but in the end I don't focus on what they say about me because I don't care what they say about me.

Where do you think you have failed or how would you like to improve?

I think there are always areas where you can do better. I'll leave you guys to pick those up.

What about the Paul Henry affair?

I've replayed that in my mind. There were really only two options: option one was to try and move him on, which is what I was trying to do, and the first time he asked the question I thought he genuinely meant was he [the Governor-General] born in New Zealand which is why I said he was. The second time he said it I had a bit of an inkling of where he was going and I thought, "Do I really want to engage in this?" and so that's why I just sort of moved him on. Now should I have climbed down his throat? Maybe, but I've got to tell you I'm in a lot of media interviews where people say outrageously stupid things to me. It happens all the time.

On what issues will National be drawing the battle lines with Labour in 2011? Or is it going to be a case of "me too" politics in the run-up to the election?

We are going to set our own agenda and that will definitely be around the economy, law and order, health and education again and ultimately our vision for the country. What makes it a lot more challenging in 2011 is there is no money. There won't be money for us and there won't be money for Labour. For that reason, because essentially there is no money, then we are going to need to demonstrate to voters that we can provide solutions to their problems in a way that is either funded through savings in other areas or don't provide a financial cost. And I think that gives us an advantage in so much as the incumbency factor means that we hope ... we will continue to demonstrate we have good leadership, we assume responsibility for issues, we respond quickly, we do so in a way that has a degree of equity about it. I am very comfortable in the position that we are in but it won't be a lolly scramble.

Do you regret setting the 2025 target to match Australia?

No, and the reason for that is everyone knows it's very difficult to achieve because you are not benchmarking yourself against a lame duck [but] against a soaring eagle. They have got an amazing economy and they have got a lot of natural resources and they fundamentally have the same advantages we have. They are in Asia and all that sort of stuff. But they are our biggest economic base and they are 40 per cent of our economy so I think you do have to take those issues seriously and you've got to have long-term ambitions. You're setting a medium-term target which people are always going to measure against the short term. It's a bit like the cycleway. In the end, long after I have left politics, people are going to look back and there'll be 18 cycleways around New Zealand. They will be very successful for those communities and they will be an asset that will live on a lot longer than I will but will I have to take a bit of flak about the number of jobs that gets created from day one? Yeah. Who cares? I don't.

- NZ Herald

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