Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Key u-turns almost enough to get Crusher on his case

Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key has done so many u-turns this week he is in danger of coming to the attention of his boyracer-car-crushing minister Judith Collins.

On Monday, the u-turn was his decision to extend the deployment of troops to Iraq by 18 months. Key was almost bragging about this u-turn. He even advertised it himself in case anyone missed it, saying he expected to get some flak for it. He seemed disappointed he didn't get more flak.

He did get some, but no one actually believed him when he insisted he had no plans to extend the Iraq stint in the first place. There had been an air of him protesting too much in his ongoing insistence there was no reason to extend it beyond two years.

Suspicious types might even wonder if he'd done it on purpose so that when the call came to do more it would look like he was promising to do more by simply carrying on doing what New Zealand was already doing. It meant NZ didn't have to do the only viable alternative: deploy the SAS into a far more dangerous role in Iraq.

It was a masterful bit of trickery.

This week Key shouted his u-turn from the rooftops so it would be heard from the USA, which promptly rewarded him with a statement thanking him.

Key then set about lambasting Labour leader Andrew Little for wanting to withdraw the troops Key had initially wanted to withdraw himself, saying Labour would leave other countries to do all the "heavy lifting" for it.

There is little in Key's first u-turn that might damage him politically -- in fact quite the opposite. It would have looked far worse had he decided to leave Iraq altogether. When the deployment was first announced, much was made of the modern day Anzac force being created as we worked alongside the Australians. It is not such a good look for the NZ portion of Anzac to scarper after two years and leave the Australians to it.

On Tuesday came his second u-turn -- an apparent backdown on pinging Auckland motorists for money to pay for roads through mechanisms such as congestion charges and tolls.

In 2013, Key insisted fuel excises nationwide were enough for Auckland and road pricing was "very complex to implement and we are probably a long way in reality from having gantries and the technology that will allow us to do that".

What he meant was that selling the idea of a congestion charge to Aucklanders was very complex and it was not very long before he would be asking those same citizens to vote for him again.

Three years later, Transport Minister Simon Bridges had found the technology: GPS tracking via satellite. No gantries required! Bridges was so excited he developed acute mixed "metaphoritis", speaking about waving the flag and being not very far down the track in one sentence. Whether he also found a way to resolve the political risk was another question.

That might explain why within a day Key had the brakes on. He again bemoaned the dearth of gantries, saying it would be many, many years before any Auckland drivers got stung for a dime and promising to reduce petrol tax if that did happen. With an admirably straight face, he trotted out some nonsense about it being at attempt to change driver behaviour rather than to raise revenue.

He was more worried about changing voter behaviour. It is a u-turn at sloth pace.

Key's final u-turn was on the issue of affordable housing in Auckland. This u-turn was mumbled rather than shouted and Key has only just started nudging his steering wheel into it. He floated the idea of an urban development agency to oversee big developments in Auckland. It's very close to the government housing programme Labour espouses.

The u-turns were at least a reprieve from the boyracer technique the Government has deployed on the issue of homelessness. On that issue it remains in a prolonged burnout -- its wheels spinning while getting no traction.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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