As soon as he stepped out of the chauffeur-driven BMW, he was on the back foot.

Under-fire Prime Minister John Key was inevitably going to face questions in Christchurch from media over whether he knew documents were being released to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater.

But as he entered the recently-refurbished Barrington Mall, it was a post-earthquake issue that first set him on shaky ground.

A woman asked the Prime Minister why terminally-ill, elderly and vulnerable people were still waiting for EQC claims to be settled.


Mr Key asked for details, saying he would raise the matter with EQC.

The woman, who declined to be named, told media afterwards: "He had absolutely no answers."

Mr Key continued the mall tour, posing for selfies, accepting a free muffin, speaking to wide-eyed children, and even signing a copy of his unofficial biography.

But not everyone was happy.

Grumpy shoppers tried to negotiate their way past the mass of journalists, photographers, cameramen, National Party hopefuls, hangers-on, police officers, Diplomatic Protection Squad heavies, and onlookers.

"Isn't it time we got a new prime minister?" one woman boldly stepped up to ask the encumbent.

"I hope not," Mr Key replied.

On he went, visiting a supermarket, sushi counter, cafe, butchers, stopping to shake hands and pose for photos.


Mr Key, in seemingly high spirits, passed his free muffin to an aide, saying he would eat it later.

Outside and into a bracing south-westerly wind, his last stop was a travel agency.

As he strode on, two female radio reporters were talking, evidently blocking his way.

"I'll shove you out of the way ... you're just part of the scummy media," said Mr Key in a joke that seemed to fall flat.

He was then taken to a meeting at the Christchurch Yacht Club with the Coastal Pathway group, where more disgruntled locals awaited him.

"When are you going to fix our house?" a young boy aged 5 or 6 asked, before running back to his mother to tell her, "I shouted at him."

The visit was followed by Key's daily media conference, at which there was only one topic: was he briefed before the release of SIS documents that blogger Slater used to embarrass former Labour Leader Phil Goff?

"I can absolutely, categorically tell you that's not correct..." he said, before being grilled for the next 28 minutes.

There was time for just two other questions -- on a social inequality study, and the economy.

Mr Key suggested one of those reporters be awarded a chocolate fish, "for at least asking a reasonable question".

A spokeswoman for the prime minister later said his "scummy" comment was a joke with a press gallery journalist whom he deals with regularly.