One of the perils of being a third-term Prime Minister is that you run out of buzzwords and have to start recycling the old ones. It seems that like hats, the fashion in buzzwords is cyclical. This time the buzzword in question is "optionality".

Prime Minister John Key is not one to use a plain word, like oh, say, "options", when a more intelligent-sounding word (read: jargon) might fit, like optionality.

The last time he used it was in early 2013 to refer to measures for dealing with mass arrivals of asylum seekers. Then it vanished from his lexicon, apparently becoming outre. Then it came back in. At the end of last year up it popped again to discuss the timing of funding for the City Rail Link.

At that point, the Government was not proposing to plump up with its funding until 2020. But there is always an asterisk involved and he added "there's a bit of optionality to go a bit sooner, let's see how it goes". He cashed in on that optionality in his State of the Nation address yesterday, bringing the funding forward by two years.


It is the season for State of the Nation addresses, although all up the speeches inevitably turned out to be State of a Subset of the Nation addresses. The only one left is Labour leader Andrew Little's this Sunday. Little is showing off his wild side. He has taken two risks by having it at Mt Albert Park and opening it to the public. There is the risk of sabotage by political opponents and rain.

Key's was more the State of Auckland's Traffic Jams with its announcements to fast track funding for the City Rail Link and motorways.

In the past, the Green Party dubbed its annual address the "State of the Planet" but this year there were early signs it had more modest aspirations when it too used the State of the Nation tagline.

In the final wash, Green co-leader Metiria Turei's was more State of the Green Party's Finances. The centrepiece was a bid for Treasury to set up a unit to cost all of the political parties' policies. This, she said, would give voters reliable information to work from.

It may well indeed have that effect. But the only poverty it would address is the poverty of Opposition parties, for it would mean parties did not have to do it at their own expense (or more accurately, at taxpayers' expense, given the parties get funding they can use to pay someone to do their costing work for them).

NZ First leader Winston Peters' State of the Nation was more State of One Nation. Up he popped with his theme of separatism. Peters called for reference to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to be taken out of the Resource Management Act. He made this call at that bastion of conservatism, the Orewa Rotary Club - the same venue at which former National leader Don Brash set out his similar stance. In fact, Brash was at Peters' speech.

But after the headlines were tweeted out it took mere seconds for the Maori Party to point out: "He didn't say that at Ratana." They followed that up with a press release headed "the chameleon of NZ politics strikes again".

Just two days earlier, the Master of Knowing His Audience had stood before the paepae at Ratana, told them to vote for him and sang the praises of the prophet T. W. Ratana, a strong advocate for the Treaty of Waitangi, but made no mention of his own views of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Peters' speech did prompt a reaction from Key - in particular Peters' bleat about the Government's failure to talk to NZ First about supporting the RMA reforms and instead caving in to "brownmailing" from the Maori Party. Yesterday, Key told media he would talk to Peters about the RMA reforms, even if that meant caving to Peters' condition special provisions for Maori were excised.

If Key really does want that fourth term, the time is coming when he will have to address his own optionalities in terms of future coalition partners. That may also be why Key's speech contained no new measures for Northland, although there were treats for Taranaki, Gisborne and Marlborough. It pays to have some coin left in your pocket when dealing with such tricky optionalities as Peters.