Teflon John

Next year will be the year John Key has to decide if he wants to run for a fourth term in 2017. The good money is that he will.

The only reason not to do so would be boredom by him, a dive in popularity, scandal, ill-health, the economy going to hell, or a fear of failure.

None of those apply yet. There is nothing to suggest failure is a certainty. And the prospect of success has always been a stronger motivating force for John Key than fear of failure.


The New Zealand public is more conservative than Labour in Opposition has calculated, and Key will pin his hopes on Labour continuing to miscalculate that.

For all his idiotic appearances and antics with Auckland radio shock-jocks and, probably because of them, his Teflon has barely started to peel.

The good money is also on Key landing another five-hour bilateral with US President Barack Obama to start the year, otherwise known as 18 holes of golf in Hawaii.

The Economy

You could hear the ears of Treasury officials prick up in unison on Tuesday when Bill English started to talk about their forecasts for a deficit this year.

"It's just another Treasury forecast, right?" said English.

It wasn't a dismissive and heartless criticism but a fact. Treasury operates on the immutable truism that the only thing constant in life is change. That means its forecasts must change to take account of variables such as the level of rain falling on pasture, the amount of milk being sucked out of udders, the price it is fetching in global auctions.

If their forecasts didn't change, we could assume they were making them up. So the fact that its $176 million surplus in May for the current year has turned to the $401 million deficit is neither here nor there.


We won't know until October 2016 what the actual balance will come in at and we won't care, either.

The media's former obsession about the surplus was driven by the Government obsession about it being the symbol of economic responsibility. The markets never cared whether it was $500 million either way. English doesn't any more.

The new obsession will be tax cuts, already a stated Government priority. It's all money but there is never much angst over capital spending. It's usually considered investment. It's all about operating allowance - whether English will bring forward some of the 2017 $2.5 billion already built into the Budget for earlier tax cuts; who should get tax cuts; and whether they should happen at all.


The time for excuses is over. It's time to vote for a new flag, or the old one if you must. But just vote.

The process to find a finalist for the flag vote in March has not been a fiasco as John Key's opponents often claim.


The flag committee's choices may have been pitiful but the process itself has been quite sound.

Yes, it has cost money. So did the referendum on asset sales, a vote held after the sales had taken place and after the Government had won an electoral mandate for the asset sales. Not a bleat about the cost of that referendum.

There are now diminishing ways to sabotage the flag vote.

The lamest excuse to oppose the flag vote is that it should be at the end of a constitutional debate, not at the start of one, or God forbid, part-way through.

The intelligentsia has a continual debate on the constitution, augmented here and there by constitutional conferences, books on New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, select committee reviews (Peter Dunne's review in 2004-2005) and the constitutional review in 2012-14 set up by Bill English and Sir Pita Sharples.

The public has no appetite for a big public constitutional conversation at present, let alone a vote on republicanism.


For the record, my alternative flag rankings were:

1. Red Peak

2. Black and white fern

3. Blue and black silver fern

4. Red and blue silver fern

5. Koru


I will be voting for the alternative against the current flag and if it wins, maybe in another 20 years we can ditch the Southern Cross and get a silver fern on black which is what the flag committee should have offered in the first place.

Good friends or more?

With all the global problems the United States military has to contend with, you'd have to wonder why an invitation to attend a friend's birthday party would need the permission of the President.

But the Pentagon's call about whether to send a US naval vessel to the New Zealand Navy's 75th birthday next November will almost certainly need White House approval, either way.

And either way, there will be a fuss.

A "No" will mean the hawks still control the Pentagon - and the White House. A "No" will please anti-American elements in New Zealand. It will mean they still rule. Nothing has changed.


A "Yes" will also mean they have triumphed.

It will mean the 30-year widely accepted anti-nuclear law has outlasted a boycott by the US of New Zealand ports.

Either way, the US will have to swallow a certain amount of short-term triumphalism from the New Zealand public - and possibly Labour.

It's a subject that could well come up in any golf game in Hawaii.

It is of personal interest to Obama. He himself last year ordered the US Navy to make room at Pearl Harbour naval base for a New Zealand ship taking part in the Rimpac exercise instead of having to park at a civilian wharf, a laughable remnant of US reprisals against New Zealand.

The sensible-for-everyone option would be a "Yes" but to make the first visit well before the birthday so as not to upstage the main event in November.


The Spielberg (James Cameron?) ending would be for Obama to time his promised visit to New Zealand at the same time, perhaps even being on the bridge to steer it up the Waitemata with a flotilla welcome party (fade out and credits roll).

Security and Defence

New Zealand might finally get something approaching a bipartisan approach to national security, as they have in Australia.

That should mean more consultation by the Prime Minister with Labour leader Andrew Little over next steps (and an invitation to join him on his next visit to Iraq).

Labour's tendency to fight everything in Opposition extended this year to it opposing New Zealand's small but valiant effort to combat Isis, sending troops into a non-combat training role in Iraq.

Labour reasoned that because training Iraqi troops wasn't enough to defeat Isis, it shouldn't support it at all.


It may have convinced itself that the situation was akin to Helen Clark soundly holding out against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but no one else thought so.

As the complexity of international alignments over Isis has intensified, Little has adjusted Labour's position.

This week he told the Herald he could see a role for the SAS in Syria under the right conditions.

It's not a theoretical proposition. A plea by the US Defence Secretary to do more in the Middle East will be on the Cabinet's agenda in the first quarter of the year.

It's an executive decision, not a parliamentary one but it is about time any major deployment into a conflict zone was done with the blessing of a majority of Parliament, as is the case in Britain.

The review of the spy agencies the SIS and GCSB by former Labour deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen will be a test for Parliament when conflicting imperatives inevitably arise.


There is one answer to address the tension between upholding civil liberties and improving detection of active terrorist supporters and that is stronger oversight by the Inspector- General of Intelligence and Security.

John Key made big improvements in 2013 and Labour secured more in 2014 in exchange for supporting greater surveillance powers.

Even greater oversight will be required next year when the SIS gets greater powers identified by Cullen to meet modern threats.

Police actions in cases such as its search warrant on Nicky Hager's house, deemed unlawful this week by the courts, queer the pitch.

If agencies of the state cannot properly use the intrusive powers they have already, there will be a greater resistance to any expansions of such powers.

Helen Clark and the UN


Soon a more transparent process will begin to choose the next Secretary- General of the United Nations, with Helen Clark being favoured by many who want an exceptional woman in the job.

A revolt in the general assembly has secured a greater role for it to play in identifying and testing candidates before selection by the Security Council begins in July next year - although candidates may emerge after that as well.

Much will still be done behind closed doors.

The Security Council has not relinquished its power to find a single candidate for approval by the general assembly.

And Russia and the United States in particular will not hesitate to exercise their veto behind closed doors on anyone not to their liking.

But she is not likely to put herself forward if Russia or the US (she is still perceived as anti-American) has quietly promised a veto.


Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian who heads Unesco, may possibly be acceptable to Russia, and Russia is insisting that it is Eastern Europe's turn.

Clark can be assured of the full backing of the New Zealand Government.

It will also certainly be another issue on Key's talking points with Obama over the golf game.

One thing can be sure: ex-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is dog tucker before he has even started.