Following his unexpected announcement to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister on 5 December last year, much has been said of Key’s “legacy”. Pundits have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what “legacy” can be attributed to eight years of a Key-led administration.
Despite screeds being devoted on the subject, it appears that little can actually be attributed to any form of Key “legacy”.
On 29 December, Radio NZ’s “ “, Brent Edwards, wrote;
“At the time of his departure, his own personal rating remained high…”
Whilst Key’s Preferred Prime Ministership rating remained higher than his rivals, Key’s public support had plummeted since 2009. In October 2009, Key rated a phenomenal 55.8% in a TV3/Reid Research poll.
By May last year, TV3/Reid Research reported Key’s support to have fallen by 19.1 percentage points to 36.7%. The same poll reported;
National though is steady on 47 percent on the poll — a rise of 0.3 percent — and similar to the Election night result.
So something was clearly happening with the public’s perception of Key. Whilst National’s overall support remained unchanged from election night on 2014, Key’s favourability was in slow-mo free-fall.
Edwards’ analysis of Key’s “legacy” appeared mostly to consist of this observation;
Within the political commentariat Mr Key has been highly regarded, mainly on the basis of his political style.
He was quick to dump any political unpopular policies before they did terminal damage to his government and he had an uncanny knack of skating through the most embarrassing political gaffes with little damage, if any, to his political reputation
What other Prime Minister, for example, would have escaped with their political credibility intact after revelations they had repeatedly pulled the ponytail of a waitress at their local cafe?
In effect, Key’s ‘qualities’ appeared to consist of constant damage-control and “an uncanny knack” to avoid being charged with assault.
Edwards contrasted Key’s administration with that of Jim Bolger and pointed out the latter’s legacies, which have had a lasting impact of New Zealand’s social and political landscape. The first was the advent of MMP which forever changed politics as it is done in this country. The second was Bolger’s courage to stand up to his party’s redneck conservatism and engage with Maori to address Treaty of Waitangi grievances.
Key’s “legacies”, according to Edwards, was a failed flag referendum costing the taxpayer $29 million and this;
He did help manage the country through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake. But National was left a legacy by the previous Labour Government – a healthy set of government books – which gave it the financial buffer it needed to deal with both crises.
Irony of ironies – Key’s one claim to a “legacy” was the product of a prudent Labour finance minister whose own legacy was a cash-gift to Key. Yet, even that cash-gift to Key could have been squandered had then-Finance Minister, Michael Cullen listened to Key’s wheedling demands for tax-cuts;
“Mr Key can’t have it both ways. One moment he says there is a recession looming then he thinks there are still surpluses to spend on tax cuts.”
… he is almost the kinder, gentler Kiwi Donald Trump. He is a populist who has been able to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling than some kind of semi-supernatural intuition.
Matthews’ reference to Key’s ability “to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling” was pointed out by Radio NZ’s John Campbell, in his own assessment of the former Prime Minister’s tenure;
Key entered Parliament in 2002. His maiden speech was a pre-Textor, pre-dorky, pre-casual, pre-everyman piece of rhetoric, ripe to the point of jam with admonishments and exhortation.
And the key passage, in this respect, was: “We mustn’t be scared to do things because they might offend small groups, or seem unconventional. Good government is more than doing what’s popular. Good government is more than blindly following the latest opinion poll.”
On election night 12 years later, having just been made prime minister for a third term, Key triumphantly thanked his pollster, David Farrar, by name: the country’s “best”, he declared, admitting, as the New Zealand Herald reported, that he had rung Farrar “night after night, even though he wasn’t supposed to”.
The man who’d entered Parliament declaring a belief in something better than poll-driven politics had subverted himself. Gamekeeper turned pollster.
Matthews summed up with this conclusion;
He was somehow politically untouchable, even when New Zealand was laughing at or with him, or just cringing. Future historians will provide a clearer picture of his failures: A flag change that was supposed to be a personal legacy became an expensive embarrassment; the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is dead in the water; he could have used his political capital to do something meaningful about inequality and poverty.
But over on the West Coast, the government’s failures to satisfy the grieving Pike River families remain entirely embodied in Key.
Again, Key’s abilities appear to lie with being “politically untouchable”. His “legacies” amounted to a list of dismal failures.
The unknown author of an editorial for the Otago Daily Times was kinder, as if it had been written by one of National’s small army of taxpayer-funded Beehive spin-doctors;
The legacy Mr Key will leave is one of financial stability, a unified government, a record of strong economic management and a commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible. A shortage of suitable housing has been laid at the door of Mr Key but his efforts in trying to sort out that particularly difficult area have been assiduous.
One of the issues he received the most criticism for is failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion. While Mr Key would have meant what he said at the time, the pragmatism which ruled his career meant he made a tough call to allow the mine to be sealed. Then there was the failed flag referendum.
But, his leadership during the Christchurch, and latterly Kaikoura, earthquakes was seen as outstanding by most New Zealanders. New Zealand secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council in no small part due to the work carried out by Mr Key.
Curiously, the un-named author glosses over the “commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible”, “a shortage of suitable housing … laid at the door of Mr Key”, “criticism for … failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion”, and “the failed flag referendum”. Because at least – the author crows – we “secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council”.
The ODT’s mystery cheerleader for our former Dear Leader may be one of the few attempts to put a positive ‘spin’ to Key’s administration. It was, however, glaringly light on specifics.
In direct stark contrast to the ODT’s lame attempt to canonise Key, Audrey Young was more caustic in her piece, Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem. Her conclusions were;
… two other areas I consider to be legacies for the Key Government although he has not claimed them as such: the Ross Sea sanctuary and the modernization of New Zealand’s spy agencies.
Unfortunately for Young, the original proposals for a MPA (Marine Protected Area) for the Ross Sea began as far back as 2005, and was first mooted by the US delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR).
If Key’s sole legacy was to increase the spying powers of the SIS, GCSB, and uncle Tom Cobbly – that may not be something his descendants bring up at polite dinner parties;
“Yeah, it was grand-dad Key who helped turn New Zealand in the virtual police state we have now. Sure we have spy cameras in every home, workplace, and cafe, but crime is almost non-existent!”
– is not something Max or Steph’s own kids will be heard crowing about.
Young suggested that Key’s “legacy” was more akin to a ‘state of mind’;
When I’ve asked people this week what they thought Key’s legacy was, many have said he gave New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world.
That is true but it is a state of mind. It could just as easily disappear through circumstances well beyond our control.
Giving “New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world” were the legacies of former Labour Prime Ministers – notably Norman Kirk and David Lange. Their leadership against the war in Vietnam; atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific; opposing apartheid in South Africa; advancing gay rights, and turning the entire country into a nuclear-free zone are legacies that are with us today.
Going back even further, and the legacies of Labour’s Michael Savage are still discussed today.
Cringing whilst Key recited his “Top Ten Reasons for Visiting New Zealand” on the David Letterman Show would hardly have given Kiwis “a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world“;
[Warning: Cringe Level: Extreme]
Most who saw that episode would have hidden their heads beneath a pillow or blanket. Hardly the stuff of legacies, except of the Silvio Berlusconi variety.
She then concluded;
The fact that Key doesn’t really have a legacy is of no matter.
Well, that’s alright then. According to Young, Key’s “legacy” would be in the same vein as the manner in which he handled his own and ministers’ scandals and stuff-ups; nothing to see here, folks, no legacy, move along please.
Comedian, Jeremy Elwood, offered;
We may never have another Prime Minister who provides as much fodder for as many late night comedy shows around the world, as well as right here, again, but that’s all been part of his “popular appeal”.
Another ‘comedian’ – albeit unintentional – was Roger Partridge, writing on behalf of the so-called NZ Initiative (formerly the now largely discredited Business Roundtable). Partridge offered a lengthy list of neo-liberal “reforms” from Key’s tenure as PM;
Key’s was also a reforming government. After the Fourth Labour government, it was perhaps New Zealand’s most radical in the post-war era. The GST for income tax swap, welfare reforms (the likes of which might have brought down another government), the investment approach to social services; labour market reform, partial-privatisation, reforms in education, including national standards and charter schools: these may have occurred incrementally, but together they comprise a prodigious package of reform.
None of Partridge’s listed “reforms” will stand. In an era marking the rise of nationalistic political movements (Brexit, Trump, et al), Key’s “package of reforms” will be rolled back and many, like Charter Schools, swept away entirely.
These legacies of a failed economic ideology – neo-liberalism – may rate a mention in the footnotes of future history books, but not much more. In fifty years time, no one will point to Key’s supposed “reforms” as people still do to Michael Savage’s achievements.
The Herald’s pointed to; Liam Dann
…ongoing GDP growth at about 3 per cent, unemployment at around 5 per cent and the crown accounts are solid with the Government booking surpluses that are forecast to top $8 billion within five years.
– but had to concede that much of this “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland;
The housing boom has been a global phenomenon driven by the unusually low interest rate environment in the wake of the GFC. Investors have been looking for somewhere to put their money outside of the bank and assets prices have soared – both sharemarkets and property.
And far from National’s books being in surplus, Key has managed to rack up a debt of $95 billion according to a recent Treasury document. Dann must have missed that salient bit in his rush-to-gush. He did, however, acknowledge the nature of the “ongoing GDP growth” further into his piece;
Overall population growth and record net migration is widely cited as a factor taking the gloss off New Zealand’s strong growth story.
Per capita GDP isn’t nearly so strong and the extra population is adding to the housing bubble and highlighting some deficiencies in infrastructure spending.
Almost reluctantly, Dann concludes;
He has not been a reformer but he has created a stable platform, in unstable times, for growth.
He exuded confidence and it rubbed off on the economy. Whether he has done enough to set the nation up for long-term prosperity, as outlined in those rosy Treasury forecasts, remains to be seen.
He also repeats Brent Edwards’ observation;
…Key made the most of the market conditions he had to work with. He has benefited from some ground work done by the previous Labour Government, particularly in booking the gains from the China free trade agreement.
Writing for Radio NZ, John Campbell asks;
So, in the end, how will history judge John Key?
In his earnest, boy-scout, way, Campbell is charitable about one possible legacy left by Key;
In the age of Trump and Brexit and Manus Island, and having succeeded Don Brash and his divisive Orewa rhetoric, part of what may endure is a sense that, under him, New Zealand did not embrace xenophobia and paranoia and the vilification of Māori, Muslims, Mexicans, blue-collar immigrants and almost anyone who wasn’t Tribe White.
To this point, writer and trade unionist, Morgan Godfery, not a natural ally of Key, tweeted on the day the prime minister announced his resignation: “I’ll go into bat for Key on this: he rejected the politics of Orewa, avoiding what might have been an ugly decade of tension and conflict.”
Which might be true… except that Key and his Ministers were not above vilifying those who dared criticise National, or when it suited party-politics;
In his usual manner of gentle admonishment, John Campbell chides Key and his Administration for their failing in housing;
“When I was six”, [Key] said in his maiden speech, “my father died; leaving my mother penniless with three children to raise. From a humble start in a state house, she worked as a cleaner and night porter until she earned the deposit for a modest home. She was living testimony that you get out of life what you put into it. There is no substitute for hard work and determination. These are the attitudes she instilled in me.”
Key was six in 1967. Among the many things that have changed since then is housing affordability. The IMF’s latest Global Housing Watch lists New Zealand’s housing market, in relation to household income, as the most expensive in the OECD. Could a penniless solo mother, working as a “cleaner and night porter”, paying market rents, now earn the deposit for a modest home?
Then Campbell issued what may well be Key’s one and only true legacy – if one could call a broken promise to the grieving families and friends of 29 men entombed deep within a mine on the West Coast, a “legacy”;
This is what John Key said, behind closed doors, when he met with Pike families on September 22, 2011.
“The first thing is I’m here to give you an absolute reassurance we’re committed to get the boys out.”
An absolute reassurance. The boys out. When the families heard that, there was spontaneous applause. The human details. The empathy, sincerity and trust. When the clapping stopped, the prime minister continued:
“When people try and tell you we’re not, they’re playing, I hate to say it, but they’re playing with your emotions.”
And then John Key made it personal:
“So, you are the number one group that want to get those men out. And, quite frankly, I’m number two. Because I want to get them out.”
Five years on, the men are still in. It may be that the risk of getting them out is too great. But, when he was alone with them, Key didn’t say that, or qualify his words with that possibility. His was an “absolute reassurance”, and the families believed him and have clung to that belief in the years since.
Of all the many broken promises from Key, that will be the one most remembered. Because as Campbell so astutely pointed out, “John Key made it personal”.
‘Mickey Savage’ writing for The Standard was more brutal and unforgiving in his/her appraisal of Key’s administration;
Key has perfected the aw shucks blokey persona that some clearly like. Although this was only skin deep. His management of dirty politics and the Cameron Slater Jason Ede axis of evil won him the last election but at the cost of his soul.
As to the substance he did not really achieve or create anything. He saw off the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquake rebuilds basically by borrowing money which New Zealand could because Michael Cullen had so assiduously paid off debt.
His economic development policies were crap. Expanding dairying only polluted our rivers and increased our output of greenhouse gasses. The growth of tertiary education for foreign students only caused the mushrooming of marginal providers.
The primary economic growth policy now appears to be ballooning immigration. Auckland’s population grew almost 3% last year. The symptoms are clear, rampant house price increases, homeless caused by ordinary people no longer being able to afford inflated rental amounts and a whole generation shut out of the property market. And services are stretched as budgets are held but demand increases.
And child poverty has ballooned. Key was great with the visuals and the talk of an under class and the trip to Waitangi with Aroha Ireland before he became Prime Minister was a major PR event for him to show that at least superficially he cared about the underclass. But the reality? Over a quarter of a million of children now live in poverty and kids are living in cars even though their parents have jobs. There is something deeply wrong in New Zealand.
Overall Key was great at the spin and the PR but appallingly bad at dealing with the reality. Despite his hopes the country is now in a far worse situation under his stewardship than it was when he took over.
‘Mickey Savage’ has summed up Key’s legacy perfectly and I leave this brief assessment for future historians;
John Key – Master at spin, photo-ops, and PR, but nothing else. When the teflon was stripped away, there was nothing underneath.
And that will be his legacy: nothing. We simply couldn’t think of a single damned one.
Scoop media: 3 News Poll – 2-10 October 2012
Fairfax media: The boy from Bryndwr – John Key’s Christchurch legacy
ODT: The John Key legacy
NZ Herald: Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem
US State Department: A proposal for the establishment of the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area
NZ Herald: NZ’s half-trillion-dollar debt bomb
NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums
Dominion Post: Forced sterilisation ‘a step too far’
Against the current: John Key’s Dismal Record on Climate Change
Local Bodies: John Key’s Real Legacy
Sciblogs: Key’s legacy – an economist’s view
The Daily Blog: The true legacy of John Key
The Standard: John Key’s legacy
Your NZ: Key’s legacy
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 4 January 2017.
= fs =
Open warfare has broken out between the National regime and the Reserve Bank. Recent media statements indicate that we are seeing an increasingly bitter war-of-words; a battle of wills, taking place over the growing housing crisis.
National is demanding that the Reserve Bank implement policies to “get on with it” to rein-in ballooning Auckland housing prices. The Reserve Bank is resisting, in an almost Churchillian-way.
In April this year, Key denied flatly that there was any “housing crisis” in this country;
“No, I don’t think you can call it a crisis. What you can say though is that Auckland house prices have been rising, and rising too quickly actually.”
But a year ago, on 15 April 2015, Reserve Bank deputy governor Grant Spencer warned that investors/speculators were becoming a major problem in the housing market;
“Investors are often setting the marginal market prices that are then applied to the full housing stock within a regional market.”
Spencer went on to issue what must be the most prescient statement ever uttered by a senior civil servant;
“Indicators point to an increasing presence of investors in the Auckland market and this trend is no doubt being reinforced by the expectation of high rates of return based on untaxed capital gains.”
Predictably, Key rejected taxing capital gains as an instrument to control rampant speculation;
“I remember when everyone said to [introduce] the equivalent of a [capital gains] bright line test, it will solve the issues. Well, it really didn’t.”
“We’re going to stick with the plan we’ve got.”
Of course Key is not prepared to reduce immigration . It is one of the few drivers for current economic growth that is stimulating the economy. Curb migration and the economy stalls. Stall the economy and National would have nothing to take to the election next year.
As National’s own minister, Jonathan Coleman stated in 2011;
“It’s important to highlight the economic value of Immigration here…
…New migrants add an estimated $1.9 billion to the New Zealand economy every year.
Immigration recognises the strategic importance of the tourism and export education sectors and the direct links they provide to employers.
Given these compelling figures, my number one priority has been to ensure Immigration is contributing to the Government’s economic growth agenda.”
Coleman’s 6 May 2011 press release was entitled, “Immigration New Zealand’s contribution to growing the economy”.
Key deflected criticism and instead blamed the Auckland Council. In a blustering attack reminiscent of the late Robert Muldoon, Key threatened the Auckland Council with over-riding it’s Unitary Plan;
“The effect of the [government] National Policy Statement would vary around the country, but in essence it linked the price of land to demand in the economy. If the land price is going up too quickly (councils) have to amend their plans to release enough land, and if they don’t do that they’ll breach the law. If the Unitary Plan doesn’t meet the demands of Auckland, the National Policy Statement because of the way it works will drive it, mark my words.”
His solution? Build more;
“Look, in the end, we’ve been saying for some time it is not sustainable for house prices to rise at 10, 12, 13 percent a year. The only answer to that is do what we’re doing: allocate more land and build more houses. It certainly will stop it, there’s no question about that, because if you build enough supply, you eventually satisfy demand.
The mantra to ‘build more, build more‘ overlooks recent statistics which showed that nearly fifty percent of housing in Auckland was being purchased by investors/speculators;
The Reserve Bank has for the first time unveiled official figures that break out the Auckland market from the rest of the country’s mortgage lending figures. The figures confirm what some previous research and anecdotal evidence has pointed to. Investors are huge in the Auckland market.
The figures show that in April, investors committed to $1.623 billion of the $3.536 billion worth of mortgages advanced in Auckland. That’s just a tick under 46% of the total.
Labour’s Phil Twyford said that in some areas of Auckland, up to 75% of housing was being grabbed by investors/speculators. Twyford said;
“They should start immediately by banning non-resident foreign buys from speculating in New Zealand property, unless they build a new dwelling. That’s the Australian Government policy and we think it makes a lot of sense.”
So unless National is prepared to ban foreigner and local investors/speculators from purchasing around half of all new housing in Auckland, building new homes will not address the growing crisis.
On the issue of foreign-ownership of residential property, Key was adamant that his open-door, free-market policy of foreign ownership of housing would be unchanged. Even if it meant New Zealander’s would find it harder and harder to buy their own home, in their own country. As he said to Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A last year;
“But the point here is simply this – I don’t want to ban foreigners from buying residential property.”
But Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse, was having none of Key’s bullying tactics. She responded with her own tough message;
“We’ve got six and half years of land planned for, infrastructure in the ground and ready to go. Government themselves have got more than 20 special housing areas that belong to Housing New Zealand that are ready to go. There’s no shortage of places to build. Our question to government would be, perhaps you just need to get on with it.”
The reality is that National is unwilling to implement any policy that might lower property prices. As Key has said previously;
“If it is left unchecked, some buyers could find themselves substantially overexposed in an overvalued market, and we all know what happens if those values start to fall.” – John Key, 23 July 2013
“Let’s just take the counter-factual for a moment. Would you want your house price going down? And what most Aucklanders say to me is ‘I’d rather my house price went up, but I’d rather it went up a little more slowly than this’.” – John Key, 6 August 2015
So Key is in a bind. His government’s continuing popularity is at the pleasure of property-owners with bloated housing values.
Build too many houses or implement too many restrictions (including new taxes), and property values in Auckland and elsewhere in New Zealand might begin to fall, as they did in the late 1990s. That would be a financial shock for many New Zealanders who, through rising property values, are feeling like “millionaires”, albeit on paper.
If that happens, National’s popularity – riding high on 47% – would finally crash and burn, paving way for a Labour-Green(-NZ First?) coalition government next year.
However, National’s desperation to resolve what has become a major public crisis has apparently found a new scape-goat – the Reserve Bank.
National’s cunning plan is for the Reserve Bank to do their “dirty work” for them. If the RBNZ were to implement policies that would result in property values levelling off – or even dropping – then Key and English would have “plausible deniability”. They could point to the Reserve Bank as an independent body and wash their hands of its actions.
Recent demands from John Key for the RBNZ to “get on with it” are not the first time that National has interfered with the independence of the bank.
In April last year, in a classic example of nepotistic cronyism, Bill English’s brother was appointed to the RBNZ as an “advisor”;
A year later, in April this year, Bill English took an unprecedented step in demanding greater over-sight of Graeme Wheeler, the RBNZ’s Governor;
According to the Fairfax report, English said;
“The duties of the board include keeping under review the performance of the governor. I would expect to discuss your assessment of the governor’s performance from time to time.”
On National’s* own website, English went further;
“Ministers typically send letters of expectation to the Boards of entities in their portfolio. This letter was prepared after The Treasury identified an opportunity to bring the accountability framework into line with other Crown agencies.”
This is naked interference in an institution that, since 1989, was to be protected from partisan-political interference. The RBNZ supposedly acts according to legislation – not the demands of the Finance Minister. Not since the Muldoon era has the RBNZ been controlled directly by a government minister.
It can only be assumed that National is meeting stiff resistance from the bank’s Governor, Graeme Wheeler, as English attempts to assert direct ministerial “over-sight” (ie, control) over the institution.
The fact that a recent war-of-words has erupted over the RBNZ’s involvement in Auckland’s housing crisis suggests that English’s Very Kiwi Coup may not have been successful.
In fact, the Cold War has become a Hot Conflict.
In the last week, the ‘battleground’ between National and the Bank became more public, as government minister and chief Head-Kicker, Steven Joyce and Grant Spence continued their war-of wills.
6 July, 1.10 AM
“But my sense is potentially one of the risks is you have got people buying rental properties at the moment, borrowing more money but fearful that the Reserve Bank is going to move. If they are going to make changes, probably they should just get on with it.”
Grant Spencer (RBNZ);
“Increased housing demand has been driven by record net immigration, low mortgage interest rates and increasing investor participation. Net migration flows continue to hit new records, with annual net PLT migration now approaching 70,000 persons…
A dominant feature of the housing market resurgence has been an increase in investor activity. In recent months, investors have accounted for around 43 percent of sales in Auckland and 38 percent in other regions […] The prospect of capital gains appears to remain a key driver for investors in the face of declining rental yields.
The declining affordability of New Zealand housing and increasing investor presence have seen a downward trend in the share of households owning their own home. This ratio has fallen steadily since the early 1990s, reaching 64.8 percent at the 2013 Census. The recent increase in investor housing activity suggests that the home-ownership rate may have declined further since 2013.
The Reserve Bank considers that rising investor participation tends to increase the financial stability risks relating to the household sector in severe downturn conditions.
…However, we cannot ignore that the 160,000 net inflow of permanent and long-term migrants over the last 3 years has generated an unprecedented increase in the population and a significant boost to housing demand. Given the strong influence of departing and returning New Zealanders in the total numbers, it will never be possible to fine-tune the overall level of migration or smooth out the migration cycle. However, there may be merit in reviewing whether migration policy is securing the number and composition of skills intended. While any adjustments would operate at the margin, they could over time help to moderate the housing market imbalance.”
8 July, 7.46am
Don Brash (Former Reserve Bank governor);
“The Reserve bank has no statutory responsibility for Auckland house prices or indeed house prices anywhere else…
The Prime Minister wants to pretend this is somebody else’s responsibility. I think the Reserve bank is absolutely right, that this responsibility for Auckland house prices lies first and foremost with local government Auckland and central government in Wellington.
Central government, because it controls the rate of migration, which is by any international standards a very high level, that pushes demand for housing. And of course the Auckland Council, not just now, but for the last couple of decades has restrained the availability of land on which to build Auckland houses...”
8 July, 7.51am
Steven Joyce (Minister for Economic Development);
“Migration is a contributing factor to housing demand…
The prime minister’s comment was entirely fair, which is to to suggest to the Reserve Bank [that] if you’re going to these things then, then do move on them quickly…
The Prime Minister’s comments on Tuesday were just to highlight the fact that actually if you’re going to make these sorts of changes, do make them reasonably quickly…“
8 July, 7.57am
Grant Spencer (RBNZ);
“What we’re saying is that the, what we’re seeing in the last three years is 160,000 net in-flow is unprecedented and it’s an important driver of the current housing situation and therefore it can’t be ignored….
“You can’t manage or fine tune the migration cycle, we know that, but all we’re saying is that given it’s an important driver that we should be taking a look at that policy – making sure that we’re getting the numbers and the skills that government’s really targeting.”
It’s an important driver in the housing market, yes. There’s no doubt about that. But we’re also saying there’s no easy solution. You can’t manage or fine tune the migration cycle, we know that, but all we’re saying is that given it’s an important driver that we should be taking a look at that policy – making sure that we’re getting the numbers and the skills that government’s really targeting.”
We’re running at a rate of 60,000 at present, but how many years can we continue running at a rate of 60,000 and continue to absorb that rate. It get’s more and more difficulty when the country doesn’t have that absorbtive capacity.”
Current battle-status: stalemate.
Controlling house prices, as former Reserve Bank governor, Don Brash said, is beyond the bank’s statutory responsibility. On top of which, the RBNZ is unwilling to be the “patsy” for implementing policies (even if it could) that might crash house prices, and make them the Bad Guys in this worsening crisis.
Only a government can act decisively in such matters – but to do so would be political suicide for Key and his fellow ministers.
Fran O’Sullivan is usually sympathetic to the National government, but her column on 6 July was damning of Key’s inaction;
Most National Cabinet ministers and MPs are well invested in “real property”. So are many of their counterparts from other political parties.
Like most of us who are “established” – that is those of us who bought into the housing market a decade or more ago – the MPs have seen their own on-paper wealth double.
Having rejoiced at the wealth effect, neither the MPs nor the rest of us want to take a financial haircut. Key is right on that score.
But it is a pretty crap society that pulls the ladder up on younger people or those less well off just because they want to preserve their new unearned wealth.
Key again duck-shoved the issue, suggesting it was the Reserve Bank’s responsibility to “have a look at the question around investors”.
What’s notable is his Government will not slap investors with an effective capital gains tax, preferring a “bright line” test which is easily avoided by holding a housing investment for more than two years; refuses to introduce specific taxes to punish land bankers; and will not introduce rules to preserve the acquisition of existing residential housing for citizens or curb migration.
Key could pass special legislation to do this.
The question is why won’t he.
“Why”? Because Key doesn’t want to lose the 2017 election.
This is National’s Achille’s Heel, and it is fully exposed.
In May this year, a TV3/Reid Research Poll was scathing of National’s inaction on the housing crisis. Even National voters were getting ‘grumpy’;
Current ballooning property prices are the highest in the developed world;
• $975,087- Auckland: Average house price, up 4.7% in past three months and 16.1% since June last year
• $492,403- Hamilton: Average house price, up 6.9% in past three months and 29% since June last year
• $599,915- Tauranga: Average house price, up 4.9% in past three months and 23.6% since June last year
Inflation is currently at 0.4%, according to Statistics NZ.
* I have downloaded and retained a copy of the National Party webpage. In the past, National Party webpages tend to “disappear”, and are no longer searchable, making referencing and verification of quotes problematic. If this webpage disappears, English’s comments can still be verified to anyone requesting it. – Frank Macskasy
Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis
Fairfax media: Reserve Bank call to look at untaxed property gains
Radio NZ: No change on immigration, says John Key
Beehive.govt.nz: Immigration New Zealand’s contribution to growing the economy
Scoop media: PM – I don’t want to ban foreign buyers from buying
Fairfax media: Key expects LVRs to go ahead
QV.co.nz: How fast is the current property market rising compared to the past? (2013)
National.co.nz: English releases RB Board letter of expectations
NZ Herald: Auckland property: $400k deposit please
Reserve Bank: Housing risks require a broad policy response
Fairfax media: Why MPs may want house prices in New Zealand to keep rising
TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing
NZ Herald: Auckland property – $400k deposit please
Statistics NZ: Consumers Price Index: March 2016 quarter
Previous related blogposts
Cartoon acknowledgement: Tom Scott, Dominion Post
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2016.
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When news of the kidnapping of Australians and a New Zealand citizen in Nigeria hit our headlines, our esteemed Dear Leader’s response was unequivocal;
Key was adamant;
“Our very strong policy is not to pay a ransom and our reason for that is we think if we paid a ransom, we’d potentially put a bounty on any New Zealander’s head who travels to a dangerous part of the world, and it potentially makes the situation worse.”
Our Leader was not for turning. Key does not cave in to pressures.
Or, so it seems…
In October 2010, the country was “rocked” with news that that the Hobbit movies would be “taken away” from New Zealand;
Jackson’s company, Wingnut Films, said in a statement that Warners representatives were coming to New Zealand next week “to make arrangements to move the production offshore” because “they are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their investment.”
A week after Peter Jackson’s dire warnings of impending Mordor-like doom, Dear Leader Key intervened and rode like a Ranger to the rescue (in a BMW limousine, not a stallion);
Even the Warner Bros movie execs had
stallions limos provided (at taxpayers’ expense, yet again) when they came-a-visitin’ to New Zealand to collect their $34 million bucks;
Along with $34 million of taxpayer’s money paid over to Warner Bros, the National government passed legislation changing the status of Jackson’s workers from employees, to “contractors”. This lessened the working-conditions of people working throughout New Zealand’s movie industry.
The employment law changes passed through Parliament within forty eight hours – a feat unheard of in New Zealand’s political process. Unions, workers, and the public had no say in the matter.
As Key said at the time,
“It was a commercial reality that without this [law] change, these movies would not be made in New Zealand.”
So the sovereignty of New Zealand’s Parliament was not ransomed by Warner Bros to gain $34 million plus a change in our labour laws?
Note: On 21 December 2010, two months after Jackson declared that there was an imminent threat to losing The Hobbit to another country, he conceded that no such “threat” existed;
Three years later, Rio Tinto threatened to close it’s Tiwai Point aluminium smelter if it’s demands were not met;
Mining giant Rio Tinto has rejected the Government’s offer of a short-term subsidy to continue running the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.
Instead, it has gone back into negotiations with electricity supplier Meridian to try and get a better deal.
If no deal is made, Prime Minister John Key says the smelter, 79 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 21 percent owned by Japanese company Sumitomo, could be shut down in about five years.
In February 2014, National conceded to Rio Tinto’s demands that it’s electricity subsidies be increased. A further ‘sweetener’ of $30 million of taxpayer’s money was paid over to the smelting multi-national;
As Key said at the time;
“If Tiwai Point had closed straight away then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would have disappeared and the Greens would have said the Government doesn’t care about those workers and is turning their back on them so they really can’t have it both ways.”
This was echoed by Finance Minister, Bill English;
“The $30m was a ‘one-off incentive payment’ to help secure agreement on the revised contract because of the importance of the smelter to the stability of the New Zealand electricity market.”
So the jobs of eight hundred jobs in Southland were not ransomed by Rio Tinto to gain $30 million plus cheaper electricity rates?
John Key says his government will not pay ransom to extortionists?
His track record proves otherwise.
National Business review: Key comes through – $34m deal sees Hobbit stay in NZ
NZ Herald: PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto
Fairfax media: Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on day month year.
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from: Frank Macskasy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
to: Dominion Post <email@example.com>
date: Mon, Jun 27, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor
British voters have voted to leave the European Union, and our esteemed Prime Minister, John Key responded statesmanlike;
“This was always a decision for voters in the UK and we respect the decision they have made.”
I wonder if our dear leader will also give New Zealand voters the opportunity to vote in our own binding referendum whether to Remain or Exit the controversial TPPA?
Will Key demonstrate the same respect for New Zealand voters?
I call on John Key to give us a referendum so that we, like our British cousins, can determine our own future.
[address and phone number supplied]
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Continued from: The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister continues
The gradual slide of John Key’s popularity continues with the latest TV3 Reid Research poll further evidence that Key’s once-impenetrable teflon coating has been blasted away by successive scandals; ineptitude from his Ministers; and worsening socio-economic indicators on almost every front..
Since Key’s ascension to Prime Ministership, his poll ratings – as recorded by TV3-Reid Research have tracked from 36.4% in October/November 2008, to a high of 55.8% in October 2009;
Oct/Nov 2008: 36.4%
Feb 2009: 52.1%
April 2009: 51.1%
Aug 2009: 51.6%
Oct 2009: 55.8%
After 2009, Key’s popularity began to experience “speed wobbles”, with fluctuation from low 50s, to high 40s;
Feb 2010: 49.4%
April 2010: 49.0%
June 2010: 49.6%
Jul/Aug 2010: 48.7%
Sept/Oct 2010: 50.6%
Nov/Dec 2010: 54.1%
Feb 2011: 49.1%
April 2011: 52.4%
May 2011: 48.2%
Jun/Jul 2011: 50.5%
Aug 2011: 53.3%
Sept 2011: 54.5%
Oct 2011: 52.7%
1-8 Nov 2011: 50.0%
9-16 Nov 2011: 49.4%
16-23 Nov 2011: 48.9%
From early 2012, Key’s popularity dived;
Feb 2012: 45.8%
April 2012: 44.2%
May/Jun 2012: 40.5%
Feb 2013: 41.0%
And from early 2013, for the first time, his popularity as preferred PM broke the “40% barrier” into the 30s;
April 2013: 38.0%
May 2013: 41.0%
Jul 2013: 42.0%
Nov 2013: 40.9%
Jan 2014: 38.9%
Mar 2014: 42.6%
May 2014: 43.1%
Jun 2014: 46.7%
Jul 2014: 43.8%
5-3 Aug 2014: 44.1%
19-25 Aug 2014: 41.4%
26 Aug-1 Sept 2014: 45.1%
2-8 Sept 2014: 45.3%
9-15 Sept 2014: 44.1%
Jan 2015: 44.0%
From mid-2015, as scandal after scandal; growing reports of income/wealth inequality; and falling housing affordability began to impact on New Zealanders’ collective psyche, his support dropped from the 40s into the 30s;
May 2015: 39.4%
15-22 July 2015: 38.3%
8-16 Sept 2015: 39.5%
22 Nov 2015: 38.3%
The most recent poll, released on Tuesday 24 May shows Key’s popularity now in the mid-30s. This represents a 19.1 percentage-point drop in Key’s personal popularity amongst voters;
24 May 2016: 36.7%
The Panama Papers may not have been a “king hit” on the government as some on the Right maintain – but public perception of National’s inaction over tax havens, tax evasion, secret foreign trusts, etc, all created an image that the Nats were friendly to those “rich pricks” who rorted the tax system.
But the worst of National’s problems lay much closer to home than the Panama tax haven.
The housing crisis has become a Force 10 political storm in this country, and National has been seen to be sitting on their hands whilst people are crowded into garages; living in cars; and even the scion on the Middle Class bourgeois are becoming more and more locked out of the housing market.
As Labour’s former President, Mike Williams stated on Radio NZ’s Nine To Noon political panel on Monday, 23 May;
“I think there’s a bit of schizophrenia going on in Middle New Zealand which is showing up in the UMR numbers. If you own a house you are feeling pretty good because the value of your asset has been going through the roof. However, if you’ve got kids, you’re worried about their schooling; you’re worried about will they get a house; and you’re worried about will they get a job that pays enough to pay for a house. So I think, that, yes, home-owning New Zealanders [are] feeling ok, but parents are not.”
So unsurprisingly, the same TV3 Reid Research poll showed in no uncertain terms where the public stood on National’s hands-off policy on housing;
Even National Party supporters have been unable to stomach the worsening housing crisis and the sight of fellow New Zealanders sleeping in cars.
National now finds itself trapped by it’s own free-market dogma. Historically, only Labour governments have built housing, whilst National busied itself selling off state houses; implementing market rentals for Housing NZ tenants (in the past); and otherwise leaving it to the free market to meet demand.
That “free market” has failed dismally, and attempts to blame the Auckland Council, RMA, and Uncle Tom Cobbly no longer wash with an increasing grumpy electorate.
$26 million wasted on a failed flag referendum also helped cement public opinion that National was out-of-touch; engaged in pointless exercises; and avoiding tough problems faced by many New Zealanders.
The last time this blogger saw the public show such dissatisfaction with a National government was in the late 1990s, when Jenny Shipley was PM. That did not end well for her.
Whatever plans National attempts to pull out of the Budget Hat will be too little and too late. Unlike pumping extra cash into Vote Health, Vote Education, Vote Police, or Vote Conservation, the housing sector is a behemoth much akin to a huge oil-tanker. It is simply too large to be turned around in a short time-period.
If three Ministers (English, Smith, and Bennett) devoted to housing could not address this country’s ballooning housing crisis, then National has failed miserably.
Short of a miracle, this will be Key’s last term in office, and this country will finally be rid of the Teflon Man;
TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 May 2016.
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The Panama Papers continue to simmer and National’s greatest fear is that the public will link tax-dodging to the current government. (Up-coming political polls will be interesting to see.) But that is not all that National’s hierarchy has to worry about.
Closer to home, National is facing “Third Termitis” and an increasingly cynical view of the government and it’s leading figures – even from within.
Some recent ‘digs’ at Dear Leader John Key by right-wing commentators – ostensibly friendly to National – are either miscalculations, or a subtle hint that respect for Key’s leadership style is waning.
Case in Point #1 – David Farrar
On 2 May, National Party pollster and apparatchik, David Farrar made a guest appearance on Jim Mora’s afternoon Panel (hosted that afternoon by Jesse Mulligan), on Radio NZ. Along with lawyer Mai Chen, they discussed the issues of the day;
“…foreign Trusts and how much the Prime Minister was involved in our tax laws.”
The issue of what Key’s lawyer – Ken Whitney – said to then-Revenue Minister, Todd McClay arose amongst the Panelists, and host.
Ken Whitney, the executive director of tax-trust specialist, Antipodes Trust Group, wrote to McClay on December 3, 2014, over concerns Inland Revenue were reviewing the sector;
“We are concerned that there appears to be a sudden change of view by the IRD in respect of their previous support for the industry. I have spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised that the Government has no plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime.
The PM asked me to contact you to arrange a meeting at your convenience with a small group of industry leaders who are keen to engage to explain how the regime works and the benefits to NZ of an industry which has been painstakingly built up over the last 25 years or so.”
Key refuted that he had “advised that the Government has no plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime“;
“One of the members of the tax, that group, the foreign trusts, asked me about it. I said I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about, I don’t think that’s right that there are changes, but go and take it up with the minister.
Subsequently there’s miles of paperwork that shows all the stuff he did, I had no other involvement other than that – it happens every day to me, people come up to me all the time and say ‘what about x or what about y?’ and I say take it up with the relevant minister.”
Bear in mind when this conversation took place: December 2014.
Key is clear in his recollection of the conversations he had with his then-lawyer, Ken Whitney, and then-Revenue Minister, Todd McClay;
Mr Key was insistent he made clear to McClay the connection between himself and Mr Whitney, when he alerted his minister to the approach from his lawyer about the trust rules regime.
“I’ve seen his comments, what he basically said was he couldn’t absolutely recall but it was two years ago but I absolutely told him – 100 percent. It’s a few years with an oral conversation that lasted a few seconds but I definitely told him.”
Which is intriguing, as Key has a somewhat dubious reputation for having a shockingly bad memory of events that are uncomfortable for him to recall and discuss. Especially when journalists are present.
A particularly extraordinary example of Key’s inability to retain recollection of events took place in November 2014, when Key “forgot” a txt-conversation he had had with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater;
“He sent me a text one time, but I can’t remember when that was.”
In fact, the txt-conversation with Slater took place only eighteen hours previously. Which resulted in headlines like this one;
When the issue of John Key’s memory and reputation for lapses arose, Farrar made this revelation;
“Oh I’m not sure I quite accept the assertion there. I found in my experience the Prime Minister has a remarkable good memory on things. There was – I had a conversation with him the other day on something, where he referred to ‘Oh I think there was something in January, um, 2007’, and he was right. It took me half an hour to look it up, but he remembered this thing, from what was it, nine years ago. So I think actually he generally has a very good memory, just not a perfect one.”
Farrar’s willingness to share this aspect of John Key’s mental state is reassuring. It means our esteemed Dear Leader is not suffering on-set Alzheimers Disease or any similar brain-debilitating condition, when he insists he cannot re-call an inconvenient event.
It just means Key is lying.
Thank you, David Farrar, for clearing that up.
Case in Point #2 – Matthew Hooton
The next person to offer a singularly unflattering insight into Key’s personality was right-wing commentator and a member of the neo-liberal cadré, Matthew Hooton.
Hooton has a regular 11am appearance on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon show, where he offers his views from a right-wing, free-market perspective. He speaks frankly on a variety of issues-of-the-day and can be as highly critical of National; it’s policies; and leadership, as he is on the Left.
Hooton’s own investigation into Murray McCully’s corrupt Saudi farm-in-the-desert deal should be required-reading for all New Zealanders, regardless of their political persuasions. As political scientist, Bryce Edwards wrote in May last year;
Perhaps the strongest views are from Matthew Hooton, who has two columns in the National Business Review (which have just had their paywalls removed). The first column, Gulf games fail to deliver, gives the background to the fallout between the New Zealand Government and Saudi Arabia, with Hooton largely blaming John Key. According to Hooton’s story, the Saudi businessman was led to believe that the incoming National Government of 2008 would resume live sheep exports.
Once in power, however, Hooton says that Key changed his mind on hearing that TVNZ would broadcast “a programme critical of live sheep exporting. In a panic, and fearing further criticism from the Green Party’s Sue Kedgley, Mr Carter was ordered by Mr Key’s media staff to go on TV and rule out any resumption of the trade, ever. This was later confirmed to the Saudis as New Zealand’s new position and negotiations ceased. Furious, Mr Al-Khalaf used his influence with the Saudi royal family to ensure the FTA was put on ice”.
Hooton’s second must-read column, Flying sheep endanger McCully, turns the focus to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggesting that his subsequent handling of the mess could lead to his sacking. Hooton suggests the whole deal is “implausible” in terms of the bizarre farming arrangements and partnership that the Government has established.
He doubts that the promised innovative “agrihub” will actually eventuate and “If not, people might start comparing Mr McCully’s dealings with Mr Al-Khalaf with those with Mr Roberts 15 years ago. For which Mrs Shipley sacked him”. Hooton says “Key’s nervous ‘yup,’ when asked if he had confidence in his foreign minister, betrayed concern over where the story may head”.
On 9 May, filling his regular slot on Nine to Noon’s political panel, Hooton voiced his views on the Panama Papers and how – in his view – our Esteemed Dear Leader was handling the growing scandal.
As Hooton discussed cleaning up the trust sector in New Zealand,
“That is despite his government’s obvious negligence in not legislating for greater transparency around the trust industry years ago, when reputable trust lawyers themselves were lobbying for it.”
– one particular remark caught my attention,
“… From talking to the people in the industry, is that some of the people I’ve been talking to, who’ve been using other consultants up till now I should say, they’ve been trying to lobby John Key on this issue since when he was Leader of the Opposition. And they’ve been wanting him to make the industry more transparent. And Robin Oliver [former head of IRD] was on Morning Report this morning and talked about this. And the people that I’m talking to anyway, they tell me that John Key’s consistently said to them, ‘Oh yeah, absolutely, totally agree, we must sort that out, yep, yep, the government will do that’.
But absolutely nothing has happened. And I don’t think that’s necessarily – there’s nothing corrupt about that. It’s how John Key rolls. It’s a refrain I hear from people in the business community, the education sector, the health sector, you name it, John Key always just sez to people what he thinks they want to hear, and there doesn’t seems to be any follow up.”
“John Key always just sez to people what he thinks they want to hear…” – a very brief, off-the-cuff remark – but one which goes some way to perhaps explaining Key’s popularity with the public. Even those who might stand to be disadvantaged by his policies.
An example of occurred in 2008, during the PSA Conference, when Key made a firm committment resiling National from any future asset sales;
“There’s no agenda to sell assets. There will be no asset sales in the first term – in fact there may never be asset sales in the year’s ahead.”
His speech can be viewed here.
In the same video clip, Key also resiled from weakening Union power;
“Yes, I support Unions, and I support New Zealanders’ rights to join unions. And no, we’re not proposing to change the Employment Relations Act in a way that weakens unions…”
National has highlighted employment law changes as one of its key priorities in the first 100 days in Government. Proposed changes will affect collective agreements, the 90-day trial period, strike action and rest and meal break provisions.
The changes will give employers more power during the bargaining process.
As Hooton pointed out, “John Key always just sez to people what he thinks they want to hear…” – and Key was speaking to the 2008 PSA Conference. Union delegates were told precisely what they wanted to hear.
Coupled with Farrar’s comments about Key’s “very good memory” (and by a process of elimination, therefore a liar) – and we have two right-wingers close to our esteemed Dear Leader who have shared their personal observations with “how John Key rolls“.
However, the public may not be as gullible to Key’s duplicitous charms as many would think.
In October 2009, Key’s popularity rating (3News/Reid Research Poll) was at a staggering height of 55.8%.
By July 2015, his popularity rating had fallen to 38.3%.
Whether consciously or sub-consciously, perhaps the public are coming to the same realisation that Farrar and Hooton are at; our Prime Minister is a con-artist.
And a damned good one.
Radio NZ: The Panel with Jim Mora – 2 May 2016
Radio NZ: I told McClay about lawyer, says Key
Fairfax media: How is John Key going to spin this one?
Radio NZ: Key ends week deeply satisfied
Radio NZ: Nine to Noon – Political commentators Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton (alt. link) (audio)
TV3 News: Highlights from Key’s 2008 ‘no job cuts’ speech (video)
Radio NZ: National’s proposed labour laws
The Paepae: John Key is getting a reputation as a liar
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 May 2016.
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