There is a great article in the SMH aboutĀ John Key’s popularity in Aussie, and how the LNP leaders might take lessons from Key.
New Zealand’s John Key may have set a national goal of catching up with Australia’s level of income per person, but when it comes to politics, Australia is taking lessons from the NZ leader.
On first blush, the conservative Prime Minister seems an unlikely role model. He was a Merrill Lynch investment banker, an occupation exposed in the year he was first elected as more likely to be made up of looters rather than leaders.
And he was known to harbour sympathy for disgraced ideas which dared not speak their name after NZ’s searing experience of conservative ideologues in the 1980s. The dirtiest word is privatisation.
But Key was not only elected in 2008, he was re-elected with a swing in favour of his National Party three years later. He didn’t win an outright majority; since 1996, no government in NZ has, and its mixed-member proportional voting system makes that especially hard. But his approval rating holds up around 60 per cent, with disapproval around half that level.
And this was in spite of walking into office to be greeted by the twin disasters of the biggest global economic disaster in 70 years and the biggest natural disaster in NZ history as earthquakes slammed Christchurch.
NZ is still recovering from both. When Key took office, unemployment was 4.6 per cent; today it is 6.9 per cent. Only around a quarter of the number of the homes destroyed in Christchurch have been rebuilt. It’s a mammoth reconstruction task that is reckoned ultimately to cost 15 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Key’s personable, breezy, everyman style has helped; his competence in handling disasters and running a well-managed government is a real accomplishment.
But he also is a case study of a prime minister who can conduct tough economic reform while taking the people with him, the holy grail of national leadership.
What a great lead off…succinctly summarises just how difficult things have been and the challenges John Key has faced.
For instance, Key raised the goods and services tax rate from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent in his first term – and got away with it.
And now Key is speaking the unspeakable. Privatisation of state assets is on the agenda as he pursues a budget surplus in 2014-15.
Australian conservatives have followed the Key experience closely. Indeed, his two election campaigns were managed by the Liberals’ electoral strategists of choice, Crosby Textor. Key is on close terms with Tony Abbott.
And Abbott’s shadow minister for finance and deregulation, Andrew Robb was at a conference in NZ at the weekend, speaking about the opposition’s plans but also seeking ideas.
”The main lesson of John Key is that he’s made a particular point of focusing only on things he said he’d do,” says Robb. ”First, he established a mandate for a policy program and assiduously not stepped outside it.
”But second, if issues come up, he says he’ll take that to the next election,” and establish a mandate for it. In a world of great uncertainty, says Robb, voters crave certainty and leaders need to deliver it.
It’s true that, on the great taboo of privatisation, Key has said he would take the proposal to the people before committing to it. He took the idea to the 2011 election, won, and is now moving to implement in time to bank the proceeds to support the budget bottom line.
Say what you mean, do what you say and ask for forgiveness when you stuff up.
Some of Key’s lessons of mandate and competence may travel to Australia, but he stands on a political platform neither Tony Abbott nor Julia Gillard enjoys – trust. Personal trust created by his life story, and political trust earned through competence.
Gillard has proved unable to establish trust, and, if he wins power, Abbott will have to earn his.