John Key

For other uses, see John Key (disambiguation).

The Right Honourable
John Key
Head and shoulders of a smiling man in a dark suit and pale blue spotted tie
38th Prime Minister of New Zealand
Assumed office
19 November 2008
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Anand Satyanand
Jerry Mateparae
Patsy Reddy
Deputy Bill English
Preceded by Helen Clark
Succeeded by TBD
31st Leader of the Opposition
In office
27 November 2006  8 November 2008
Deputy Bill English
Preceded by Don Brash
Succeeded by Phil Goff
12th Leader of the National Party
Assumed office
27 November 2006
Deputy Bill English
Preceded by Don Brash
Succeeded by TBD
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Helensville
Assumed office
27 July 2002
Preceded by Constituency established
Majority 20,547 (56.49%)[1]
Chairman of the International Democrat Union
Assumed office
21 November 2014
Deputy Tony Clement
Preceded by John Howard
Personal details
Born John Phillip Key
(1961-08-09) 9 August 1961
Auckland, New Zealand
Political party National
Spouse(s) Bronagh Key (1984–present)
Children 2
Alma mater University of Canterbury
Website Official website

John Phillip Key (born 9 August 1961) is the 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand, in office since 2008. He led the New Zealand National Party from 2006 and has announced his resignation, effective 12 December 2016.


Born in Auckland before moving to Christchurch when he was a child, Key attended the University of Canterbury and graduated in 1981 with a bachelor of commerce. He began a career in the foreign exchange market in New Zealand before moving overseas to work for Merrill Lynch, in which he became head of global foreign exchange in 1995, a position he would hold for six years. In 1999 he was appointed a member of the Foreign Exchange Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until leaving in 2001.

Key entered the New Zealand Parliament representing the Auckland electorate of Helensville as one of the few new National members of parliament in the election of 2002 following National's significant defeat of that year. He has held the seat since then. In 2004, he was appointed Finance Spokesman for National and eventually succeeded Don Brash as the National Party leader in 2006. After two years as Leader of the Opposition, Key led his party to victory at the November 2008 general election, and repeated this feat at both the November 2011 general election and September 2014 general election.

As Prime Minister, Key leads the Fifth National Government of New Zealand which entered government at the beginning of the late-2000s recession in 2008. In his first term, Key's government implemented a GST rise and personal tax cuts. In February 2011, a major earthquake in Christchurch, the nation's second largest city, significantly affected the national economy and the government formed the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority in response. In its second term, Key's government announced a policy of partial privatisation of five state-owned enterprises; while the policy was enacted, voters in a citizens-initiated referendum on the issue were 2 to 1 opposed to the policy. In foreign policy, Key announced the withdrawal of New Zealand Defence Force personnel from their deployment in the war in Afghanistan, signed the Wellington Declaration with the United States and pushed for more nations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Key announced he will step down from the role of Prime Minister and leader of the National Party effective 12 December 2016.[2]

Personal life

Key was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to George Key (1914–1969)[3] and Ruth Key (née Lazar; 1922–2000),[3] on 9 August 1961. His father was an English immigrant and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and World War II.[4] Key and his two sisters were raised in a state house in the Christchurch suburb of Bryndwr, by his mother, an Austrian Jewish immigrant.[5][6] Key is the third prime minister or premier of New Zealand to have Jewish ancestry, after Julius Vogel and Francis Bell.[7]

He attended Aorangi School, and then Burnside High School from 1975 to 1979.[8] Then he attended the University of Canterbury and earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in accounting in 1981.[5][9] He has attended management studies courses at Harvard University.[10]

Key met his wife Bronagh when they were both students at Burnside High School. They married in 1984. She also has a BCom degree, and worked as a personnel consultant before becoming a full-time mother. They have two children, Stephie and Max.[6] Max is the new night-time radio host for George FM, and is also a singer.[11]

On 25 July 2008, Key was added to the New Zealand National Business Review (NBR) Rich List for the first time. The list details the wealthiest New Zealand individuals and family groups. He had an estimated wealth of NZ$50 million,[12] making him the wealthiest New Zealand Member of Parliament.[13]

Before politics

Key's first job was in 1982, as an auditor at McCulloch Menzies, and he then moved to be a project manager at Christchurch-based clothing manufacturer Lane Walker Rudkin for two years.[14] Key began working as a foreign exchange dealer at Elders Finance in Wellington, and rose to the position of head foreign exchange trader two years later,[15] then moved to Auckland-based Bankers Trust in 1988.[5]

In 1995, he joined Merrill Lynch as head of Asian foreign exchange in Singapore. That same year he was promoted to Merrill's global head of foreign exchange, based in London, where he may have earned around US$2.25 million a year including bonuses, which is about NZ$5 million at 2001 exchange rates.[5][16] Some co-workers called him "the smiling assassin" for maintaining his usual cheerfulness while sacking dozens (some say hundreds) of staff after heavy losses from the 1998 Russian financial crisis.[6][16] He was a member of the Foreign Exchange Committee of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from 1999 to 2001.[17]

In 1998, on learning of his interest in pursuing a political career, the National Party president John Slater began working actively to recruit him. Former party leader Jenny Shipley describes him as one of the people she "deliberately sought out and put my head on the line–either privately or publicly–to get them in there".[6][18]

Early political career

Early years in Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
20022005 47th Helensville 43 National
20052008 48th Helensville 7 National
20082011 49th Helensville 1 National
20112014 50th Helensville 1 National
2014present 51st Helensville 1 National

Auckland's population growth, as evidenced in the 2001 census, led to the formation for the 2002 General Election of a new electorate called Helensville, which covered the north-western corner of the Auckland urban area.[19] Key beat long-serving National MP Brian Neeson (whose own Waitakere seat had moved on paper to being a Labour seat through the boundary changes) for the National Party Helensville selection. At the 2002 elections Key won the seat with a majority of 1,705, ahead of Labour's Gary Russell, with Neeson, now standing as an independent, coming third.[20] Key won re-election with ease at the 2005 election garnering 63% of votes cast in Helensville,[21] and increased his majority again in 2008, gaining 73% of the electorate vote.[1]

Finance spokesman

In 2004 the National Party Parliamentary leader Don Brash promoted Key to the Opposition front benches and appointed him the party spokesman for finance. In late 2006 Brash resigned as leader, citing damaging speculation over his future as the reason. His resignation followed controversies over an extramarital affair, and over leaked internal National Party documents later published in the book The Hollow Men.[22]

John Key holding a ballot paper
Key voting in Epsom in 2008

Leader of the Opposition

In his maiden speech as National Party leader on 28 November 2006, Key talked of an "underclass" that had been "allowed to develop" in New Zealand, a theme which received a large amount of media coverage.[23] Key followed up on this speech in February 2007 by committing his party to a programme which would provide food in the poorest schools in New Zealand.[24]

He relented on his stance in opposition to Sue Bradford's Child Discipline Bill, which sought to remove "reasonable force" as a defence for parents charged with prima facie assault of their children. Many parents saw this bill as an attempt to ban smacking outright.[25] Key and Prime Minister Helen Clark agreed a compromise – giving police the discretion to overlook smacking they regarded as "inconsequential".[26]

In August 2007 Key came in for criticism when he changed his position regarding the Therapeutic Products and Medicine Bill:

"John Key had finally slipped up. National's leader had told the Herald on Tuesday he would have signed up to a New Zealand First-initiated compromise on the stalled Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill had he seen it – and was still willing to sign up – only to change his mind yesterday after his remarks appeared in print".[27]

Also in August 2007, Labour's Trevor Mallard hinted in Parliament that Labour would try to link Key to the 1987 "H-Fee" scandal, which involved Key's former employer Elders Merchant Finance and a payment to Equiticorp Chief Executive Allan Hawkins. Hawkins and Elders executive Ken Jarrett were later jailed for fraud. Key forestalled the accusation by declaring that he had left Elders months before the event, that he had no knowledge of the deal, and that his interview with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) during the investigation into the affair could only have helped to convict the people involved. Then-SFO director Charles Sturt publicly supported Key's statement.[28][29]

Labour MPs criticised Key for not releasing specific policy information at their annual conference. Key responded that National would set its own policy agenda and that there was adequate time before the next election for voters to digest National Party policy proposals.[30]

Prime Minister

First term

John Key (right), with (from left to right) son Max, wife Bronagh, and daughter Stephie, celebrating on election night, 8 November 2008

Key became Prime Minister following the general election on 8 November 2008, which signalled an end to the Labour-led government of nine years under Helen Clark. The National Party, promoting a policy of "change", won 45% of the party vote and 59 of the 122 seats in Parliament (including a two-seat overhang), a substantial margin over the Labour Party, which won 43 seats.

Key was sworn in as Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism[31] and also appointed as a member of the Executive Council[32] on 19 November 2008 with his new cabinet.[33] He appointed Bill English as his Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. During his first term in office National remained high in the polls and one commentator described support for John Key as "stratospheric".[34] In 2011 he was nicknamed "Teflon John" in the popular media, as nothing damaging to his reputation seemed to "stick" to him.[35]

Key's government introduced several bold economic policies in response to the global economic downturn that began shortly after he took office. He announced a plan of personal tax cuts, reducing taxes on all income; the top personal tax rate was lowered from 39% to 38% and then 33%.[36] However, statements made by Key regarding New Zealand's national credit rating have proved controversial. In October 2011 he claimed that Standard & Poor's had said that "if there was a change of Government, that downgrade would be much more likely". S&P contradicted the claim, bringing Key's credibility into question.[37][38] National won the election, but New Zealand's credit rating was subsequently downgraded anyway – by two different agencies – Standard and Poor's and Fitch Group.[39]

In January 2009, after addressing Chinese New Year celebrations at the Greenlane ASB Showgrounds, Key tripped after coming down a small set of stairs in front of cameras leaving him with a broken right arm and "embarrassed".[40] Later that year, when arriving at the Ngapuhi Te Tii Waitangi Marae the day before Waitangi Day, Key was briefly shoved and grabbed by two protesters before diplomatic protection officers pulled them off. He told reporters he was "quite shocked" but continued onto the marae and spoke, while police took the two men away and charged them with assault.[41][42]

Key has been tied with the National Cycleway Project since its conception at the national Job Summit in early 2009. He proposed it, and as Minister for Tourism, was instrumental in getting NZ$50 million approved for initial construction work.[43]

John and Bronagh Key with Barack and Michelle Obama at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, 23 September 2009.

Key launched New Zealand's campaign for a Security Council seat at the UN General Assembly meeting in September 2009.[44] He met briefly with US President Barack Obama and former US President Bill Clinton. While in New York City, Key appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. He read out the Top Ten list, 'Top Ten Reasons You Should Visit New Zealand'.[45]

In foreign policy, Key has supported closer relations with the United States, an ANZUS defence partner. On 4 November 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully signed the Wellington Declaration. The agreement signals an increase in the strategic partnership between the two nations and covers areas of co-operation including nuclear proliferation, climate change and terrorism.[46] This was followed in June 2012 by a companion document, the Washington Declaration.[47] Since 2008 Key has also engaged in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations with the United States and other Asia-Pacific economies.[48]

On 22 February 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, causing widespread damage to the city region and significantly affecting the national economy. It was New Zealand's third deadliest natural disaster, killing 185 people.[49][50] Addressing the nation, Key said that the disaster "...may well be New Zealand's darkest day".[51][52] On 29 March 2011, Key announced the creation of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to manage the earthquake recovery, co-operating with the government, local councils and residents.[53]

In October 2011, Key was caught up in a controversy over the replacement of 34 three-year-old Government BMW limousines with new ones at a time of economic restraint. Initially, Key denied any knowledge of the plan, although reports later surfaced showing that his office was aware of the deal. Political opponents accused Key and his government of hypocrisy; he later apologised, calling it a "sloppy" deal, effectively placing most of the blame on his chief of staff.[54][55]

Shortly before the general election in November 2011, a recording was made of a conversation between John Key and ACT Party candidate John Banks that they considered private – though the conversation took place in a public cafe.[56] Key made a complaint to the police and compared the incident to illegal phone hacking in the News of the World scandal in Britain.[57] The recording allegedly concerns the leadership of ACT and disparaging remarks about elderly New Zealand First supporters.[58] Journalists and opposition parties demanded the release of the tapes[57] and the affair was nicknamed 'teapot tape'.[57] A senior barrister criticised Key, stating that the comparison of the recording to the phone hacking scandal was a "cheap shot".[57]

Second term

Sir Jerry Mateparae, the Governor-General, arrives at Parliament to be met by John Key.

The general election on 26 November 2011 saw National hold on to power,[59] but with a reduced share of the votes and share of the seats in the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, Key called the election a "very happy night" and a "strong and solid win" for his party.[60] The Prime Minister negotiated confidence and supply agreements with the centrist United Future,[61] the classical-liberal ACT Party[61] and the indigenous rights-based Māori Party,[62] to form a minority government.

In May 2012 Key announced a withdrawal of New Zealand troops from Afghanistan by 2013, a year earlier than planned.[63]

In 2012, Key was implicated in the arrest of Kim Dotcom and the subsequent revelations that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had illegally spied on Dotcom.[64] As Prime Minister, John Key is directly responsible for the GCSB,[65] which is not allowed to spy on New Zealand citizens – and Dotcom had been granted permanent residency. Three days later, the Prime Minister John Key apologised for the illegal spying. "I apologize to Mr Dotcom. I apologize to New Zealanders because every New Zealander…is entitled to be protected from the law when it comes to the GCSB, and we failed to provide that appropriate protection for him."[66] It subsequently came to light that Deputy Prime Minister Bill English had been asked by the GCSB to sign a "ministerial certificate" suppressing details of the bureau's involvement in the case while Key was overseas – the only time this had been done in the last ten years.[67]

In November 2012, Key told students at St Hilda's Collegiate in Dunedin that professional footballer David Beckham was "thick as batshit". The comments were picked up by UK papers The Daily Mirror and The Sun.[68] On the same day, there was controversy over Key's comments to a radio host that his shirt was "gay". "You're munted mate, you're never gonna make it, you’ve got that gay red top on there", he told host Jamie Mackay on RadioSport's Farming Show.[69] The following day, Lord of the Rings actor Sir Ian McKellen said in a blog entry that Key should "watch his language".[70]

The potential fallout from Dotcom's arrest continued in December 2012 when the High Court ordered the GCSB to "confirm all entities" to which it gave information opening the door for Dotcom to sue for damages – against the spy agency and the police.[71] Later that month, John Key's rating as preferred PM dropped to 39% – the first time in his four years as prime minister that his rating had slipped below 40%.[72]

In March 2013 it emerged that Key has known Ian Fletcher, head of the GCSB, since they were at school, but Key denied the pair were friends; he also denied suggestions that he 'shoulder-tapped' Fletcher for the role.[73] Subsequently, on 3 April, Key's office released a statement saying the Prime Minister rang Fletcher and recommended he apply for the position at GCSB.[73] Despite Key's office claiming Fletcher was "the best candidate for the job", Fletcher was in fact the only candidate interviewed.[74] Key said he hadn't originally mentioned the phone call because he "forgot".[75] Political commentator Bryce Edwards called it the "most appalling political management since he became Prime Minister back in 2008".[76] Key was critical of reporting on the GCSB saga, calling journalists "knuckleheads" in a radio interview.[77]

Key continued New Zealand's push for a spot on the UN Security Council while in New York in 2013.[78][79] There he accused rival candidates Spain and Turkey of using aid money to buy votes from small African countries, and said New Zealand would not be spending its way onto the Council.[80][81] While in New York, Key suddenly fell ill, but recovered in time for meetings with representatives from other countries ahead of the General Assembly.[82]

In April 2013 whilst visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing, Key made headlines by suggesting New Zealand would back any United States or Australian military action against North Korea.[83] The following day he backtracked, saying the chance of New Zealand troops entering North Korea was "so far off the planet".[84]

In May 2014 Key justified the use of New Zealand intelligence even if it resulted in innocent civilians falling to American targeted killings.[85]

Third term

John Key with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, March 2016.

The general election on 20 September 2014 saw the Fifth National Government returned again. National won a plurality with 47.0% of the party vote and 60 of the 121 seats. On election night counts the party appeared to hold the first majority since 1994 with 61 seats, but lost a list seat (for Maureen Pugh) to the Green Party on the official count (including special votes) of the party vote.[86] National re-entered a confidence and supply arrangement with United Future, the ACT Party and the Māori Party.[87][88][89]

On 6 October 2014, Key created a new ministerial portfolio called the Minister of National Security and Intelligence. The Minister of National Security and Intelligence will be responsible for setting national security and intelligence police and legislation, and will also head a newly established Cabinet National Security Committee. The Prime Minister will assume the new portfolio while the Attorney General Christopher Finlayson will assume the portfolios of Minister Responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and Minister in Charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), which have traditionally been held by the Prime Minister.[90][91]

On 21 November 2014, Key was elected Chairman of the International Democrat Union (IDU), an international alliance of centre-right political parties.[92] The National Party was a founding member party in 1983.[93]

In April 2015 a waitress claimed and Key acknowledged that he had pulled her ponytail multiple times over several months;[94] when Key learnt she had taken offence, he apologised. International media have reported the incident as "ponytail-gate".[95]

Key has long supported changing the Flag of New Zealand, and during the 2014 general election campaign promised a referendum on the issue.[96] Following the election win, two New Zealand flag referendums were held in November/December 2015 and March 2016. The second resulted in the retention of the current flag.[97] Critics (both national and international) charged that the referendums were unnecessary, expensive and a "wasteful vanity project".[97]

Key has been a leading advocate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), having also supported the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPSEP). Both agreements provide for a multilateral free trade area in the Asia-Pacific region. In a September 2016 speech to the Council of Foreign Relations, Key said "[TPP] will boost our economy by at least $2.7 billion a year by 2030. It will help diversify our economy and create more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders".[98] The finalised TPP proposal was signed on 4 February 2016 in Auckland, concluding seven years of negotiations. The provisional proposal is currently awaiting ratification to enter into force.[99] Ratification of the TPP agreement by Key, on behalf of New Zealand, will require approval from Parliament.[100]

On 5 December 2016, Key announced his resignation as prime minister and leader of the National Party. His resignation will take effect on 12 December, however he will remain in parliament to avoid a by-election.[2]

Political views

Key's views are largely aligned with his own party's view. However, he also notes that his differences from his predecessor are more of style and focus rather than view.[101] Key has in the past noted others' concern at the pace of asset sales, but argued that the arguments against selling assets in the 1980s were largely irrational.[102] In a 2002 interview he said "some form of orientation towards privatisation" in health, education and superannuation, such as giving firms tax breaks for employer super schemes, made sense.[103] After his party won a plurality in the 2011 election, Key rejected claims that the National Government lacks a mandate to partially privatise state-owned assets.[104]

Key has a mixed voting record on social issues: he voted against the bill creating civil unions,[105] claiming that this represented his constituents' views but he supports them personally.[106] He was part of a large block of MPs voting to defeat a bill that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.[107] Key has also stated that he does not oppose gay adoption.[108] In 2013 he expressed support for same-sex marriage[109] and voted for the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013.[110]

In 2008 Key voted for an ill-fated attempt to raise the legal drinking age from 18 back to 20[111] but subsequently ignored a Law Commission recommendation to increase levies on alcohol.[112] He claimed there was "no appetite" for such a move.[113] A report on public attitudes to alcohol law reform was later discovered, which indicating that in 2010, when he made this claim, 56% of New Zealanders supported a price increase.[114]

Key says that he believes that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that the Government needs to implement measures to reduce human contribution to global warming.[115] Key has committed the National Party to working towards reducing greenhouse emissions in New Zealand by 50% within the next fifty years.[116] Commentators note that as recently as 2005, Key made statements indicating that he was sceptical of the effects and impact of climate change.[115][117]

Key with his predecessor, Helen Clark

As a first-term MP in 2003, Key criticised the Labour-led Government's stance on the Invasion of Iraq, claiming that New Zealand was "missing in action" by failing to support its ANZUS allies, the United States and Australia.[118] Key came under fire in the New Zealand Parliament in August 2007, when the Government claimed that had Key been Prime Minister at the time, he would have sent troops to Iraq.[119]

Like his predecessor Helen Clark, Key views a New Zealand republic as "inevitable", although probably not for another decade. "If Australia becomes a republic there is no question it will set off quite an intense debate on this side of the Tasman", he said. "We would have to have a referendum if we wanted to move towards it."[120] Key later stated that he is a monarchist, and that a New Zealand republic would "Not [happen] under my watch".[121]

Religious views

Key attends church frequently with his children, but is an agnostic.[122][123] He has stated that he does not believe in an afterlife, and sees religion as "doing the right thing".[122] Key's wife, Bronagh (née Dougan) Key, is the daughter of Northern Irish emigrants of mixed religious descent.[124]

See also


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Further reading

External links

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Political offices
Preceded by
Don Brash
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Phil Goff
Preceded by
Helen Clark
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Preceded by
Damien O'Connor
Minister of Tourism
Party political offices
Preceded by
Don Brash
Leader of the National Party
Preceded by
John Howard
Chair of the International Democrat Union
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