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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

Unedited John Key Interview


Emma interviews John Key – Wednesday 5th March 2008.

“Tell me something that not many people know about you”:

“Ummm, something not many people know about me. Ok. My first girlfriends name was Lynette!! [laughs throughout] How bout that?!! That’s something not many people know about me – That’s pretty obscure isn’t it?!! Well my mum was Austrian – a lot of people know that, um but not everyone knows that. So my mother was Austrian. I tell you what, I was born on the 9th of August, and the house we lived in was 9 August place, Greenlane”.

“What did you want to be when you were growing up and why?”:

“I wanted to be Prime Minister. And I mean why? I think cause it’s a revered position in the community, a position of influence, and it always seemed a fascinating thing, and I was intrigued by politics”.

“Was there a subject at High School you particularly enjoyed or excelled at? Presumably economics, but were there any others?”:

“Um yep. [just] Economics”.

“How did you become involved in Politics?”:

“um, really, initially, it was when I started working. I joined the National party in Epsom essentially – which is where I was living. And then the Inter-Nationals when I was living in London. So it was definitely post-university, into my sort of working career”.

“Why did you decide to become a politician? Did someone, or something inspire you?”:

“Going all the way back to when I was sort of younger, I wanted to do it when I was younger and I had written to a multitude of Prime Ministers. You know, we had great political debates in our household with my mother. So essentially, I was always really quite interested in it. I had quite a strong sense I wanted to get into business – get a qualification. I had spent a lot of time in business first, but the long term objective was to go into politics. So that really how it started, and I always kind of had a career path in mind, and have pretty much worked to it. I was 40 and in the banking business, you know, too old for banking, too young for politics”. ”

I had read an article in which it stated that you had always wanted to become involved in politics, an aspiration you held even during high school”.

“I did, absolutely. I told my wife, who was my girlfriend obviously at that point, on our first date..”

“At the A&P show”

“[laughs] Yeah, at the A&P show! The poor women, she shoulda done a runner! She would now cause she knows what’s involved, but anyway”.

“Other than having a successful election, what other political or personal goals have you set yourself for 2008?”:

“Well obviously, clearly number 1 is to win the election. I mean in the end, in politics, there is no silver prize, there is no silver medal, you know? No second prize. So winning is the number 1. I think post winning, given that it will probably happen late in the year, would be to ensure that we deliver a line of ministers that is fully focused on what we see as the big issues. It may be that the election is [later] and we would have our first 100 days in office – maybe, it depends on when it is. I mean it could go as late as November 15th. So it may be very very little time in 2008. But certainly ensuring that we hit the ground running, that we can fulfil the aims and ambitions of the electorate [Helensville]”.

“What about any personal goals?”.

“um, I’ve been keen to loose a tiny little bit of weight, but im not doing that well on it [laughs]. No not a lot, just that, and get a little bit fitter. You know, I kind of figure, on the campaign, you need to be fit. Im not grossly unfit, but its just fitting time in for exercise is the main issue. And I just think you feel a little bit better if you do some exercise”.

“What has been your most memorable moment as a member of parliament so far?”:.

“I think being elected the leader. I mean, just the shear significance of that. When you look at it externally, it may not seem that big of a deal, I mean I am only the 12th or 13th leader of the party – (I mean I will have to check that out for you) – so it has been really really good, and when you think about it, it [National Party] has been going since 1936. A lot is invested, if you like, in the brand. I mean clearly, the party carries you a long way, but every leader puts their own stamp on the party. And your caucus colleague’s fortunes rise and fall on your ability to carry that message. So it is a big sign of commitment when they put you in their. Ultimately, if you are successful as leader of the opposition, then you become Prime Minister and that has enormous ramifications for the country. So it’s not something that you take lightly. I mean when you really sit back and think about it in that context, it is by far the most significant point so far”.

“Aside from that, is there a certain accomplishment that you are proud of?”.

“Um, I think the compromise on the smacking legislation was the right thing for what was not terribly well drafted legislation. I mean, I think we did ultimately put politics in second place, and parents first, and sought to at least give them some sort o confidence, that while working hard to try and make some changes in New Zealand, we were also working to benefit children. So it was a brave act, considering I was relatively new as a leader. And I mean, orthodoxy would have told you not to do that – but I think we were actually sort of rewarded for it”.

“What is the hardest part about being a politician?”:

“Time away from family. I mean, our home is in Auckland and we have our kids, who are 12 & 14, and the normal sort of demands on our time. And like any 12 or 14 year old children, you know, you kind of want to see dad. And inevitably you miss their sports games and there things – so that’s pretty tough. And then its tough on my wife as well, but I have so much support from her and at least she can probably sort of contextualise it better than say children can”.

“You are relatively new to politics, becoming elected in 2002, what do you believe are essential personal characteristics for a politician? I mean, you have people like Lockwood Smith and Winston Peters who have been involved in politics for a number of years, but you have risen to success quite quickly – what do you attribute this success to?”:

“Yeah, well I think the characteristics that you need anyway are.. Honesty and integrity. I mean ultimately you never really, I mean we don’t really know the issues that will dominate the New Zealand political landscape in 12 months or 24 months or 36 months. I mean we can always take a view that of course the whole system is important and education is important and law & order is important. So those sort of ‘categories’ are easy enough to identify. But countries all face issues – many of them come completely out of the blue – and so in a lot of sense, the public, while they focus on policies, inevitably the public will sort of look at what type of person you are, and they will try to get a sense of how you might react to any sort of individual um, sort of problem, or sort of challenge you might face. And so I think the fact that they can trust you has got to be paramount in the end – I mean I wouldn’t vote for someone I didn’t think I could trust. Secondly, I think you have to have a reasonable sense of sort of values and perspective, and what is you know, driving you, and what is the fundamental sort of, you know, what bottom lines are there? What aer the tings that you are prepared to compromise on, what aren’t you prepared to compromise on? And then I think you have to have a sense of vision. I mean ultimately, where you want to go. A lot of politicians are very transactional, they are there for 3 years, or they are there for a particular bill, or there interest is in something, but if you really want to be the leader of the country, you surely need to have a view of where that country is going, and what it is you would like it to look like at the end of that. And I think in a sense, I have, I mean I think I have reasonable personal skills, I think I am reasonably intelligent, I mean I am not stupid – but I can learn things quickly, I can work at a reasonably high level of stress for long periods of time. So I think that if you have the right types of, if you go back to those earlier things, and you cup all of them together – that is the right personality. Im pretty even tempered. I mean that is one thing that helps me. I very infrequently sort of lose my rag, and that is always a good thing. Like when I was back in the banking business, there were always people who used to go berko, but I reckon if you do you lose control and it doesn’t really help you – I mean it may make you feel better for 5 minutes – but actually long term, you lose respect”.

“Following on from vision, are there any issues you are particularly passionate about?”:

“Yeah. One is certainly the fact that we lose 77,000 people a year [overseas], and that is a reflection I think on, for a lot of people – particularly our young skilled and motivated people – they are not going to come back because they don’t think New Zealand will offer them the opportunities that they want, economic primarily. I think from a sort of social, cultural, sort of perspective, we [NZ] are in pretty good shape, we are a nice country to live in, yeah the roads could probably do with some work, but broadly speaking all of those things are not in to bad a shape in New Zealand. For a lot of them, I think they sit there and say ‘well, yeah ok, but if I can’t earn enough, to you know, have the self sufficiency for myself and my family, and the things that I would want – that has drawn a lot of people, particularly across the Tasman, but also further a field’. And looks its natural that young people, particularly young people will travel overseas a bit – I mean I did the same. But its coming back, and I think the fact that they are leaving in frustration, and that they don’t think that they will be able to cut it. I mean, I think when you look at the basic fundamental backdrop of New Zealand, it has got all the ingredients of being an amazing country, and you really have to say that by any measure, we really under perform. That’s really it”.

“Do you hold the same personal beliefs now, as when you were a student? – If not, why the change?”;

“Aww, I think they change and they change, not in terms of core philosophical beliefs, you know – personal responsibility, and getting out of life what you put into it – You know a sense of community and family and those sorts of things are as much as anything, a reflection of a function of the environment you have been brought up in, and the way you kind of view life. I mean inevitably you mature, you change, you have a slightly different perspective of what is really important. You know, its easy to take a view in life that everything is in materialistic kind of terms, like I say its nice to have a house, and not to have financial worries, but does it beat going to watch your children playing sport – I don’t think so. I think it’s actually really cool when they have their achievements, and the unconditional love you get from kids, you know – they just love you because of who you are – and I think that’s kind of pretty cool. I mean for me, yeah, you probably change a little in that regard. I think there is also an element, there is a Winston Churchill quote, you know when you are young, you kind of vote liberally, and when you get older you vote conservatively. There is jut a bit of, maturing is probably the wrong word, but, maybe the things that feel important in your life change as you get a little bit older, and you tale on greater responsibilities”.

“What is your point of difference as leader, in comparison with past leaders of the National party?”:

“Of the National party? Yeah, I mean I’m of a younger generation, certainly if you compare me to Don [Brash], I am 20 odd years younger. I have got an international perspective on most of the things I do, most leaders, I don’t think we have really had one that has worked in a big corporate environment (internationally). I am not a career politician – it doesn’t mean I don’t care passionately about it – but I don’t come with all of the blind ideology that we have to do things because 19 years ago we were in government and things were done that way. Look, I wasn’t here then, and im not going to defend something if I think it is inappropriate for 2008 and beyond, then I just wont worry about it. I mean I have a really strong sense of the principles that guide the party, and I think that if you go back and compare me to Holyoake and other leaders, all of the really successful National Party leaders have had certain principles that run through them. But again, you have a different style. Im probably, probably, a lot more casual than a lot of the other leaders – whether that is a good or bad thing, we will work out over time – but I don’t want to change, I know people will tell me to change, but you are who you are, and when you start pretending and trying to be something you’re not, it’s never real”. “

I think in a New Zealand setting, being perceived as casual is not entirely bad -as a rule kiwi’s are pretty casual”.

“Yeah, that’s right”.

“You don’t want to run the risk of appearing too uptight”.

“It’s kind of not ‘yes Minister'”.

“You seem to be an ideas person – how do you respond to criticism regarding a lack of substance to your policies?”:

“Well it’s not true. I mean the reality is that we have rolled out quite a lot of policies, whether they be education, or health, or various occasions where there have been some very substantive stuff, that is kind of political beltway speak. Governments always say that oppositions, ‘where is your policy, and where is the substance’, and you know, oppositions always have barked out against governments. So, I mean to a certain degree, I take it with a grain of salt. The public have a very good sort of primal sense of where you are going, and I think that they recognise within that, politicians are one part of that bureaucracy. So they recognise that while you can control that, there is also a lot of support around you. I don’t think there really are any great illusions about what sort of government we would be, or what our focus of attention would be. And to just give you an example, we delivered the speech, or I delivered the speech – the state of the nation speech – in January. And that speech was about the youth. Youth crime, and also youth education. But it was extremely heavily researched, we had been writing it in the research unit for about 4 months. There was just mountains of supporting documents, documents that backed up. Every editorial in the country literally came out and said it was well researched and highly detailed. Caught me completely by surprise cause I thought they were just going to give us a fairly vacuous, high level speech – the first thing Labour said was ‘it lacked substance’. So there statement lack substance in my opinion. Yeah so you know what I mean, sometimes they don’t change – they just think you know, the focus groups tell them that that might work for them so, but I don’t think people believe it”.

“How has your recent success in the polls affected you?”:

“Well, I think you have got to be very careful, I think with it, in the sense that on the one hand of course it is just human nature – if you are doing well in the polls and when they are so consistent over the whole board, you feel, you kind of feel ‘ok, well this is good’, and you can feel as though what you are doing is working, and that obviously gives you enthusiasm if you are on the right track. I think the danger is, that in the end there is only one poll that counts. So pretty much every caucus, I start with a bit of a lecture about keeping our feet on the ground, keeping focused on where we are going, recognising that the big job is to roll out a program that reflects what government we want New Zealand to be, and it’s never over till it’s over. And in that sense, we are certainly not letting it go to our heads. But it’s encouraging, I mean you have to sit there and think that it is encouraging”.

Many MP’s who will not be standing at this years election have cited the toxic environment at parliament as one of the reasons for leaving – being relatively new in this environment, how do you cope with the toxicity?”:

“Yeah. I mean look, it can be quite ugly. I tend to laugh it off – I think if it is directed at me. Look, I think you have to accept it. It is one of those things where a set of rules operate within parliament, and don’t take it too personally. I mean if I wasn’t leader, I mean the remarkable thing is that when anyone from either side leaves, you know, everyone is falling over themselves to say nice things about them. So I think you have h=got to put it into perspective. If anything, one of the real dangers with it is that you become so institutionalised, that things they say to you, which are really quite horrendous in a way, you actually become conditioned to it, and you don’t think it is that big a deal, and you might say something a third as toxic out of this place, and you can see how badly people react to that. I think it is important to understand that there are another set of rule that operate here, juvenile or not – But that is not the way the real world operates. And it’s actually not what people want. People want focus, and our party focuses on the things that really matter you know? Being able to buy a house. Getting a decent education, you know, getting a decent future – all of those things. You know, making society safer, and getting little tit tats on the side wont get you far. I mean, in a funny kind of way, when something doesn’t necessarily go right, and before you know it you are on TV, and you get slated by the media for that, um it feels a bit, you want to cringe, and it feels embarrassing, because you think all of your friends are looking at you and you feel like an idiot, but I think that most people in reality realise that politicians, it doesn’t matter how good or bad they are, it kind of comes with the territory – if you cant stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. I have a once only policy – if its really good, I’ll only read it once, if it’s really bad I read it once, but I never read things twice, I never watch things twice. The reason for that is otherwise you are only going to read the good things, and you will read it 10 times and you believe your own spin, and you will never watch the bad things or learn from them, or it will just drag you down. I mean, they are paid to write 1000’s of columns – some of them are good, some of them are bad – it comes with the territory”.

“What scares you the most?”:

“What scares me the most? In parliament do you mean? Or in general life?”.

“In general life”.

“I don’t like rats [laughs], even tho this is Chinese year if the rat – im not very fond of rats, I wouldn’t want to see a shark if I was out swimming, you know, but putting those to the side. In a political sense, then obviously losing. I don’t mean that in a sort of self centred, personal way. But I think the country needs to change. I think we can take the country down a direction which is for the betterment of it. So losing, I am scared of losing in the sense that I feel pretty passionate that we can do better. From that point of view I would be scared of it. But most things I can take in my stride”.

“Do you consider yourself introverted, or extroverted?”:

“Probably a bit extroverted, but if you read the papers they will tell you I am quite quiet and stuff. But yeah, any of my friends who have read that stuff just cannot believe it – but anyway. I think I ma quite extroverted”.

“What is the best advice you have ever been given, and who gave it to you?”:

“My mother – you get out of life what you put in. I think its true”.

“I am aware that you like to cook, do you have a signature dish?”:

“Yeah, I do like to cook! Beef Stroganoff I think is not too bad. I like this chicken curry, this sort of Thai chicken curry dish that I quite like cooking. And I always cook roasts on Sundays! I get great protests from the kids who are so over the Sunday roast, they will do anything, in fact have all sorts of protests, claim they want to go to other peoples houses, but I just make them eat it anyway cause its good for them!”.

“That must be a generational thing, cause my dad insists on cooking roasts every Sunday too, and I’m over it!”.

“It sure is, absolutely, I love it!!! [laughs]”.

“What is your favourite country to visit and why?”:

“umm, That’s a really good question!! Umm. I reckon, that is Italy. And the reason is a combination of the food is fantastic, I like the culture in a way, I like the little villages in the different parts of Italy, like Tuscany – that’s great and its quite beautiful, the food and wine is something, that’s great”.

“Who are 3 people you would most like to meet?”:

“That’s a good question. Who are 3 people I would like to meet? I would quite like to meet Tony Blair. These days, Barack Obama, just cause I see lots of him in there. And umm, most of them I have already meet. Who else would I like to meet? Umm, there must be someone else good out there I would like to meet, who I haven’t meet – I get to meet heaps of people. Yeah, a movie star – um, I don’t know. Tom Cruise. [laughs] Tom Cruise. I don’t want to talk about scientology tho!!!!, but Tom Cruise”.


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Comments (11)

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  1. Hans Blix says:

    Wow, what a bunch of soft questions. Is the Salient not interested in digging any deeper, or was this dictated by the interviewee (i.e. he approved the questions prior to the interview etc.)?

  2. Jackson Wood says:

    I did suggest some controversial questions to the reporter (How do you reconcile the John Key who raped NZ’s cash markets of the late 80’s to the John Key who could conceivably be the next PM of NZ? But she didn’t think this was appropriate)… But the secret is she is a Tory, but her record is consistent. She has interviewed Nandor, Hide, Nathan Guy, and John Key, and she has asked them similar questions.

    What we’re trying to do with these interviews (if you have seen the other ones) is not fuck off the politicians. We’re are trying to personify them for you. I think this interview actually goes a long way to show that John Key isn’t a horned, cloven hoofed, pitch fork carrying politician, and shows a gentler side from which you can gain your own assumptions about him, his grasp of reality, how in touch with the average NZ’er he actually is, and his of diction. Questions which skirt around the shoals of being controversial sometimes speak louder than if we asked him a question like: “Why is you foot permanently stuck in your mouth?”

  3. Russell says:

    I think the interview Salient did with John Key last year was WAY better.

  4. Je-sus Ka-reist.

    What a bunch of crap. Such bollocks. Good journalism can both personify a person and delve into the issues. The particular interview doesn’t engage at any point. In fact, they could have just left those questions on a table. a dictaphone going, and walked away. This? From a university magazine? Such a goddamn shame.

    A gentler side? What is this Cambpell Live?

    Such a disappointment, and the unedited interview idea is actually a really good one. But the thing is, you’re kinda embarrassing yourself if you don’t have any balls on the subject.

  5. Jackson Wood says:

    Good. I will get Emma to ask better questions in future interviews.

  6. peteremcc says:

    We’re still eight months away from the election probably.
    There will be plenty of time to debate policy over the course of the year.

  7. nutlog says:

    “What we’re trying to do with these interviews (if you have seen the other ones) is not fuck off the politicians.”

    So you are doing light weight journalism instead. and what’s with having John Key hiding away on page 37? He was on cover last year, lets hope he can be interviewed again closer to the election though…

  8. Vestal Mastebation says:

    John Key I love you… I want to… EAT YOUR BRAINS!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Jonny says:

    Amazing interview. RIveting stuff. Award winning journalism. Well done. You probably did “fuck off the politician” by completely wasting his time.

  10. Jack Knows Shit says:

    Why the fuck did the supposed political editor aka “Jack knows shit” not interview Key instead of Emma. Maybe he wasn’t up for it or was too busy being a lobby for anti Cosgrove. It makes you think.

  11. Chris de Lisle says:

    Well… I thought it was rather useful. At least once I want to see what these people are like and they are far more likely to do that if they aren’t being attacked.

    This far out from the election it’s probably a waste of time to ask in-depth political questions, anyway. They’re all bound to change their minds/refuse to comment/spout total drivel.

    Moreover, given that this seems to be part of a series it seems fundamentally unfair to change tack half way through.

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