NEW ZEALAND: by Bernard MoranNews Weekly
John Key's National Party increases its vote
, December 10, 2011
New Zealand looks set to be governed by the National Party for the next six years to 2017.
The Labour Party, led by Phil Goff and Annette King, went down to its worst defeat since 1928. Both quickly announced their resignations, setting off a leadership battle between David Cunliffe and David Parker.
Neither Davids come within cooee of the electoral appeal of National’s John Key; but biding his time is a future contender for the Labour leadership in 2014 or 2017, David Shearer. More about him later.
To appreciate John Key’s appeal, News Weekly readers need to understand that Kiwis had nine years of being governed by Helen Clark and the feminist clique of the NZ Labour Party. The place wasn’t called “Helengrad” for nothing.
After November 2008, John Key could do no wrong. He had a genial assured manner, was happily married, obviously loved being Prime Minister, exuded quiet competence and he could delegate.
He has a compelling life story that appeals to a wide range of Kiwis. Raised in a state house in Christchurch by an inspirational Austrian refugee Jewish mother who worked hard to get ahead, John Key when 12 years old told his friends that his ambition was one day to be prime minister of New Zealand.
He left New Zealand and worked as a currency trader for Merrill Lynch in New York. He ran their London office, oversaw their move into Ireland and retired as a multi-millionaire to enter NZ politics and fulfil his dream.
Key relates well to ordinary Kiwi battlers and looks happy and relaxed around a barbecue holding a beer.
Phil Goff, an immensely hard-working Labour apparatchik, had the disadvantage of being in the shadow of the powerful Helen Clark. However, in the last three weeks of the election campaign, he emerged as a genuine Labour leader. His misfortune was to be competing against John Key.
In 2011, two NZ SAS soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. Their role was to mentor and train a Kabul-based Afghani counter-terrorist unit and inevitably they were caught up in combat.
Phil Goff called for the SAS to be withdrawn and made it clear that would be a priority should Labour become the Government. Key responded that the SAS would stay, that they wanted to stay and that the Government would not “cut and run” from its international obligations. Goff appeared to derive no traction from his call to bring the SAS home.
Since 1996, New Zealand has used the German voting model called mixed-member proportional (MMP) that combines electorate representation with a proportionally-elected parliament. Citizens get two votes: one for the party and the other for a local candidate.
Provided your party gains 5 per cent of the “party” vote, you are represented in parliament. Unless the winning party has a clear majority to govern alone, they have to negotiate support with other parties.
In this election on November 26, National just missed out on being able to govern alone, but can work with the Maori Party and two other MPs.
The Greens have 13 MPs in the new parliament through “list” seats.
There is now the expectation that John Key and his caucus will have to make the hard calls in the second term. In many ways he has had a dream run, but with over 46,000 Kiwis moving to Australia every year, there is mounting pressure for the Government to provide the opportunities back home.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, a former Treasury high flyer, points out that only 20 per cent of New Zealand’s trade is with Britain and the European Union. The rest is with the United States, Australia, South East Asia and China.
How the Government balances the assertiveness of China and closer ties with the United States, now that Washington DC and Wellington have put the ANZUS dispute behind them, will be fascinating.
The recent announcement that an Australian Labor government has agreed to a direct American presence, has been given cursory media treatment in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see what transpires with potential US naval visits to New Zealand’s shores.
Wayne Mapp, a former territorial army officer and professor of commercial law) has stepped down as Defence Minister.
I asked him about the prospects of future US naval visits. He said that there is “progressive improvement” and a visit by a coastguard icebreaker has been suggested to the Prime Minister.The National Government itself is relaxed about the prospect of US warships visiting, but the consensus in Washington and the US Navy is that any visit is unlikely while NZ’s anti-nuclear ship legislation remains in place.
Washington sees mutual interests in New Zealand’s close relationships with the nations of the South West Pacific and this was highlighted by Hillary Clinton during her visit in 2011.
Now we turn to the emergence of David Shearer as a future Labour leader. Like John Key, he has an interesting background. Shearer has spent most of his adult life running United Nations relief camps and peacekeeping missions in places like Rwanda, Liberia, Albania, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.
He successfully ran the biggest relief camp in Somalia during the 1990s famine. Shearer has earned an international reputation as a quiet, humble and extremely competent manager and networker.
Then he returned to New Zealand and quietly became the MP for Mt Albert, Helen Clark’s former electorate.
Bernard Moran is a New Zealand journalist with an interest in defence matters.