John Key

John Phillip Key is the 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand, in office since 2008.

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John Phillip Key (born 9 August 1961) is the 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand, in office since 2008. He has led the New Zealand National Party since 2006.

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, also later undertaking management studies at Harvard University in Boston. 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 in both the November 2008 and the November 2011 general elections.

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 impacted 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 state-owned assets. 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 Strategic Economic Partnership.

Personal life

Key was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to George Key and Ruth Key (née Lazar), on 9 August 1961. His father was an English immigrant and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and World War II.[2] He died of a heart attack in 1967. Key and his two sisters were raised in a state house in the Christchurch suburb of Bryndwr, by his mother, an Austrian Jewish immigrant.[3][4]

He attended Aorangi School, then Burnside High School, and earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in accounting from the University of Canterbury in 1981.[3][5] He has attended management studies courses at Harvard University.[6]

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.[4]

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.[7] 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,[8] then moved to Auckland-based Bankers Trust in 1988.[3]

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.[3][9] 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.[4][9] He was a member of the Foreign Exchange Committee of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from 1999 to 2001.[10]

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".[4][11]

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
2002–2005 47th Helensville 43 National
2005–2008 48th Helensville 7 National
2008–2011 49th Helensville 1 National
2011–present 50th Helensville 1 National

Auckland's population growth, as evidenced in the 2001 census, led to the creation of a new electorate called Helensville, which covered the north-western corner of the Auckland urban area.[12] Key beat long-serving MP Brian Neeson (whose own Waitakere seat had moved on paper to being a Labour seat by the boundary changes) for the 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.[13] Key was re-elected with ease at the 2005 election garnering 63% of votes cast in Helensville,[14] and increased his majority again in 2008, gaining 73% of the electorate vote.[1]

John Key voting in Epsom in 2008

Finance spokesman

In 2004, Key was promoted to the Opposition front benches by party leader Don Brash and was made 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 which were later published in the book The Hollow Men.[15]

Leader of the Opposition

In his maiden speech as 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.[16] Key followed this speech up in February 2007 by committing his party to a programme which would provide food in the poorest schools in New Zealand.[17]

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.[18] Key and Prime Minister Helen Clark agreed a compromise giving police the discretion to overlook smacking they regard as "inconsequential".[19]

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."[20]

Also in August 2007, Labour's Trevor Mallard hinted in Parliament that Labour were going to 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 during the investigation into the affair could only have helped to convict the people involved. This statement was supported publicly by then-SFO director Charles Sturt.[21][22]

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.[23]

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. Key had an estimated wealth of NZ$50 million.[24] Key is the wealthiest New Zealand Member of Parliament.[25]

Prime Minister

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[26] and also appointed as a member of the Executive Council[27] on 19 November 2008 with his new cabinet.[28] His first international outing as Prime Minister was the 20th APEC meeting in Peru the following day.

Arriving at the Ngapuhi Te Tii marae the day before Waitangi Day 2009, 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.[29][30]

Key has also 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.[31]

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".[32]


During the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, Key was a proponent of Hosni Mubarak's government, citing his support of Israel and refusing to call for his resignation. When asked after the fall of Mubarak whether he had called on the Egyptian leader to step down, he said "no", but welcomed his resignation as the best possible means of restoring order in Egypt.[33] In 2011, Key was caught up in a controversy over the purchase of government limousines which he denied knowledge of initially but later reports surfaced his office was aware. He was accused of being dishonest and eventually apologised, calling the deal sloppy.[34][35]

In October 2011, Key made a statement where he claimed Standard and Poor's had said at a meeting in the prior month that "if there was a change of Government, that downgrade would be much more likely", this claim was contradicted by S&P after Key's credibility had been called into question.[36][37] Just before the election in November 2011, a recording was made of a conversation between John Key and ACT Party candidate John Banks that they considered private.[38] Mr Key made a complaint to the police who began an investigation to ascertain whether any laws had been broken. He refused to answer media questions about what was said and the recording, which became known as the "teapot tapes", dominated media discussion in the days before the election. The unreleased recording allegedly concerns the leadership of ACT and disparaging remarks about elderly New Zealand First supporters.[39]

In November 2012, Key told students at St Hilda's Collegiate in Dunedin that football star David Beckham was "thick as batshit". The comments were picked up by UK papers The Daily Mirror and The Sun. [40] Also in November, there was outrage 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. The quip was made the same day he called Beckham "thick".[41]

The following day, Lord of the Rings actor Sir Ian McKellen said in a blog entry that Key should "watch his language".[42] Sir Ian is gay.

UN Security Council bid

John and Bronagh Key meet 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.[43] He met briefly with US President Barack Obama and former US President Bill Clinton. While in New York, Key appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. He read out the Top Ten list, 'Top Ten Reasons You Should Visit New Zealand'.[44]

Political views

Key's views are largely aligned with his own party's view. However he also notes the differences between his predecessor are more of style and focus rather than view.[45] 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.[46] 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.[47] After leading the National party to victory in the 2011 election, Key rejected that the National Party lacks a mandate to partially sell off state-owned assets, he acknowledged that some New Zealanders were anxious about the mixed ownership model. "But I think we got a mandate."[48]

Key has a mixed voting record on social issues: he voted against the bill creating civil unions,[49] claiming that this represented his constituents' views but he supports them personally.[50] 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.[51] Key has also stated that he does not oppose gay adoption.[52]

In regard to addressing the social destruction caused by binge drinking, in 2008 Key voted for an ill-fated attempt to raise the legal drinking age from 18 back to 20 [53] but subsequently ignored a Law Commission recommendation to increase levies on alcohol.[54] He claimed there was 'no appetite' for such a move.[55] A 'suppressed' report on public attitudes to alcohol law reform eventually came to light indicating that in 2010, when he made this claim, 56% of New Zealanders supported a price increase.[56]

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.[57] Key has committed the National Party to working towards reducing greenhouse emissions in New Zealand by 50% within the next fifty years.[58] Commentators note that as recently as 2005, Key made statements indicating that he was sceptical of the effects and impact of climate change.[57][59]

Key with his predecessor, Helen Clark

Critics note that Key has changed his views on the Iraq war since becoming leader of the opposition. In 2003, as an opposition MP, Key emphasised National's position of supporting New Zealand's traditional allies, the United States and Australia. 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.[60]

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." [61] Key later stated that he is a monarchist, and that a New Zealand republic would "Not [happen] under my watch".[62]

Religious views

Key attends church frequently but is agnostic when it comes to belief in God.[63][64] He has stated that he does not believe in an afterlife, and sees religion as "doing the right thing".[63] Key's wife, Bronagh (née Dougan) Key, is the daughter of Northern Irish emigrants of mixed religious descent.[65] Key is the third prime minister or premier of New Zealand (after Julius Vogel and Francis Bell) with Jewish ancestry.[66]

Further reading

  • Levine, Stephen and Nigel S. Roberts, eds. Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 (Victoria U.P, 2010)


  1. "Official Count Results–Helensville". New Zealand Electoral Commission. 12 November 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  2. "John Key – the Unauthorised Biography". =The New Zealand Herald. 19 July 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  3. "POLITICS: John Key – A snapshot". Sunday Star Times. 3 February 2008. Archived from the original on 19 March 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  4. Rapson, Bevan (26 April 2005). "Golden Boy". Metro Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  5. "Christchurch's Aorangi School to close". Television New Zealand. 24 November 2009. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
  6. Tait, Maggie (27 November 2006). "Profile: John Key". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  7. McIntyre, Donna (12 January 2008). "My Job: John Key, Leader of the National Party". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  8. "Big Dealers". Close Up (NZ On Screen). 10 September 1987. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  9. Tett, Gillian; Laugesen, Ruth (3 February 2008). "Who is John Key?". Sunday Star Times. Archived from the original on 19 March 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  10. "New Zealand Parliament – Key, John". Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  11. Bingham, Eugene (26 July 2008). "Ambush in the West". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
  12. "Electorate Profile Helensville". Parliamentary Library. October 2005. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  13. "Official Count Results–Helensville". New Zealand Electoral Commission. 10 August 2002. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  14. "Official Count Results–Helensville". New Zealand Electoral Commission. 1 November 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  15. New Zealand Press Association; The New Zealand Herald Staff (23 November 2006). "Don Brash gone at lunchtime". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
  16. Key, John (28 November 2006). "Speech to North Shore National Party luncheon". New Zealand National Party. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  17. Key, John (4 February 2007). "National launches its Food in Schools programme" (Press release). New Zealand Government. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  18. "78pc of parents say they'll still smack". The New Zealand Herald. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  19. Colwill, Jennifer (2 May 2007). "The smacking bill – what it says". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 227 May 2007.
  20. Armstrong, John (2 August 2007). "John Armstrong: At last, Labour gets to give Key a good kicking". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  21. Trevett, Clare (25 August 2007). "Former SFO chief backs Key's claims". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
  22. Long, Richard (28 August 2007). "Muck-rakers desperate for dirt". The Dominion Post ( Archived from the original on 19 March 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  23. Oliver, Paula (3 August 2007). "John Key's policy: There'll be more, later". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  24. NBR Staff (25 July 2008). "Rich List 2008: A bad economy, but the rich still get richer". National Business Review. Retrieved 1 November 2008.
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  26. "Appointment of Ministers" (21 November 2008) 179 New Zealand Gazette 4634.
  27. "Members of Executive Council Appointed" (21 November 2008) 179 New Zealand Gazette 4634.
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  29. "Protesters attack New Zealand PM". BBC News. 5 February 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  30. "Protester grabs NZ leader at indigenous ceremony". Associated Press (CBS News). 5 February 2009. Archived from the original on 13 June 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  31. Daniels, Chris (14 May 2009). "Cycleway gets $50m – now a series of 'Great Rides' says Key". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  32. Trevett, Claire (19 January 2009). "John Key says arm break 'very embarrassing'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  33. "Key rejects criticism over Mubarak comments". National Business Review. NZPA. 14 February 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  34. "Limo deal sloppy: Key". Otago Daily Times. NZPA. 21 February 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  35. Armstrong, John (22 February 2011). "Mea culpa a bid to save brand". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  36. Young, Audrey (10 October 2011). "S&P contradicts Key downgrade claim". The New Zealand Herald.
  37. Armstrong, John (11 October 2011). "Key's credibility takes a hit". The New Zealand Herald.
  38. Cheng, Derek (23 November 2011). "Tea tape: Police execute warrants". The New Zealand Herald.
  39. Armstrong, John (16 November 2011). "'Teapot tape' could nail lid to Act coffin". The New Zealand Herald.
  40. "John Key plagued by 'thick' comment about David Beckham". 3 News NZ. 3 November, 2012.
  41. "PM to radio host: 'You've got that gay red top on'". 3 News NZ. 5 November, 2012.
  42. "Sir Ian McKellen tells Key to 'watch his language'". 3 News NZ. 6 November 2012.
  43. Tait, Maggie (26 September 2009). "NZ to seek Security Council seat, Key tells UN". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  44. ONE News; New Zealand Press Association (25 September 2009). "John Key on David Letterman". Television New Zealand. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  45. "Agenda Interview with Lisa Owen". Agenda. 2007. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  46. Key, John (4 March 2005). "Lifting the performance of the state sector under a future National Government". New Zealand National Party. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  47. Gamble, Warren (23 March 2002). "National's bright young hope". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
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  49. Newstalk ZB; The New Zealand Herald Staff (2 December 2004). "MPs vote 65–55 in favour of Civil Union Bill". Retrieved 27 February 2008.
  50. Else, Anne (31 October 2008). "What I heard John Key say". Scoop. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
  51. "'I'm more liberal than I look'". The New Zealand Herald. 26 July 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  52. "Key fronts up with news for Brad". The New Zealand Herald. 24 October 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  53. Houlahan, Mike (9 November 2006). "Drinking age stays at 18, review announced". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
  55. The New Zealand Herald. 2 May 2010.
  57. List, Kevin (29 November 2006). "2005 Vs 2006: Key And Climate Change". Scoop. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  58. Key, John (2 July 2009). Federated Farmers National Conference (Speech). Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  59. "FULL COVERAGE: John Key ChChChanges On Climate". Scoop. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  60. McCarten, Matt (26 August 2007). "All you wanted to know about John Key but were afraid to ask". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 August 2007.
  61. Barrowclough, Anne (10 November 2008). "John Key: victory for New Zealand's multimillionaire political novice". London: The Times. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  62. "NZ Steers Future of Royal Succession". 10 May 2011.
  63. Berry, Ruth (25 November 2006). "Will the real John Key step forward". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 23 August 2007. ""if you're asking me if I'm religious it depends how you define religion. I look at religion as doing the right thing....I go to church a lot with the kids, but I wouldn't describe it as something that I ... I'm not a heavy believer; my mother was Jewish which technically makes me Jewish. Yeah, I probably see it in a slightly more relaxed way.""
  64. NZPA (5 November 2008). "Clark and Key spar in final TV debate before election". Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  65. "John and Bronagh Key: "A strong bond of trust"". The Sunday Star-Times. 26 October 2008. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  66. "New Zealand gets third Jewish prime minister". The Jerusalem Post. 9 November 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2010.