News National John Key trumps Donald as a model for our leaders
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John Key trumps Donald as a model for our leaders

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Maybe New Zealand’s resigning Prime Minister John Key took note of what happened to his conservative cousins across the ditch.

The refusal of John Howard to quit in favour of his treasurer Peter Costello is the stuff of legend. There was no renewal and the Coalition government was steamrolled.

As Mr Key shocked New Zealand and his Australian mate Malcolm Turnbull, he noted that political leaders have a habit of hanging around too long.

But, ironically, it was Labor’s Bill Shorten who noted a winning feature of the Key style.

Mr Shorten reflected on his dealings with the Kiwi PM when he was a Gillard government minister.

He said Mr Key was “always a gentleman, he was in my opinion a very civilised conservative, he wasn’t pursuing some of the far right agenda that Australian Liberals pursue”.

Mr Key was indeed a politician who charmed his voters. He also did it by being socially contemporary and economically conservative.

He implemented same-sex marriage in the Shaky Isles without much fuss. And he was able to raise the GST and retain broad popular support.

New Zealand has a unicameral parliament, it also has a form of proportional representation. The parliament, like the Australian Senate, almost never has one party with a majority in its own right.

Mr Key came close in his eight years at the helm but never achieved it.

When Mr Turnbull got wind of the resignation he sent a message: “Say it ain’t so bro.”

The Prime Minister said his New Zealand counterpart was able to demonstrate “that if you make the case for reform, clearly, cogently, persuasively, you can win and retain strong public support for economic reform”.

john key obama resignation
John Key’s socially progressive, economically conservative stance won over New Zealand’s voters. Photo: AAP

Notice no mention of social reform or of the seamless end to sexual discrimination led by the Kiwi PM.

This is where Mr Shorten’s analysis is close to the mark.

Some still give Mr Turnbull the benefit of the doubt for not following Mr Key’s example because his uber-right colleagues in the Liberal and National parties won’t let him.

Others, like the Labor opposition, believe Mr Turnbull lacks the will to champion causes he really believes in.

There is no doubt that his internal party critics are fierce if they think Mr Turnbull is pulling on the leash.

Tony Abbott went ballistic on Facebook at reports his signature environment policy the Green Army is to be scrapped in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

That will deliver a saving of around $360 million and will more than pay for the $100 million Mr Turnbull agreed to plough into a Landcare boost in Senate horse-trading.

In return, he won Greens support for the backpackers’ tax at 15 percent.

“It is a bad principle to axe your own policy for the Greens’ policy because it means that their policies are more important than ours. That would hardly be a smart move by a centre right government,” Mr Abbott posted.

Mr Turnbull has certainly lifted the tone since replacing the more pugilistic Mr Abbott, but in the last two sitting weeks he and his ministerial colleagues have begun aping Donald Trump.

Their version of the US President-elect’s campaign refrain, ‘Crooked Hillary’, and claiming the presidential candidate should be in jail seemed to be the template.

They variously railed that Mr Shorten is a protector of “union thugs and bullies”. He is a double-crosser who can’t be trusted. And he sold out workers to benefit the union he led, they said.

The Opposition Leader’s name couldn’t be mentioned without calling his character into question.

Mr Trump succeeded with his low-grade abuse. Hopefully the “Key” to success in Australia is more in the class we saw on the other side of the Tasman.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets  at @PaulBongiorno

For more columns from Paul Bongiorno, click here

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