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Q+A: Transcript of John Key interview

Published: 2:13PM Sunday April 14, 2013 Source: Q+A

CORIN DANN INTERVIEWS JOHN KEY

JOHN KEY - NZ Prime Minister
 Well, I think that's the, sort of, $64 million question or maybe the 1.35 billion question, given the number of people here.   I mean, what we know is we produce what they want to buy.  That's the really good news part of the story.  Fundamentally, they want food, whether it's ultimately aquaculture or dairy, meat, it doesn't really matter.  They want that food.  They want the quality of that food.  They want the assurance that the food will be of a standard that they expect.  Secondly, they want to educate their children, and they want to come and travel.  And there are specialist areas where it can be a niche in the Chinese market, like, say, Rakon is to New Zealand, for instance.  But in this market, you know, a niche can be a very, very big order for New Zealand, so there's lots of potential.

CORIN Tim Groser - I heard him say on this trip New Zealand's trade to China - China could be our biggest trade partner within two years at current growth levels.  What does that mean for New Zealand longer term?

JOHN  Well, I think the good news part of the story is, I mean, we're here and we promote this relationship and the trade aspects of this relationship because we genuinely believe it means better jobs, it means more jobs, it means, you know, greater opportunities for New Zealanders.  I mean, the challenge always for New Zealand, I think, is a) making sure that we maintain our brand and quality, maintain margin so we make money, and the second thing is we don't want to become solely China dependant. I mean, this is a market that could at one level buy everything New Zealand produces, but the reason we go to Latin America, as we did a few weeks ago, or we sell to other markets and focus on them is that in our history, we've been solely-

CORIN Because things can go wr ong.  China could run into trouble.

JOHN  Absolutely.  Well, you go and have a look at the United Kingdom.  You go back to the, you know, 1970s before they went into the European Common Market.  We essentially produced food for Britain.
 
CORIN Does it create problems too being so aligned with China, given our relationship with the United States?  I mean, if our economic interests are so interwoven with China in the future, surely then our foreign policy, our whole thinking as a country, starts to shift that way as well.

JOHN I don't know if that's entirely true.  I mean, we have a great relationship with the United States.  I mean, arguably, our relationship with them is in the best shape it's been for a very, very long time.  They're also our third-largest market.  They've gone past China, but they're a very big market.  I mean, what New Zealand should be trying to do and what the Government is trying to do is make sure we have a diversified number of markets we sell to.  So to your point - I mean, you can't rule out that there is a problem one day in China, in their economy, because economies go through those issues.  We've had an Asian financial crisis before.  But what you've also got to say is this is a wave of reform that this is one in a generation, and we're uniquely placed to ride that wave.  You pose the question really, about New Zealand and China, but it's interesting to look at the US-China relationship.  The US is also focusing itself far more heavily in this market.  You've got President Obama now coming to the East Asian summit and APEC, you know, every year.  That's a huge commitment for a US president, and what that shows you is that, you know, I think there's a lot of people and a lot of countries that are starting to say, 'Well, if this is the growth-'  This is the engine for growth, and it's, sort of, no longer Europe, as it was, for instance, and even the United States starting to come back with having issues.  We have to be focused on this set part of the world, otherwise we're missing an opportunity.
 
CORIN It does seem like everyone wants a piece of China.  They want to get in on the growth.  What about principles, though?  What about human rights?

JOHN  We may not always see eye to eye on every issue, but the fact of having a closer trading relationship means we're more likely over time to understand each other a little more, and, you know, there have been improvements in human rights in China.  I'm not arguing that they're, you know, absolutely perfect, for instance.  I mean, there will be more gains that they can make.  But the internationalisation of the world - you know, economic evidence shows you that it's likely to make the world a safer place.

CORIN The issue of farmland - you raised the issue of farmland with China, said, 'We're not so interested in you buying New Zealand's farmland,' but how can you stop them?

JOHN  Well, I mean, if it got out of control for any country - let's not, you know, solely have that with China - New Zealand always reserves the right to change its law, so that's the first thing.  So we have rules that any investor has to go through, whether they come from Germany or-

CORIN Did you hint to them at all that you might change that law?

JOHN  No, what I said to them is, actually, the evidence doesn't support at the moment that there is enormous holdings of- of foreigners holding rural land in New Zealand.  That's the most recent data that we've released.  Now, what I have said to all of them, whether it's the president or the premier or the vice premier, as we met today, as I've had in my public speeches, you know, I've said there are areas of investment which we think are win-win for both countries and make sense, and there are areas that are more sensitive.  And, I mean, in the end, that's the same consistent message we give around the world.
 
CORIN What about the United States?  Do you tell them not to come and buy our sensitive farmland?  Because there's plenty of Americans who are buying-

JOHN Plenty of Americans who buy, absolutely.  So again the same thing - we have those discussions with, you know, the New Zealand-US Partnership Forum, and we encourage-
 
CORIN You would actually tell Barack Obama in a bilateral meeting that, 'We'd rather you not buy our farmland'?

JOHN  Well, if we thought it was at a level where we really believed that we needed to raise that, and I don't see that as being the big issue at the moment.  But if it was at that level, absolutely we'd have that discussion.  I mean, in the end, we're a sovereign country who make the rules of what we think is important to New Zealand.  My only real point around investment is, actually, we welcome investment from other parts of the world, you know, as much from China as we do from other places, because in the end, we need that capital to grow the value of what we're producing and grow jobs.  So if we're mature enough to understand that, then we should be brave enough to say we would rather have that directed.

CORIN I mean, obviously, a big issue this week was the GCSB, and it did in a way overshadow a bit of this trip.  It was disappointing for you?

JOHN  Yeah, I mean, look, in the perfect world - if I was to live in the perfect world - that report would have been released early next week.  It was our intention to have an intelligence committee meeting on Tuesday night so we could do, I think, the decent thing and try and make sure the Opposition parties could understand the report first-hand before it went public and on Wednesday hold a press conference and go through it.  In reality, it doesn't change much.  It just meant I had to slightly change my schedule here, scramble a little bit and didn't necessarily have the report with me-

CORIN It's a pretty damning report.

JOHN  Yep, I think it is.
 
CORIN I mean, it really is.  It shows an organisation that looked well out of its depth, particularly on the legal issues.  How did it get to that point?  You were in charge of them for four years.  Why did it take so long for you to, sort of, work that out?

JOHN I think there's two issues.  One is GCSB prior to the 2003 Act were always doing this sort of activity.  It may have increased a bit more over time, but they were doing it. Helen Clark challenged when the law came in, 'Are you sure we can actually do this?'  And the advice she got was, 'Yes, you can, and it's consistent with what we see operating around the world, and these agencies work around the world.'  So I don't think- what's now happened is that as part of the rewrite of the NZSIS Act, essentially the Inspector General has started, you know, earlier in July - I was aware in July - but started raising questions about, 'Well, how does this actually work?  I need to do some thinking about whether this is actually really right.'  It's still very unresolved.

 
CORIN Did Helen Clark give you any warning about this when she handed over?

JOHN  No.  No.

CORIN You had no idea that there was the potential for these problems?  Because we learned that, what, 88 people were spied on.  It could well have gone back before Helen Clark's time.

JOHN  It could've, yeah.  See, the second thing is that there was no red flag - nothing came along that said said- and, in fact, as the report said as the minister, I'm entitled to expect that operationally they operate within the law, that they do their job.  So there was no- you know, the Dotcom case was a case where, you know, it went wrong.  They got it wrong.

CORIN Sure.

JOHN  But what it brought to the- it highlighted was there's an issue here.  And so that was-
 
CORIN But don't you still bear some responsibility?

JOHN Yeah, so I think the point you'd have to say is a) as the report says, I'm entitled to rely on the operational running and whether their compliance procedures are right and all that sort of thing, I'm entitled to rely on others.
 
CORIN And we definitely still need this organisation?

JOHN  Oh, absolutely.  I mean, when the Greens start saying they don't need this and they don't need the NZSIS, they are in la-la land.  I mean, to be perfectly frank, we need to make sure that for national security reasons this organisation operates professionally-

CORIN But people's confidence in this organisation has been severely dented.

JOHN  Yeah, but my job is to restore that, and all I can do is say when we've undertaken what is, you've got to say by any definition, a very thorough review, we're now going to implement that review.  There's been lots of changes already.  There's been a significant beefing up of both the compliance and the legal capability within GCSB, and there will be legislative changes to make sure that we support that.

CORIN It has been a bruising time.  It's been a bruising saga.  You have come under serious personal attack, and your integrity has been questioned extensively over the last few weeks.  How do you feel about that?

JOHN  Well, my point is this - look, if you really take a step back, the modus operandi of Labour and the Greens is to cast me as the villain, to call me names, to run sort of hit-and-run campaigns-
 
CORIN You have had some memory losses which have exacerbated things at the very least.  They may have been innocent in your view, but they have made a perception of something sinister.

JOHN Okay, but let's put that in a bit of context.  If you take the situation where Ian Fletcher was appointed, so, you know, we had significant media coverage and, you know, a lot of very, very& highly critical claims being made personally directed at me, right?
 
CORIN But you did not make it clear when you were asked that you had shoulder-tapped Ian Fletcher.

JOHN  I was asked a specific question in Parliament not with any warning, as a supplementary question, didn't even know it was coming, it bore very little relation to the primary question at the end of a parliamentary question session, and, actually, the answer I gave was perfectly correct.  Now, if the test is I've got to give you absolutely all of the full information - it comes back to the point I was making last week - then I need to actually slow that process down so that I can be- you know, I can meet the people's expectations-

CORIN Did that episode get to you, though?  I mean, you only a couple of times in your whole time as Prime Minister have you lashed out at the media.  Were you genuinely wounded by that?

JOHN  Well, firstly, it wasn't at all media, and secondly, the point is that my view was that there wasn't balance on the way that that was being reported. I mean, you had the State Services Commissioner coming out totally supporting what I was saying, and, actually, that wasn't always fully covered in that way.  My reputation matters to me because, you know, I am honest and I am up front.  I also am way more accessible than virtually any other leader in the world, so if you want to go and ask other leaders, you have a limited number of questions, you have lots of warning what they're going to ask them about, they have lots of time to prepare questions.  I do two or three stand-ups a day, and I'm asked questions about a huge number of issues. 

CORIN Do you still want to do this job?

JOHN  I do.
 
CORIN Do you want to carry on?

JOHN Well, look, you know, the thing is I'm actually enjoying it.  As Prime Minister, what are they going to remember when they look back?  And the answer is going to be is the economy strong, does the education system work better, does health system work better, is New Zealand a stronger, more confident country?  I've been Prime Minister for four and a half years.  My own personal view is that we are building that sort of New Zealand.  Now, you know, is there perfection?  There will never be perfection in politics, but you can do your very best and you can see the course, and that's what we've done.  I really believe passionately that- And again, I've read lots of stuff in the media that I'm not going to be there in 2014, I'm not going to run National in the election, that's not true.  None of that is true.  I'll be there.  As long as National wants me there, I'll be there in 2014.  Why?  Because I don't think we've actually finished the job yet. And, you know, there will always be some weeks that are better than others, but for the most part I'm in an incredibly privileged position.  You know, I'm the 38th prime minister of New Zealand, and I'll always be grateful to the New Zealand public that they gave me that chance.
 
CORIN Prime Minister John Key, thank you very much.

JOHN  Thanks very much.
 

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